Will San Onofre’s nuclear waste get shipped to New Mexico?


Is the answer to the decades-long debate over what to do with the nuclear waste on the San Onofre Nuclear Producing Station to be present in a distant part of southeastern New Mexico?

There are nonetheless loads of hurdles to clear however at the least theoretically, the spent gas canisters sitting on a pair of storage websites on the plant may get shipped to an interim storage facility that builders wish to assemble.

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Earlier this month, the Nuclear Regulatory Fee issued a ultimate environmental affect assertion that really helpful granting a license to a proposed facility on land that’s at present used for grazing cattle, in between the New Mexico cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs.

“I’m very optimistic,” stated John Heaton, vice chairman of the Eddy-Lea Power Alliance, the group named for the 2 counties in New Mexico that wish to construct the undertaking together with vitality and nuclear firm Holtec Worldwide. “We’re going via all of the hoops one after the other and going via them rigorously and judiciously.”

If constructed, the primary section of the undertaking would retailer 500 canisters holding about 8,680 metric tons of nuclear waste from industrial vegetation like San Onofre.

And right here’s the kicker: the undertaking’s builders need the power to develop via 19 extra phases, which might see the power retailer as much as 10,000 canisters. Heaton stated that may add as much as some 100,000 metric tons or extra.

Not solely is that sufficient to simply take in the roughly 1,610 metric tons of spent gas at San Onofre, that’s massive sufficient to deal with the entire 89,000 metric tons of radioactive waste that has gathered through the years at industrial nuclear energy vegetation all through your entire U.S.

However the undertaking is hardly a performed deal.

The identical day the Nuclear Regulatory Fee launched its environmental affect report, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham reiterated her opposition, saying, “The NRC is successfully selecting revenue over public curiosity” and the power “will threaten the well being and security of generations of New Mexicans.”

Some background

The San Onofre Nuclear Producing Station, often called SONGS, has not produced electrical energy since a leak in a steam generator tube in 2012 led to its closing.

The plant is within the technique of being dismantled, however 3.55 million kilos of radioactive gas that powered SONGS generators throughout its operational lifetime stay. The waste is encased in 123 stainless-steel canisters (73 lowered vertically right into a lately constructed storage facility and 50 that relaxation horizontally at an older storage website) on the north finish of the plant.

The canisters sit close by of the Pacific to the west and are straight adjoining to Interstate 5 to the east. And given Southern California’s historical past of seismic exercise, the casks crammed with spent gas rods have lengthy been a supply of hysteria and passionate debate, ought to one thing go unsuitable.

However SONGS is hardly distinctive. Industrial nuclear vegetation throughout the nation retailer their spent gas on their very own premises as a result of the federal authorities — regardless of the authorized obligations of 1982’s Nuclear Waste Coverage Act — has but to discover a everlasting repository the place the waste that has stacked up in 35 states could be shipped.

Some $19 billion was spent on the enormous Yucca Mountain underground storage website in Nevada to do the job however in 2010, the Obama administration halted the undertaking, following years of opposition from Silver State lawmakers, together with former Senate Majority Chief Harry Reid.

With Yucca off the desk, the Division of Power has taken formal steps to seek out potential “consolidated interim storage” places to take waste from industrial vegetation till the federal authorities finds a everlasting repository.

That’s the place the proposed website in New Mexico is available in.

Protecting simply over 1,000 acres, the undertaking has been dubbed the HI-STORE Consolidated Interim Storage Facility. Heaton stated Eddy and Lea counties will promote the land to Holtec, which is able to assemble and function the power, and the communities will obtain a share of the income the undertaking will generate by storing the waste.

Heaton didn’t supply monetary particulars of the association however stated the power has the potential to be a $3 billion funding.

If authorized, the undertaking is anticipated to be accomplished by late 2024 or early 2025.

The NRC expects to make a ultimate resolution on whether or not to grant a license in January.

What it may imply for San Onofre

Southern California Edison operates SONGS, and officers on the utility say they’re open to seeing the proposed New Mexico storage website — or another facility for that matter — as a vacation spot for the plant’s canisters, offered the undertaking meets the required security requirements, and prices aren’t unfairly shouldered by Southern California ratepayers.

Edison spokesman John Dobken stated the overwhelming majority of the canisters at SONGS at present meet ample necessities to permit them to be transported.

“Proper now, over 80% of these canisters can be found to ship if we had someplace to ship them to,” Dobken stated, including, “there’s lots that goes into the method of transport canisters that may take time and can nonetheless must be evaluated.”

San Onofre's storage facility.

