Nuclear waste storage

Posted by Christine, March 8, 2013

The San Luis Obispo Tribune editorialized about the issue of nuclear waste storage this week. Over 2,000 tons is stored in the county, on the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant site:

The seismic safety of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant continues to be a focus of concern, and rightfully so. We need only look at Fukushima, Japan, to see the devastating consequences when an unexpectedly large earthquake strikes a nuclear power plant.

Just last week, Rep. Lois Capps called on Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Allison MacFarlane to ensure a thorough, independent review of offshore faults near Diablo Canyon before proceeding with relicensing.

We could not agree more, and we applaud Capps for continuing to stress the issue.

But seismic safety isn’t our only concern. It’s time — past time — for the federal government to enact a plan for long-term storage of nuclear waste, and we look to Capps and other elected leaders to press for that.

Some background: Back in the 1970s and ’80s, PG&E assured the community that it needn’t worry about storage of nuclear waste. The federal government was working to open a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada that would be asafe, permanent home for Diablo’s spent fuel.

More than 30 years have passed, and we’re still waiting for that safe, permanent home to appear.

Yucca Mountain is unlikely to ever open; President Barack Obama withdrew support for that facility at the beginning of his first term and appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission to look at other solutions.

That commission recommended making “prompt efforts” to develop one or more consolidated nuclear waste storage facilities. It also recommended a new, “consent-based approach” to siting future storage facilities — in other words, communities should be willing to sign on as hosts.

Last month, the Department of Energy issued a strategy to implement the Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations. Its goals include:

• Opening a pilot interim storage facility by 2021 that would handle waste from nuclear plants that have already shut down.

• Opening a larger interim facility by 2025.

• Opening a permanent, geologic repository by 2048.

That timetable is contingent, though, on passage of enabling legislation.

One of Congress’ first orders of business is to define what it means for a community to “consent” to hosting a nuclear storage facility.

The report emphasizes why consent is so important: “This Strategy endorses the proposition that prospective host jurisdictions must be recognized as partners. Public trust and confidence is a prerequisite to the success of the overall effort, as is a program that remains stable over many decades; therefore, public perceptions must be addressed regarding the program’s ability to transport, store, and dispose of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in a manner that is protective of the public’s health, safety, and security and protective of the environment.”

We agree that consent is critical.

But what happens if there are no willing host communities? Will San Luis Obispo County and other “reactor communities” become de facto permanent storage sites — with or without our consent?

If that’s the case, will there at least be a process to ensure long-term safety and monitoring of stored waste, and a funding stream to make sure safety measures are followed in perpetuity?

We understand these are back-burner questions for most of the nation. For now, sequestration, immigration, gun control, foreign policy, education, jobs and a host of other issues are more pressing and more important.

And that’s our concern: There always will be something else that takes precedence. It’s been that way for 30 years and, unless reactor communities speak up, it will continue for another 30 years, and 30 years after that. Deadlines will come and go, and nothing will change.

Rep. Capps recently told The Tribune Editorial Board that she would make nuclear waste storage a priority. That’s encouraging. We urge others — including local elected officials, environmental groups, business organizations and of course, PG&E — to join in pressuring the federal government to fulfill its duty.

We’ve waited long enough. The federal government must stop appointing committees, issuing reports and setting deadlines and act.

That editorial is fine, but it’s unfortunate that the newspaper doesn’t post the OpEd opinion from Mothers for Peace which was published on the editorial page subsequently. MfP advocates for ending production of nuclear waste by shutting down the plant.
That may reflect the newspaper’s concern with county finances, on which they have also editorialized:
Editorial: Backup needed in case of Diablo plant shutdown
Published: February 27, 2013 

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is operated by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Joe Johnston —

County wise to make moves toward a contingency plan to soften local economic impact if power plant is ever shuttered

No matter how you feel about nuclear energy — pro, con or indifferent — there’s no denying that the Diablo Canyon Power Plant is a huge contributor to the Central Coast economy. Given our dependence on Diablo-related jobs and tax revenue, it makes sense to develop a financial contingency plan in the event that the plant shuts down.

The Board of Supervisors deserves credit for agreeing last week to start that planning process.

To be clear, we don’t expect the plant to close anytime soon. Diablo is licensed to operate through 2025 and could be relicensed for an additional 20 years.

Given the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s track record of approving relicensing applications, it seems almost certain that Diablo will be allowed to operate through 2045.

Nonetheless, it’s inevitable that there will come a day when the plant is gone, whether it’s 10 years or 30 years from now. When that happens, the financial fallout will be grim.

According to a 2009 Cal Poly study, property taxes paid by PG&E will drop dramatically, from $25 million in 2009 to $1 million; hundreds of high paying jobs will be lost; and local cities — including some in Santa Barbara County — will lose millions in sales tax revenue.

The forecast for the San Luis Coastal School District is especially dire. The report predicts a “dramatic reduction of revenue … most likely shifting this basic aid district to a revenue limit district, that is more susceptible to State budget fluctuations.”

The study also looks at what’s likely to happen to the PG&E property after the plant is decommissioned. It concludes that cattle grazing and recreation — including hiking, biking and surfing venues — are the most likely uses, but downplays their economic benefits.

In other words, the report reads like an economic horror story.

But throwing up our hands and waiting for the worst is not the answer. Nor is complacently assuming that, by that time, new industries will be on the scene to cushion the economic loss.

Right now, we have the luxury of time to prepare, and we should take advantage of it.

Government agencies need to take a long-term look at how to optimize Diablo-related tax revenue while it’s still available, possibly by increasing reserves or completing capital projects.

It also makes sense to begin analyzing alternative uses for the site, paying special attention to what it will take to get the necessary legal agreements and permits in place.

Again, the Board of Supervisors was on the right track when it directed County Administrator Dan Buckshi to report back on how to proceed with a study of financial life after Diablo. We look forward to his recommendations.