OCEANSIDE — The Oceanside City Council is considering joining a coalition of Southern California cities that is pushing the federal government to find an off-site, permanent storage facility for spent nuclear fuel.
During the March 9 meeting, the council directed staff to connect with the County of San Diego, a member of the Action For Spent Fuel Solutions Now coalition, and bring back a resolution that would commit the city of Oceanside to the coalition as well.
The coalition was formed last year with the goal of encouraging the federal government to find a more permanent solution to storing spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s many decommissioning nuclear power plant sites, including the nearby San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, or SONGS.
Deconstruction of the SONGS plant started a few years ago and is expected to finish sometime closer to the decade’s end. Although the plant will be completely gone from the site, the passive dry storage facility where spent fuel is kept will remain indefinitely until the federal government fulfills its duty to find a permanent, spent fuel storage location.
“Federal legislation required the federal government to begin disposal of spent nuclear fuel in 1998,” said Kristal Jabara, spokesperson for District 5 Supervisor Jim Desmond. “More than two decades later, we’re still waiting for them to meet this requirement.”
Jabara spoke on behalf of Desmond at Oceanside’s council meeting. She noted that the County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to join the coalition which currently has more than 200 members.
Desmond, whose district covers Oceanside, is also a member of Rep. Mike Levin’s (D-San Juan Capistrano) SONGS Task Force, which was formed in 2019 to address the issue of spent nuclear fuel being stored at the facility right next to the Pacific Ocean on Camp Pendleton land.
Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez is also a member of Levin’s task force, which led to the creation of a bipartisan Spent Nuclear Fuel Solutions Caucus in Congress.
Most of the council members indicated they would support joining the coalition.
“This is something of great importance for all of us,” Sanchez said.
The cities of Escondido, San Marcos, Vista, Carlsbad, San Diego, National City, El Cajon and La Mesa are also part of the coalition.
SONGS is located about 16 miles north of Oceanside and is about 200 yards from Interstate 5. It also neighbors Onofre State Beach, a popular surfing spot.
Bart Ziegler, co-founder of the Samuel Lawrence Foundation, also spoke at the March 9 meeting in an effort to convince the council to approve a draft resolution regarding the dangers of spent nuclear waste stored at SONGS.
“The potential of radiation exposure to Southern California is too important to ignore,” Ziegler explains in his email to City Council. “A catastrophe could hurt the Oceanside city revenue stream and affect funding. It’s necessary to ensure that this toxic waste is disposed of correctly and safely in order to keep the coastline functional, our economy protected, and our community safe.”
Manuel Camargo, principal manager of decommissioning at SONGS who was also present at the meeting, said there are “zero incidences” that would result in an offsite release of radiation due to the spent nuclear fuel being stored in passive, dry storage.
The fuel itself is in a solid-state within canisters in the storage facility, so even if a canister was damaged the fuel could not spread outside of it.
Camargo noted that Southern California Edison, the utility company that owns SONGS, also supports finding a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel and has created a strategic plan to assist the federal government in its effort.