By Rep. Mike Levin
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) just took a critical step toward addressing the nation’s spent nuclear fuel challenges, and it could have significant implications for the waste stranded at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).
The DOE has finally issued a request for information to restart the consent-based siting process for locations that could store the spent fuel currently distributed across the country at nuclear plants like San Onofre.
Consent-based siting means the community that receives the waste agrees beforehand to take it, which is key to securing a location for the waste, because it reduces the possibility of opposition after a site has been chosen.
This is an important step for everyone who has been fighting to find locations to move the waste out of our community, and it’s something I’ve been pushing the DOE to do for a long time.
Last year, my colleagues and I fought to secure much-needed federal funds to jump-start a related consolidated interim storage program at the DOE. A consolidated interim site would serve as a temporary storage location for spent nuclear fuel until a permanent repository site can be established.
As we wrote to members of the House Appropriations Committee last year, we believe that the DOE program should initially focus on accepting fuel from closed nuclear plants while accounting for site-specific environmental factors.
Both of those criteria favor removing fuel from SONGS and align with my Spent Fuel Prioritization Act, which would require the DOE to prioritize the removal of spent nuclear fuel from decommissioned nuclear sites in areas with large populations and high seismic risk.
With more than nine million people living within 50 miles of San Onofre and with Southern California experiencing some of the greatest seismic hazards in the country, the bill would make SONGS one of the highest-priority sites in the nation for the removal of spent nuclear fuel.
Late last year, we took another step closer to achieving those priorities when Congress passed, and the President signed, government funding legislation that included $20 million that my colleagues and I had requested for the interim storage of spent nuclear fuel. Now, the DOE is using that funding to restart a consent-based siting process.
According to DOE, the information gathered by its request for information will be used to further develop the department’s consent-based siting process and overall waste management strategy in an equitable way.
In its announcement, DOE stated that it is “committed to a consent-based siting approach that makes communities and people central in the process to give the nation its best chance at success in solving the nation’s decades-long stalemate over how to effectively manage our spent nuclear fuel.”
The federal government has a responsibility to address the nation’s spent nuclear fuel challenge, but history has shown us that without the consent of the communities that will be involved, we are unlikely to succeed.
The DOE’s announcement shows that we can address these issues directly and correct the mistakes that have led us to the current nationwide spent-fuel impasse.
U.S. Representative Mike Levin represents the 49th Congressional District, which includes the South Orange County cities of Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano. He was reelected for a second term in 2020 and resides in San Juan Capistrano with his wife and two children.