Efforts to get nuclear fuel out of SONGS continue as government officials note progress


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By C. Jayden Smith

Representative Mike Levin and U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm met with Edison officials from Southern California on Thursday, April 21 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) to review safety measures of the decommissioned facility.

While there has been no tangible movement since the DOE closed its request for information regarding the consent-based siting process to store the nation’s spent nuclear fuel (SNF), government figures assured that Edison was properly containing his radioactive waste.

After their tour was over, Levin expressed his gratitude for the work Edison did in safely decommissioning SONGS and asserted that the fuel no longer belongs near the precious Pacific Coast and surrounding communities, nor on land leased to the US military.

He added that nationwide efforts were needed to deal with spent nuclear fuel currently housed in about 80 locations in 34 states.

“The current used nuclear fuel storage system is not sustainable, especially for sites that no longer have reactors in operation and could be developed for other and better uses,” Levin said. “It is also a violation of the promise codified decades ago that the federal government would take title to the waste in return for taxpayer contributions to the nuclear waste management fund.”

The motion in terms of congressional funding and actions by the DOE, such as Granholm prioritizing the creation of a repository, have encouraged the congressman that there is progress on the matter.

Granholm stressed the importance of continuing to use nuclear power and addressing the tension created by years of inaction in the communities that continue to house the SNF. Those tensions have resulted in settlements that cost the government nearly $9 billion in total, she said.

Other indications of change include developing a comprehensive plan that details transportation logistics and infrastructure that will make interim and permanent storage possible.

Touching on the consent-based site selection process – an approach to identifying storage sites by working with neighboring towns – the Secretary mentioned that communities have expressed a willingness to work with the DOE, although she does not did not reveal which ones.

“We know hosting these operations isn’t for everyone, but they create jobs, they provide economic opportunity, and some communities find it interesting,” Granholm said. “We have a process and we will align our objectives with the needs and concerns of interested communities. We will build our relationships with potential host communities on a foundation of trust from the outset.

The RFI received 220 responses, some of which were from members of local stakeholders such as the SONGS Working Group and the SONGS Community Engagement Group. The department’s next steps include producing a report summarizing the findings of the responses, produced by the Office of Nuclear Energy, and updating the draft consent-based site selection process, as well as to form a sub-committee on the subject composed of national experts.

“There’s a lot of work to do, but we’re really looking forward to diving alongside our community partners,” Granholm said.

Levin defended his position that a crisis regarding SNF exists in the United States and that Edison was doing well to keep the San Onofre site secure, saying the two concepts were not mutually exclusive.

He pointed to other sites across the country which he said were “in much worse shape” than SONGS, and also noted that the current containers holding the waste were not intended to remain at the facility indefinitely.

Interim storage is the first step in solving any nuclear fuel problem and will facilitate the conversation about a permanent solution, according to Granholm. Once an ideal location is identified, discussions on related topics such as waste recycling can then take place.

However, such a location remains to be determined, in particular for a permanent repository.

“We know we can do the interim (site) and we know we can do it safely,” she said. “We want to make sure that (regarding) permanence, (having) the right exact geology and learning from countries that have created permanent options is a big part of the research that’s going on.”

Recycling a significant portion of the fuel is not financially viable, nor legal, since President Jimmy Carter issued an executive order in April 1977 prohibiting its reprocessing indefinitely.

Granholm said the department will have to work with Congress to reverse the ban, though she agreed that better use of time would involve efforts to recycle and reuse fuel, as France and other countries are doing.

C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism at the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothers his black lab named Shadow.

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