Assemblywoman Laurie Davies: Why we must deal with spent nuclear fuel now

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – The decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station stores 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste, and California Assemblywoman Laurie Davies says we need to something with it now.

Davis is a Republican representing the 74th District, and joined KUSI’s Lauren Phinney on Good Morning San Diego to explain why the nuclear waste issue is something everybody needs to be aware of.

Davies supplied KUSI with the following information about her efforts regarding the nuclear waste:

Why we must deal with spent nuclear fuel now

The decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station stores 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste.

Two weeks ago, I authored a bipartisan letter signed by my colleagues in the Assembly and Senate. This letter was sent to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce calling out the failed federal policies on the relocation and storage of spent nuclear fuel. The signatories all represent some portion of the surrounding San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station area, and although our local Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, has been working diligently to resolve this serious problem including holding local task force meetings, more should be done. Congress must act.

While Southern California Edison assures me it can safely store spent nuclear fuel at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the electric utility company cannot complete the decommissioning of the plant and fully restore the land until the fuel is moved. The federal government is currently offering millions to communities to begin talking about consent-based siting for consolidated intern storage of spent fuel; communities around San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station never had the opportunity to give consent to spent fuel siting, and they are getting nothing for housing it there.

There are now 19 communities at retired reactor sites in the United States housing millions of pounds of spent commercial fuel without their consent due to the inability of the federal government to deliver a facility to accept this material. Among these 19 are four de facto interim storage sites in California — the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Diego County (located in or adjacent to our districts on federal land), the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County, the Humboldt Bay Power Plant in Humboldt County and the Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station in Sacramento County.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 required that the federal government take full responsibility for spent fuel. That includes everything from taking possession of the spent fuel, providing a permanent geologic disposal facility and handling point-to-point transportation. To cover the expense, ratepayers across the nation have paid more than $41 billion, including $1 billion just from San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station customers. Yet, the spent fuel still sits there at San Onofre Beach and in similar places across the state and nation.
Storing spent fuel at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and other areas costs $2 million a day, $9 billion since inception. Additionally — according to a January 2022 story in U.S. News & World Report — some $15 billion was spent on plans to build a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, where spent fuel was supposed to be disposed before that plan was scrapped by politicians in 2010 with zero regard for taxpayer dollars.

The amount of waste is inexcusable. It is time for the federal government to honor its agreement and move the spent fuel to a federally licensed offsite facility. Taxpayer dollars must be respected, and the federal government must live up to its side of the bargain.

While Southern California Edison can safely store spent nuclear fuel on-site at San Onofre, it cannot complete the decommissioning of the plant and restore the land until the federal government takes action to clear the site of spent fuel.

As legislators representing the surrounding areas of communities storing commercial spent nuclear fuel stranded in Southern California, we wrote to urge the 118th Congress to continue to prioritize the federal government’s legal and contractual obligation to provide a home for the spent fuel within our state and 33 others across the nation.

Without action by Congress, the problem will only continue to grow in coming years, with an anticipated 140,179 metric tons of spent fuel accumulating during the remaining lifetime of existing nuclear power plants across the country. This is more than twice the amount envisioned for the only permanent repository ever approved by Congress.

The dollars wasted are equally as shocking. The Government Accountability Office reports that “costs will continue to grow until the federal government develops and approves a consolidated interim storage facility or permanent disposal repository and takes custody of the fuel,” ultimately reaching as much as $30.6 billion. This is in addition to the $46 billion (including interest) nuclear utility customers pre-paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund for the development of a permanent repository, including $2 billion from California customers.

The cost of further inaction — to communities, ratepayers and taxpayers — is astounding. Dealing with spent nuclear fuel needs to be a federal priority now.

Davies, a Republican, is a member of the California State Assembly representing the 74th District and lives in Laguna Niguel.

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