A Billion Pounds of Nuclear Waste. Where?

Southern California Edison (SCE) released its required annual report on decommissioning activities at the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). Here is an excerpt from their report.


“Over the course of decommissioning, it is anticipated that over one billion pounds of waste will be transported off-site for recycling and disposal. To accomplish this, building debris is sorted and packaged for out of state disposal. Radioactive waste is transported by rail to Clive, Utah, which will dispose of approximately 90-percent of the Project’s radioactive waste, and the remaining is sent by truck to Andrews, Texas. Non-radioactive waste is transported by truck to La Paz, Arizona. To facilitate timely removal of waste and debris, work began in 2021 to install a new railyard and additional rail lines on-site. Off-site shipments in 2021 by both rail and truck totaled over 60 million pounds.”


Higher level radioactive waste must be transported to a different permanent or interim storage site, neither of which exists at present. One potential site in New Mexico has been initially approved by The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), although local officials have strong reservations about the recommendation. Here is an update from the NRC.


“The NRC has published its final environmental impact statement for Holtec International’s application for a license to construct and operate a consolidated interim spent nuclear fuel storage facility in Lea County, New Mexico. Based on its environmental review, the NRC staff recommends issuing the license, subject to the determinations in the staff’s safety review of the application. 


“Holtec proposes initially to store 500 canisters holding approximately 8,680 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel in a first phase and eventually to store up to 10,000 canisters in an additional 19 phases. The canisters would be transported by rail from operating, decommissioning, and decommissioned commercial nuclear power plants around the country.”


The irony of this proposal is that Holtec is the major manufacturer of the canisters used at SONGS and other nuclear power plants to store spent nuclear fuel. These canisters are designed to last 20 years, so this planned obsolescence will now potentially benefit Holtec if it can rebury them in New Mexico.