A group of 15 Democrats on Capitol Hill have requested Congress spend $25 million to support the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a consolidated interim storage program aimed at finding a place to send used fuel from nuclear power plants that no longer generate electricity, such as the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, joined two other members of the House in drafting and circulating a letter that was presented Monday to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, urging the approval of the funding request.
"We're committed to finding a path forward," Levin told the Union-Tribune in a brief interview in between votes at the U.S. Capitol.
For decades, the federal government has failed to find a permanent site to store the highly radioactive used fuel from nuclear plants across the country.
After funding for Yucca Mountain in Nevada was cut off in 2009 by the Obama administration, more discussion has been raised about consolidated interim storage sites that would be built in relatively isolated locations where multiple nuclear plants could send their waste. Facilities in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas have been mentioned as potential destinations.
The $25 million request consists of $10 million to start the program within the Department of Energy, $10 million for site preparation to move the used fuel to interim storage facilities and $5 million for the department's regional transportation plan.
Levin said he's focused on finding a way to move the 3.55 million pounds of waste at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, known as SONGS, to another location.
"It's really, really important that we have a road map to determine how and when we're going to remove the waste from our coast," Levin said.
While eight of the 15 members who signed the letter represent California congressional districts, the request also included representatives of states in New England, New Jersey and Wisconsin.
"This reflects there is concern in communities across the country about the short-term storage of nuclear waste," said Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego. "We need a permanent solution."
The Trump administration's fiscal 2020 budget for the Department Energy called for "robust" funding for an interim storage program. The administration also supports efforts by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, to revive funding for Yucca Mountain.
"I think it's important to pursue both avenues," Peters said. "If there's a third avenue, we'd pursue that, too. Waste does not belong in that place in the condition that it's in."
In the process of being decommissioned, SONGS has not produced electricity since 2012. The plant is located on an 85-acre chunk of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, owned by the Department of the Navy. The plant sits between the Pacific and one of the busiest freeways in the country — Interstate 5. About 8.4 million people live in a 50-mile radius of the plant in an area with a history of seismic activity.
The dry cask storage facilities are about 100 feet from the ocean, protected by a seawall 28 feet high.
"We've got to prioritize a site like San Onofre where you've got heightened seismic risks and heightened population density," Levin said.