Encinitas supports bill to move spent nuclear fuel

Federal legislation to relocate spent nuclear fuel from the shuttered San Onofre power plant has the support of the Encinitas City Council.

The Encinitas council on Jan. 27 voted unanimously to approve a resolution backing H.R. 3643, which would let the federal Department of Energy transfer spent nuclear waste at San Onofre and other areas to an interim storage facility.

“It seems critical that we move that waste from the coastline,” Councilman Tony Kranz said, adding the need is clear given the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The legislation came about because federal law only allows the Department of Energy to move spent fuel to a permanent depository, yet such a facility isn’t on the horizon. In 2010, the Obama Administration shelved plans for a long-planned permanent storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Oceanside Councilman Jerry Kern, who is on the San Onofre Decommissioning Community Engagement Panel, has urged North County cities to support the federal bill. So far, Oceanside and Encinitas have joined the cause.

Kern told the Encinitas council on Jan. 27 that if the federal government doesn’t take action soon, the spent nuclear fuel would remain in cask storage and cooling pools at San Onofre for decades.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to act,” Kern said.

Kern during the Encinitas council’s Jan. 13 meeting said the waste poses a threat, given the plant’s proximity to the ocean and so many people.

San Onofre waste has been on the council’s radar for a while. Prior to the federal legislation, Kranz and Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer last spring asked that the council weigh in on whether nuclear fuel should be stored at the plant.

Neither a temporary nor permanent site for spent nuclear fuel has been settled on. However, a company plans to build an interim facility in Texas and there’s another proposal in New Mexico. In Texas, environmental groups have raised concerns over the impact to aquifers. In New Mexico, opponents have said transporting the waste could be dangerous.

The bill has been assigned to a congressional subcommittee, according to Kern. Rep. Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Vista, co-sponsored the legislation.

Faulty steam generators led to the plant’s closure in 2013, heightening worries over the nuclear waste.

In September, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors asked the federal government to remove and relocate the waste. Later that month, H.R. 3643 was introduced.

With no plan in place for moving the spent fuel, the California Coastal Commission in October approved a measure to bury it in concrete bunkers at the San Onofre plant.

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