It is now time to remove the nuclear fuel from San Onofre
In the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future final report to the Secretary of Energy, it stated that the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act which tied the entire U.S. high-level waste management program to the ill-fated Yucca Mountain site in Nevada has broken down.
It was not supposed to be this way. The NWPA bound the Department of Energy to take over supervision of all civilian waste from utility companies for final disposal under the assumption that the waste would be permanently stored in a deep geological repository (Yucca Mountain). The act obligated the U.S. government to begin accepting waste by 1998, but when the federal government failed to open the repository and fulfill its responsibility, it was forced to compensate the utility companies for continuing to store the waste and assume liability. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.
Unfortunately, the federal government has made no substantial progress toward the consolidated storage of used civilian nuclear fuel. Adding to the problem, a November 2013 decision by the United States Court of Appeals eliminated the very fees designed to finance used-fuel storage. The fund has $30 billion accumulated, but no new monies have been collected to address the ongoing storage problem because of existing law.
The existing law only allows the DOE to take possession of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel when it is assigned to permanent storage. The key word here is “permanent” (read: Yucca Mountain).
Currently there is no viable plan for permanent storage of spent nuclear fuel or high-level radioactive waste.
The solution recommended by the BRC is that the DOE should establish a system of regional sites that would take in the used fuel from the nation’s commercial reactors, consolidating the interim storage of used fuel and putting this nuclear waste into stronger, safer, more secure, more manageable and more economical dry casks as the initial step toward eventual permanent disposal. Dry casks are a very robust storage option that require no power to operate the cooling systems and are designed to withstand natural catastrophic events such as earthquakes and floods, and damage caused by fire or deliberate impact by vehicles. The transition to dry cask-based interim storage should be made as quickly as possible.
Currently, the nation’s inventory of spent nuclear fuel is being stored at the sites where it was generated, including roughly 99 units at the 61 still-operating nuclear power plants and 14 shut-down reactor sites. Some of the spent fuel is still in cooling ponds but a large amount has been moved to on-site dry cask. The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station falls into this category. This should be removed as quickly and safely as possible.