Editorials

The federal government promised to take spent nuclear fuel. It’s time it kept its word.

To whom it may not concern:

Please allow us to introduce ourselves. We are a nuclear community, and we are tired of waiting for a “solution” to the dilemma of what to do with spent radioactive fuel.

Back when the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant was under construction, we often asked: What would happen to the waste?

PG&E assured us there was nothing to worry about; the federal government would open a permanent repository. We were given a likely location — federal land way out in the Nevada desert. The plan was to bury the waste in a series of tunnels underneath Yucca Mountain.

You know the rest of the story: 40 or so years later, we still have no permanent repository. Not at Yucca, and not anywhere else.

Many of you could care less. You don’t have spent nuclear fuel (or any nuclear fuel, for that matter) in your community.

Besides, there are more pressing issues: North Korea. Health care. Immigration. Terrorism. Jobs (or lack thereof). Melting icebergs.

To be honest, even many of us living near Diablo Canyon don’t obsess over the fact that we’re a de facto repository for what’s been referred to as “stranded waste.” We, too, have other things on our minds.

But don’t take our silence for acquiescence. Just because we aren’t taking to the streets, demanding something be done, doesn’t mean we’re satisfied with the situation.

We — and other communities like us — are fed up with the delays.

The federal government agreed in 1982 that it would take custody of spent fuel from nuclear plants across the nation and store it in a safe facility. We’re no closer to that goal today than we were 35 years ago.

Here’s a brief recap of the most recent chapters: Eight years ago, the Obama administration took Yucca off the table and appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission to recommend alternatives. Those recommendations included building pilot, interim and permanent storage facilities under a “consent based siting” model — meaning communities would volunteer to “host” waste management facilities.

Draft guidelines for the consent siting process were issued in January, in the waning days of the Obama administration. Those guidelines estimate that it would take one to three years just to initiate the consent-based siting process.

In other words, there was plenty of planning, but not much else to show for eight years of work.

Now we have a new president, and Yucca Mountain is back under consideration — even though Nevada’s leadership is far from keen on the idea.

Democrat Harry Reid — one of Yucca’s most outspoken opponents — is gone, but an article in last month’s Atlantic magazine reported that Nevada’s governor and five of its six members of Congress oppose reviving the plan to turn Yucca Mountain into a storehouse for nuclear fuel for the next 10,000 years or so.

Among their concerns: Radioactive water could leak from the facility. An earthquake could damage it (in 2007 a fault line was discovered under the site). An accident could occur when fuel is being transported to the facility. The site could be a target for terrorists.

Defenders say the site is one of the most studied spots on Earth and a nuclear storage facility there would be safe.

That may be true, but the government still faces an uphill battle with Yucca Mountain that could drag on in court for years and cost taxpayers billions of dollars, in addition to the $15 billion already spent.

Another option is on the nearer-term horizon: Congressman Darrell Issa of California is co-sponsoring legislation, the Interim Consolidated Storage Act, that would allow private waste facilities to accept spent nuclear fuel on an interim basis. Two facilities — one in Texas and another in New Mexico — are seeking licenses.

Issa, whose district includes the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente, describes the legislation a “creative solution” to the problem of storing waste “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.”

He was referring to spent fuel stored at San Onofre, but much of that applies to Diablo Canyon as well.

We are “right on the coast” and “along a fault line” (multiple fault lines, in fact), and although our community isn’t as densely populated — more than 26,000 people live within 10 miles of the plant (according to 2010 census figures) — that population swells with tourists on busy weekends.

Issa said allowing waste to remain at San Onofre indefinitely “is only asking for trouble.”

Again, the same could be said of allowing waste to remain at Diablo Canyon.

We aren’t ready to endorse the Interim Consolidated Storage Act at this early juncture, and we’re concerned Yucca Mountain will be delayed forever. Although we admire the principle behind consent-based siting, we’re not convinced that’s a realistic approach. (If the government does go that route, will communities like ours have the opportunity to “consent” to “hosting” spent radioactive fuel until it’s finally removed?)

In other words, we aren’t advocating for or against a particular plan at this time.

So what, exactly, do we want?

Simple: We want attention.

We want elected officials at every level — from our mayors to our county supervisors to our state lawmakers to our senators and congressional representatives — to stop ignoring this.

Storage of spent radioactive fuel is not an issue to be dusted off when elections roll around or when new administrations take charge or when accidents or incidents occur at nuclear power plants.

The federal government made a commitment to nuclear communities. It has not kept it, and while the issue’s getting some traction now, that could fade if we don’t press the issue.

It’s up to us living near nuclear power plants to keep this alive.

Contact the president and your congressional representatives. (Town hall meetings are one opportunity.) Enlist state and local officials to shine a light on the issue.

As for those of you who don’t have as much as cause for concern, we understand. But if you would like to join us in holding government accountable, we’d be grateful.

How to contact public officials

▪  President Donald Trump: Phone 202-456-1111, or go to https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/write-or-call for more options.

▪  Sen. Dianne Feinstein: 202-224-3841, https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact

▪  Sen. Kamala Harris: 202-224-3553, https://www.harris.senate.gov/content/contact-senator

▪  Rep. Salud Carbajal: 202-225-3601, https://carbajal.house.gov/contact

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