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Nuclear waste from Diablo Canyon Power Plant discussed at decommission meeting

Posted at 11:37 PM, Mar 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-14 18:14:05-04

Ahead of the impending closure of California’s last power plant, the Diablo Canyon plant in San Luis Obispo County, utility managers and members of a decommission panel met Wednesday to discuss what will be done with the hazardous nuclear waste.

The decommissioning of Diablo, which is slated for 2024, is forcing utility managers to consider how and when to dispose of dangerous nuclear waste currently stored on site.

Dr. Robert Budnitz, the Berkeley analyst who completed a report on the waste disposal, said there’s no doubt that the wasted fuel poses a risk.

“As long as that spent fuel is on the site, whether it’s in the pool or the cask, it’s a risk,” Budnitz said.

The wasted fuel storage currently contains fuel from about three decades ago, according to Budnitz, who said the longer the wasted fuel sits the less of a hazard it is.

Budnitz said the federally mandated cool down period for spent fuel before it can be moved is a minimum of five years.

If the plant resumes operations up until the deadline to decommission, that means the youngest spent fuel must be stored until 2030.

Though it’s still unclear how and where the wasted fuel will be moved upon Diablo’s closure, Budnitz said the process is certain to take years.

It’s the meantime that panelists are concerned about, considering risks presented by Budnitz that include earthquakes, a terror attack, erosion of the current waste containers by salty sea water mist in the air, and even a massive power outage.

“Things happen that we don’t anticipate, even though the possibility is very tiny, the consequences can be (big),” Linda Seeley, a panelist, said.

Seeley took issue with Budnitz’ opinion that the earlier mentioned risks are unlikely, citing the devastation that occurred when the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant released toxic waste into the environment during an earthquake and tsunami.

Monday marked the eight-year anniversary of the disaster in Japan, which released radioactive material into the ground, air, and water and continues to threaten residents’ health.

Carole Hisasue, a SLO County resident and member of SLO Mothers for Peace, warned panelists that safety cannot be underscored enough.

“I’m from Japan, so I know firsthand what’s going on there after the disaster,” Hisasue said .”One thing I can say is that it was not expected, no one expects these things to happen. You just don’t know, anything could happen. Anything could happen here, there could be a giant earthquake tonight, you just don’t know.”

People like Hisasue want more local politicians and community members to take an active role in the decommission meetings.

“We need to stay engaged, we need to stay involved,” Hisasue said.

Another major issue tied to the plant’s closure is the economic impact to SLO County. There will be a public hearing and report discussion in September.