That old but still unanswered question of what to do with the incredibly radioactive and dangerous spent fuel from shuttered nuclear reactors like San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) will be the subject of a congressional field hearing later this week.
“The hearing will examine the role of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC] in ensuring reactor safety and the management of safe storage and disposal of nuclear waste, safety risks related to nuclear waste storage, and the challenges the country faces in finding a solution for the safe storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel,” states the hearing notice. Harley Rouda, D-48th District and chairperson of the House Subcommittee on the Environment, will hold the hearing.
Most spent nuclear fuel is stored in “specially designed pools” at nuclear reactors, though this isn’t a long-term solution, according to the NRC. Technical malfunctions, natural disasters, or terrorist attacks could cause immense problems with the waste.
In 1987, the Department of Energy began studying a proposal to store the waste at a repository deep underground at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which (in theory) would safely contain the spent fuel for the many thousands of years it will take for it to cool off. But Yucca Mountain has always been controversial, especially in Nevada (this webpage, maintained by Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, lists a host of reasons why the Yucca Mountain proposal is bad news).
In 2012, President Barack Obama defunded licensing hearings for Yucca Mountain, but (of course) President Donald Trump wants to bring them back. In the meantime, nuclear reactor waste like that at San Onofre isn’t going anywhere.
“All Southern Californians live in the shadow of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, and I am deeply concerned with the risks spent nuclear fuel poses to surrounding communities,” Rouda said in April. “Whether it’s the question of how to store nuclear waste, or how to prevent a full-scale disaster, we need to investigate and determine how, or whether to move forward with nuclear power. Storing spent nuclear fuel on site at San Onofre indefinitely is unworkable, and unsafe. It’s time for the federal government to propose and implement a long term solution for safe storage of nuclear waste.”
The hearing will take place at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, June 7 at the Chet Holifield Federal Building (24000 Avila Rd., Laguna Niguel). Witnesses include Scott Morris of the NRC; Tom Isaacs, a former lead adviser with the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future; and Daniel T. Stetson, the vice chairperson of the SONGS Community Engagement Panel.
You can watch the hearing live online by clicking here.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.