The Impartial Spent Gasoline Storage Set up on the San Onofre Nuclear Producing Station. The lately accomplished storage website holds 73 canisters of radioactive spent gas from Models 2 and three.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

However even when the location in New Mexico will get constructed, there’s nonetheless a query of when or even when the canisters at SONGS will go there.

These choices are made by federal businesses, together with the U.S. Division of Transportation (the canisters would get shipped to the location by rail). Probably, different municipalities, some with nuclear energy vegetation that predate SONGS, will clamor to get within the entrance of the road.

The Division of Power has an “acceptance precedence rating” that’s colloquially referred to as the “oldest gas first” precept that provides the nod to waste that has been awaiting cargo for the longest time period.

Whereas that commonplace could be advantageous for a few of the spent gas at SONGS (in any case, Unit 1 opened again in 1967), the general impact would lead to it taking years for San Onofre waste to be fully eliminated.

Nevertheless, “oldest gas first” just isn’t set in stone and Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, has launched payments on Capitol Hill that may give precedence to spent gas at vegetation situated in areas with massive populations and seismic hazards. “Clearly, San Onofre is at or close to the highest of that record,” Levin stated in an interview Wednesday.

“I’ve stated that I’ll do every thing potential to get the waste off our coast as rapidly and as safely as we are able to,” Levin stated. “And I might be thrilled if a few of the consent points could be overcome with this New Mexico website and delighted to do all we are able to to push SONGS to the highest of the record.”

Opposition in New Mexico … and skepticism domestically

Getting consent from ample quarters figures to be an uphill battle.

An enormous purpose why the state’s governor is in opposition to the Eddy-Lea undertaking is because of fears that an interim website would ultimately flip right into a everlasting website, for all intents and functions.

The lease proposed by Holtec would run for 40 years, and critics warn that after the waste is delivered to an interim facility the motivation for the federal authorities to ever discover a everlasting repository will slacken.

“The state of New Mexico won’t turn into a dumping floor for the nation’s spent nuclear gas attributable to Congress’ failure to determine a everlasting disposal resolution for industrial nuclear waste,” Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, stated.

Opponents in New Mexico need the state Legislature to go a invoice that may stop New Mexico regulators from approving permits to assemble the Holtec facility, even when the NRC approves its license.

Oil and fuel firms oppose the undertaking, worrying that an accident on the website may threaten their industries, however the Eddy-Lea Power Alliance and Holtec level to the NRC’s 736-page environmental report that concluded the undertaking would haven’t any opposed impacts on vitality manufacturing.

Heaton stated the power could be glad to simply accept canisters from SONGS.

“Be affected person for one more couple of years till this facility will get constructed,” he stated. “After which that is the reply to getting …. spent gas off the shoreline and into an interim storage facility the place it may be safely saved till there’s a repository constructed.”

However quite a few native teams who’ve been extremely vital of Southern California Edison’s stewardship at SONGS through the years are skeptical the waste will get off the seashore anytime quickly.

Edison has lengthy insisted the radioactive gas rods at SONGS are safely saved within the stainless-steel canisters and could be taken out of their storage silos and transported with out incident however Charles Langley, govt director of Public Watchdogs, worries in regards to the canisters cracking and corroding.

“There’ll most likely scores of authorized challenges from communities that don’t need nuclear waste being moved by rail via their cities and cities,” Langley stated. “I feel it is going to be at the least 100 years earlier than there’s an answer to this.”

Ray Lutz, nationwide coordinator for Residents’ Oversight, has comparable considerations, and whereas he want to see the waste faraway from San Onofre, he wonders whether or not it’s proper that spent gas gathered through the years in California needs to be shipped to a state like New Mexico that by no means constructed a nuclear energy plant.

“It’s a matter of equity,” Lutz stated. “Since we benefited from operating our air conditioners throughout that point [that SONGS produced electricity], shouldn’t we’ve to take care of that waste in our personal neighborhood?”

Simply throughout the New Mexico border, one other interim storage undertaking pitched by a pair of personal firms has been proposed.

A three way partnership referred to as Interim Storage Companions desires to construct a facility in a distant space of West Texas, 35 miles from the city of Andrews. The ability wouldn’t be as huge because the one proposed in New Mexico — its builders foresee a complete capability of 40,000 metric tons of spent gas — however the NRC granted the partnership a license to develop the location final fall.

However as with New Mexico, the governor of Texas is against its building.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, claims the undertaking poses a security threat to the oil and fuel trade within the Permian Basin, one of the productive areas within the nation. Abbott signed onto a lawsuit that the Texas legal professional common has filed in federal court docket, in search of to vacate the NRC’s resolution to license the power.

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