With the decommissioning of Diablo Canyon, the state's last active nuclear power plant, looming in 2025, it might appear that the end of the nuclear age is in sight for California.
But sorry, no such luck. Not until the federal government makes good on its responsibility to find a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel.
More than 70,000 tons of nuclear waste sit waiting at about 120 facilities across the nation, including more than 1,600 tons at the shuttered
Things may start to change as soon as next month for two reasons. First, Sen.
The second change is that President-elect
Not to be insensitive to Nevadans, but thank goodness for that.
Of course, their concerns are understandable. No one wants tens of thousands of tons of radioactive garbage dumped nearby, especially given fears that it may someday leak into the groundwater. But for all its flaws, Yucca Mountain probably still represents the safest place in the country for a nuclear repository. It is dry, remote and stable, and it sits at the edge of a 1950s-era atomic testing site. More than $10 billion has already been spent developing the repository there. The fact is, no preferable alternative anywhere in the country has been identified, yet the waste has to go somewhere. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with nuclear power.
While the spent fuel is relatively safe for the moment being stored in casks or pools on the sites where it was generated, it's not secure or cost-effective to keep the waste stored there forever. Ratepayers who have already paid fees to fund waste facilities are being asked to keep paying to babysit the waste long after some of the plants that generated it have been decommissioned and demolished, and when there's more than $30 billion in ratepayer fees in a federal Nuclear Waste Fund available to spend on nuclear storage.
That's not to say the government shouldn't be developing other options for radioactive storage. It should. Even if Yucca Mountain is eventually opened for business, it won't be sufficient to meet the current need. Although the proposal to use privately run consolidated interim waste storage dumps until longer-term facilities open raises some security and safety concerns (moving nuclear waste across the country even once is bad enough), it's wise to explore all storage options because it will take years to open any new facility.
The feds have not fulfilled their side of the bargain to safely and permanently store nuclear waste, and it is high time for them to do so. Then we can move on to the next fraught nuclear waste debate: How to transport it to the dump.