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By Eric Heinz
Adequate locations for temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel from San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) are starting to prepare to receive the fuel, if federal law changes.
During the Community Engagement Panel Meeting on Thursday, May 11, members discussed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s role in oversight as well as some of the potential locations for the spent fuel. Currently, the fuel cannot be transferred to a different location because sites that were once slated to accept it were canceled shortly after the plant went off line.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act does not allow for temporary storage, just permanent storage. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, CA-49, has introduced a bill—for the third Congressional session in a row—that would allow for temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel while the Department of Energy (DOE) figures out what to do with it. The DOE is the sole authority on where the fuel will be stored. The bill is currently slated to be considered by a Congressional committee.
The most likely locations for storage are located in Andrews County, Texas and Eddy and Lea counties in New Mexico.
“None of us ever wanted to wind up where we are today, accumulating spent fuel to the degree we are, but that is where we are,” said Tom Palmisano, the vice president of decommissioning and chief nuclear officer for the plant’s majority stockholder company, Southern California Edison (SCE).
Waste Control Specialists in Texas has already set up facilities that would accept the fuel and they have been licensed for commercial waste and would propose expanding a dry storage facility.
However, WCS is now in the process of a company merger, and Palmisano said the application to the NRC for the storage has been on hold, and he said it could stay on hold.
John Heaton, chairman of the Eddy-Lea Alliance, said the company has purchased 1,000 acres of land between Carlsbad and Hobbs in the southwestern portion of New Mexico for potential interim storage.
“I think you see these sites moving forward because they see the prospect of business,” CEP president Dr. David Victor said. “Absent a change in federal law, you see that prospect get weaker. In the middle of this … is people are not sure if the business is going to be there. This project reveals to us that we benefit from having multiple options, just like Yucca Mountain was one option … diversity in the market is very important.”
Part of the presentation from Holtec International, the company selected to store the fuel rods, was dedicated to speaking about how the company can give the government more time to seek out a solution for the storage.
Pierre Oneid, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer of Holtec, was optimistic about the future for the project to move, at least in part, the 3.6 million pounds of radioactive fuel rods to a dry cask location away from the Southern California coastline.
“We have a solution; we’ve been working on it for five years,” Oneid said. “We started the journey of having (consent-based) storage. This provides an unprecedented opportunity for DOE to make good on its promise.”
Oneid said they are not trying to replace Yucca Mountain, which was removed from the possible storage lists in 2015.
Bruce Watson, chief of the reactor of the decommissioning branch of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s office of nuclear material safety and safeguards, gave an overview of the decommissioning process and the commission’s oversight of the process.
In the report he spoke about the enforcement of safety and that the NRC inspection program is responsible for licensing as well as identifying safety issues.
Inspection reports from the NRC are published 30 to 40 days after an incident takes place, Watson said.
Canisters from off-line units 2 and 3, which were reactors formerly operational at SONGS could be ready for transportation as soon as 2020, but other fuel will take longer, as far out at 2030.
The full meeting is on video at www.songscommunity.com under the Community Engagement Panel Meetings tab.