Panel of nuclear experts assembled to get waste out of San Onofre
Union Tribune (15 Mar 2018) Rob Nikolewski
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More Info: Settlement To Move San Onofre Waste
A team of six experts in the nuclear energy sector has been assembled to find a way to move the 3.55 million pounds of nuclear waste at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
The group includes a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the independent agency in charge of all safety-related matters surrounding nuclear energy in the U.S., and a former director of policy at the U.S. Department of Energy.
The panel was put together as part of an out-of-court settlement negotiated last summer between Southern California Edison — the utility that operates SONGS — and attorneys for two San Diego-area plaintiffs who opposed a permit granted by the California Coastal Commission allowing waste to be stored on the plant’s premises.
One of the terms in the settlement called for creating a team of authorities in engineering, radiation detection and nuclear waste siting and transportation to learn if any alternative sites exist to store SONGS’ spent fuel.
“If the waste can be moved to a safer location, this is the group that can make it happen and Edison should get acknowledged and get credit for keeping their word,” said Michael Aguirre, one of the attorneys at the Aguirre & Severson law firm that worked on the out-of-court settlement.
“This is a very significant step; this hasn’t been done before,” Aguirre said. “There hasn’t been an owner of nuclear waste that has brought together a panel working with the community that’s focused on figuring out how to move (the waste) to a safer location.”
SONGS sits between the Pacific Ocean and one of the busiest freeways in the country — Interstate 5. About 8.4 million people live in a 50-mile radius of the plant in an area with a history of seismic activity.
Among the members of the panel is Allison Macfarlane, who chaired the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 2012 to 2014, and Thomas Issacs, whose time at the Department of Energy included policymaking regarding waste management and security.
Macfarlane in 2016 delivered a presentation at the SONGS Community Engagement Panel, a group organized by Edison that gives the public updates on the plant’s decommissioning efforts.
Speaking in general terms about nuclear waste, Macfarlane told the audience, “It is our ethical responsibility to deal with this material and not leave it for future generations.”
The other members of the panel are:
- Kristopher W. Cummings, a fuel storage expert and engineer with Curtis-Wright Nuclear Division.
- Gary Lanthrum, the former director of the National Transportation Program for Yucca Mountain.
- Richard C. Moore, a consultant specializing in transportation of radiological materials who works for the Western Interstate Energy Board.
- Josephine Piccone, a health physics and radiation control expert with regulatory compliance experience
“We believe this distinguished panel of experts will make significant contributions to a growing industry-wide effort to achieve off-site storage of nuclear fuel,” Tom Palmisano, vice president of decommissioning and chief nuclear officer at SONGS said in a letter to members of the facility’s Community Engagement Panel.
“We have a long road ahead as we undertake this difficult task but selection of these experts is an important step,” Palmisano said, adding that the panel will begin its work “in the coming weeks.”
The team of experts was assembled with input from the attorneys involved in the settlement and from Edison officials.
About 80,000 metric tons of spent fuel has accumulated at nuclear reactor sites across the country.
The Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada was supposed to accept large amounts of waste, but Nevada lawmakers, especially then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, were firmly against opening the site. The Obama administration cut off funding for Yucca Mountain in 2010.
The Trump administration has called for Congress to come up with $120 million in initial funding to restart Yucca Mountain.
An interim storage facility in a remote location in southeastern New Mexico has been discussed as a possible location for SONGS waste but ground has yet to be broken.
Aguirre has called for sending SONGS waste to the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Plant in Arizona, a facility that Edison owns a 15.8 percent stake. But a committee at the plant rejected a resolution put forth by Palmisano last October.
Aguirre, however, said Thursday, “We haven’t given up on Palo Verde.”