Some months ago we wrote about the shutting-down process for PG&E’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which the company has initiated.
We likened the plant’s demise for many Central Coast residents as the death of a “monster that has menaced the region for years.” For another group of residents, we said it was like watching the lingering death of a family member. We predicted on publication of editorial that we would get responses from both sides, and we did within a couple of days.
Our point was that there were pros and cons to closing the plant, the biggest cons being economic and what to do with the stored nuclear waste. As of this writing there is no answer from the federal government or the companies involved on the question of how to safely dispose of the radioactive leftovers.
The first to respond was a local resident, whose commentary contained the following passage: “Calling it (the Diablo Canyon plant) a ‘monster’ is a really unwarranted and unfair characterization. It has pumped billions into our coastal communities' economies each year without the slightest failure. The plant workers and company have given millions to our charities every year. …”
True enough. It is also true that the Diablo Canyon facility has been supplying reliable, relatively safe electric power to about 4 million Californians, a point made by that writer, along with other valid supporting points in favor of nuclear power.
But, as always, the question of what to do with the hot mess left behind when a nuclear plant shuts down was not answered, and it is a problem so vexing that no one seems able to come up with a workable answer. One idea we’ve heard over the years is to put the radioactive materials in rockets and send the stuff into deep space. Not only is that unrealistic, it poses several potential dangers, as in a failed launch attempt.
Southern California’s San Onofre nuclear power plant was shuttered six years ago, and more than 3.5 million pounds of radioactive waste remains onsite because no one has come up with a plan of where it can be taken that will not be as hazardous as leaving it on the California coast.
Members of a House subcommittee held a hearing last weeks ago near the closed San Onofre plant, mostly to focus public attention on the urgency driving efforts to build a long-term national repository for used radioactive fuel, a proposal that has languished at the federal level for decades.
Here’s the problem: Even if a bipartisan agreement is reached soon in Congress — about as likely as Lady Gaga becoming queen of England — the development of such a site would be at least a decade away, and that’s being optimistic. In the meantime, 8.4 million residents live within 50 miles of the San Onofre plant, which is within sight of a busy freeway and in a region spider-webbed with earthquake faults.
Sound familiar? The Central Coast has far fewer residents, but there are enough neighbors near the Diablo Canyon site to make some folks worry.
One in three Americans lives within 50 miles of a nuclear waste site, either an active nuclear plant, or closed plants still storing radioactive materials.
Development of a long-term storage site at Nevada's Yucca Mountain was halted during the Obama administration, and the Trump administration has moved to restart the licensing process, But the plan faces fierce resistance in Nevada. Meanwhile, proposals in New Mexico and Texas for temporary storage sites are also facing criticism.
The problem remains unsolved.