After 44 years of operation, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station accumulated 3.55 million pounds of radioactive spent fuel. On a recent tour of the station, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm addressed where she hopes San Onofre's spent fuel will be going.
The spent fuel is resting in 123 massive canisters on the north side of the now decommissioned facility that was once among the largest in the nation. San Onofre's waste is part of a much larger problem faced by the federal government who now must dispose of approximately 89,000 tons of radioactive spent fuel from nuclear power plants in 35 states.
So where's it all going to go?
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that the federal government will pay cities and towns willing to step forward and accept a nuclear waste storage site in their region.
“We know that those communities will have to be compensated for their willingness, as a service to the nation, to be able to house one of these” storage sites, said Granholm.
The amount of compensation is unclear, and when asked Granholm said, “That’s to be decided.”
Granholm said that the Energy Department has received a "lot" of interest from communities but didn't state where, and she's confident that several communities will come forward.
The Department of Energy has announced formal steps to find potential "consolidated interim storage" locations to house the waste until a permanent underground repository can be built.
To date, finding a location for repositories has not gone well. A facility at Yucca Mountain in southern Nevada was almost complete when it was halted by the Obama administration in 2010. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved another facility in Andrews, West Texas but it's run into opposition from authorities, including Governor Greg Abbot. A similar situation is taking shape in southeastern New Mexico where a company is hoping to build a 10,000 canister facility, but the state's Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham opposes it.
Along with potential risks, communities are concerned that if they agree to housing an interim facility they could get stuck with it for decades, should the government not be able to secure a permanent site.
Despite the lack of success in securing a repository locations, “We’re taking it one step at a time,” Granholm said. “The interim storage is the first step. We have got to work with Congress on the permanent storage. If this is done right and we will do it right, it makes the conversation about permanent easier.”
Rep. Mike Levin, of San Juan Capistrano helped introduce legislation that have allocated a total of $40 million to get consent-based interim storage facilities approved. He has also introduced legislation that would give priority to removing spent fuel from plants like San Onofre that are located in highly populated regions and ones that face seismic activity.
The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was one of the largest nuclear generating stations in the U.S. Construction of the facility began in 1964 on an 84-acre plot of land along the Pacific Ocean that is leased from the US Marine Corps' Camp Pendleton. The first of its twin reactors was shut down in 1992 and the second in January of 2012. In 2016 after a failed attempt to resume operations, a contract was awarded to AECOM in 2016 to decommission the station.