Avoiding California’s Fukushima

San Onofre nuclear waste storage program moving forward

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) may have stopped running, but the battle over where to store the waste it’s generated over the decades is heating up.

Representative Darrell Issa, a long-time incumbent of California’s 49th District (covering parts of Orange and San Diego counties), is not loved by environmentalists. He boasts a track record of voting against environmental regulation at pretty much any opportunity that presents itself—the League of Conservation voters gives him a 4% on their scorecard that tracks pro-environmental voting records. But right now, he’s on the same side of the fight with many local and statewide environmentalists: opposing the indefinite storage of nuclear waste at the mothballed San Onofre nuclear power plant.

As of now, the plan is to keep spent fuel in dry cask storage, about 100 feet from the sea, behind a thirty-foot seawall, near an earthquake fault line, a stone’s throw from millions of people, with what sure seems like scant protection against an oceanic disaster, the likes of which felled Fukushima (though there’s no chance of a meltdown like at Fukushima, since the reactors are shut down, any waste escaping the plant would be a disaster). Southern California Edison, the company responsible for managing the waste, has already begun filling storage containers.

Issa’s bill, the Interim Consolidated Storage Act, would move that waste to…well, somewhere else. “In my district, the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station houses more than 3.6 million pounds of nuclear material right on the coast, along a fault line, on one of the largest U.S. military bases, in the heart of one of our most densely populated communities,” Issa’s office said in a press release. “Allowing it to stay there indefinitely is only asking for trouble.”

The bill would cover not just the San Onofre plant, but temporary storage sites around the country.

The suspect part, however, is that the bill appears to funnel the storage projects toward a private company, Waste Control Specialists, the founder of which donated millions to potential incoming Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s Texas gubernatorial campaigns. This could be at the expense of potentially better-managed federal storage facilities like Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, or perhaps further from the sea on Camp Pendleton’s property.

Local citizen advocacy and environmental groups filed a lawsuit to prevent the longterm storage of waste at San O’, and a decision is expected next month.

In the meantime, next time you’re cheater-fiving your way across a crumbly wall at Old Man’s, try not to think of the literal tons of nuclear waste slumbering just ashore.