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06 • 24 • 2020

SONGS Task Force Recommendations Published

By Angela Howe

Surfrider Foundation was honored to take part in the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (“SONGS”) Task Force to address management of spent nuclear fuel at SONGS, including safe storage of waste while onsite, as well as eventual transportation offsite away from the coast. The SONGS Task Force was organized by federal Representative Mike Levin in January 2019 and had its first meeting on April 25, 2019. The Task Force was chaired by Gregory Jaczko, former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Leendert “Len” Hering, retired Rear Admiral for the U.S. Navy, and made up of local stakeholders and experts to address the grave issue of spent nuclear fuel storage. Surfrider held two seats on the Task Force, with our Legal Director, Angela Howe, on the Policy Committee, and our Staff Scientist, Katie Day on the Technical Committee.

On June 24, 2020, the 2019-2020 Report of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Task Force was published, including 30 recommendations based on 29 findings related to the challenge of dealing with spent nuclear fuel from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The recommendations in the report were put into the following categories (1) Federal Legislation and Regulatory Oversight, (2) State Legislation and Regulatory Oversight, (3) Best Practices, (4) Storage and Aging Management, and (5) Safety and Handling.

The United States government has jurisdiction and mandate to address spent nuclear fuel siting and storage.  The federal government has not been able to find a solution for long-term storage since the Yucca Mountain project was rejected over a decade ago. This lack of action has resulted in spent fuel (also known as high level radioactive waste) trapped at nuclear plants across the US, many of which are located directly next to the coastline. With several nuclear plants in the process of decommissioning, and many more expected to decommission over the coming years, the issue of stranded fuel will continue to be of national significance.

Members of Congress are aware and have been addressing the issue in recent bills; however, they have not been able to pass a bipartisan plan to safely store the nation’s spent nuclear fuel, including the 3.6 million pounds of high level radioactive waste waiting on the coast in North San Diego County at San Onofre.  For the Task Force report, Surfrider Foundation was most involved in developing the federal recommendations, which suggests that federal legislation be introduced or amended to:

·      Require a plan for removal of spent nuclear fuel from the SONGS site on San Onofre State Beach.

·      Create a framework to achieve consent for future storage and disposal sites.

·      Include mandates for federal accountability, including timeline requirements, and enforcement mechanisms for transport and storage of spent nuclear fuel.

·      Grant state authority to perform environmental review of transport, storage and siting of spent nuclear fuel.

While the Task Force also addressed the state’s role with recommendations, Surfrider Foundation was not as intimately involved in drafting this section and did not sign on to these directly.  We are, however, devising our recommendations for state agencies, like the California Coastal Commission and State Lands Commission, to support the process of moving the spent nuclear fuel away safely from the coast.  Read Surfrider’s full position statement on SONGS here.

The task force identified a number of challenges in the current approach to ensuring the offsite transfer and safety of spent nuclear fuel at SONGS.  These findings, in part, address failures in regulatory oversight and the failure of the federal government to secure permanent storage for nuclear waste.  The Task Force, comprised of dozens of local stakeholders, elected officials and experts, took the first step of exposing the greatest needs and challenges while offering initial recommendations on solutions to the spent nuclear fuel problem.  We are hopeful that this report will spur meaningful action in the federal government to locate and implement appropriate long term siting and storage for nuclear waste away from the coast, and improve the safety of spent nuclear fuel generated by SONGS. 

Learn more about the tainted history at SONGS including sewage spills, inadequate training and supervision, insufficient inspection of canisters before loading, near drop of a canister loaded with spent fuel, and faulty steam generators.

Click here to contact your federal representatives to encourage their action and support on finding a storage solution and getting nuclear waste safely moved off the beach.