Belly Up hosts ‘Songs for SONGS’ to protest San Onofre nuclear waste storage

U.S. Rep. Mike Levin told the Songs for SONGS crowd about the legislation he introduced to address the waste at San Onofre.
(Luke Harold)

A lineup of local leaders, musicians and other performers protested nuclear waste storage at the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station during “Songs for SONGS” at Belly Up in Solana Beach on Feb. 24.

Without a plan in place by the federal government for its disposal, San Onofre has been storing approximately 1,700 tons of nuclear waste. Its proximity to millions of Californians has been a cause for concern if an earthquake or other disaster caused a leak. The facility, commonly known as SONGS, is owned by Southern California Edison.

The San Onofre station has been closed since 2013, shortly after a failed steam generator led to a small radiation leak.

Chris Goldsmith, president of Belly Up Entertainment, said the issue is especially important to Belly Up because it is one of the few concert venues in the state located blocks from the ocean.

Gregory Jaczko, who served as the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 2009 until his resignation in 2012, told the crowd that developing a solution will be “really hard,” but not impossible.

“I got to know some amazing people, there are so many fantastic people who work at the NRC,” Jaczko said. “They have a difficult job. They work against an industry, a very, very powerful industry that puts profits over people too often. It’s your job, as the people, to make them recognize that it needs to be people over profit.”

Jaczko is part of a task force created by U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, to make policy recommendations for handling nuclear waste at San Onofre. Levin said the group’s report will be released in mid-March.

Last May, the congressman introduced the Spent Fuel Prioritization Act, which would require the Department of Energy to expedite the removal of nuclear waste from storage facilities in areas that have high population densities and earthquake risks, such as San Onofre. There are about 120 nuclear storage sites throughout the U.S. The bill was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change.

“It is incumbent upon each one of us to keep the pressure on and get that waste off the coast, and to do everything we can to secure that site,” Levin said to the audience.

Where that waste would end up is still in question. Over the last few years, President Trump allocated funds to a proposed Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada that had been approved by Congress in 2002, before the Obama administration discontinued its funding. But in response to pushback from Nevada residents and elected officials who are opposed to using that site, Trump announced on Twitter Feb. 6 that he will no longer pursue the Yucca Mountain option.

“We’re all trying to figure out what comes next,” Levin said in an interview. “It’s a little unclear, but we have to get back to a process of finding a new repository.”

Earlier this month, Levin announced the first $400,000 in funding for bluff stabilization in Solana Beach and Del Mar, culminating a 17-year effort to secure federal appropriations that can be added to local funds. He also mentioned the 20-year battle that ended last year with $300 million to address Tijuana River Valley pollution. Finding new temporary sites for safe nuclear storage and permanent sites for its disposal, he added, will require a similar level of persistence.

“With persistence you can do a lot of things,” Levin said. “We just have to keep at it.”