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'This facility is unique' | Energy Secretary visits San Onofre to discuss solutions for nuclear waste storage

While engineers insist the spent fuel is kept safe on location at San Onofre, the move to find a more permanent storage location is underway.

SAN DIEGO — The Secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy paid a visit to the San Onofre nuclear site Thursday to discuss the search for solutions on nuclear waste storage. 

“We know how to store nuclear waste safely,” said Secretary Jennifer Granholm. “The question is where we do it.” 

A stalemate has plagued this issue for decades, but they’re hoping to make progress in finding an interim storage location for the spent nuclear fuel sitting in cannisters at San Onofre. 

“This facility is unique in that it stores nuclear waste just feet from our Pacific Ocean, near earthquake fault lines, surrounded by highly populated areas, and located on property owned by Camp Pendleton,” said Congressman Mike Levin. 

In December, the Department of Energy put out an RFI, or request for information, in search of potential relocation sites for spent nuclear fuel. They received over 200 responses. 

“We know that housing these operations is not for everybody,” said Secretary Granholm. “But they do bring jobs.  They do bring economic opportunities and some communities find that intriguing.” 

As far as financial incentives, Secretary Granholm did not name any specific dollar amounts, but she did indicate that this administration would compensate any host communities with federal money. 

“Some communities have raised their hand to have these conversations, so I’m confident that we’ll get there,” said Secretary Granholm. 

At the San Onofre site, spent nuclear fuel is stored in the form of small pellets. 

“The pellets are actually a ceramic material like glass, very, very hard, very durable,” said Jerry Stephenson, Engineering Manager at San Onofre. “There’s nothing like in the Simpsons where you see the green goo. There’s none of that.  It’s all solid material.” 

The pellets are stored within larger cannisters. The entirety of all the nuclear waste produced by the San Onofre reactors over a 40-year period sits in 123 cannisters on-site. 

“Nuclear power makes a very small volume of waste,” said Stephenson. “After running for decades, all of the spent fuel from making a tremendous amount of electricity for decades is contained here.” 

While engineers insist the spent fuel is kept safe on location at San Onofre, the move to find a more permanent storage location is underway. 

“The current system of spent nuclear fuel storage is not sustainable, particularly for sites that no longer have operating reactors and could be redeveloped for other and better uses,” said Congressman Levin. 

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