Congressmen want 100-year canisters for spent nuclear fuel. Would bill affect Diablo Canyon?

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A new bill from two California congressmen could mandate longer-lived canisters for storing spent fuel from nuclear power plants.

Congressmen Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, proposed their “100 Year Canister Life Act” to the House of Representatives last week. Carbajal represents the area of San Luis Obispo County that is home to Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, while Levin represents the district where the defunct San Onofre plant is located.

The bill, if enacted, would require the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to mandate that future nuclear waste storage canisters at nuclear power plants have a lifespan of no less than 100 years.

That’s up from the NRC’s current regulations, which requires a lifespan of 40 years.

Diablo Canyon is already using 100-year canisters at the plant north of Avila Beach, PG&E spokesperson Suzanne Hosn said. It has 58 canisters holding 1,856 used fuel assemblies at its independent spent fuel storage installation.

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant on June 1, 2023. Laura Dickinson/The Tribune
Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant on June 1, 2023. Laura Dickinson/The Tribune

With no national repository, spent nuclear fuel is stored at plants

The bill comes as the U.S. government struggles to find long-term solutions for spent nuclear fuel.

“Raising these standards will also raise the confidence that nearby communities have in the safety of nuclear power plants, and until there is an agreement on the final storage site for these fuels, this change isn’t just a good precaution, it’s a necessity,” Carbajal said in a prepared statement. “As the representative for California’s only remaining active nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon, I know that safety should be the paramount concern when it comes to nuclear power.”

Levin has introduced the same bill during previous legislative sessions, with it making no headway in Congress.

“There are over 3.5 million pounds of nuclear waste stored in my district at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. This waste sits on the coast, next to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, on an active fault line,” Levin said in a prepared statement. “While it’s essential that Congress and the Department of Energy find safe, consent-based permanent disposal solutions for this spent fuel, this bill would ensure the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel until we find a long-term solution.”

Hosn emphasized that the current system is not a long-term solution to storing spent nuclear fuel.

“While this method is safe, secure and inspected by the NRC, our customers should not have to bear this cost burden,” Hosn said. “The federal government made a commitment to accept and store spent fuel, and it is important to our customers and our community that the government fulfills this commitment.”