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Community Commentary Opinion Opinions

Opinion: On San Onofre, feds need to do their job, but so does California

By Sen. Patricia Bates

There is broad consensus among North County residents about the need to move the nuclear waste of the closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) to a safe and secure location.

As many people know, the waste from SONGS sits near an active earthquake fault line, adjacent to the heavily-trafficked Interstate 5 and the Pacific Ocean, and sandwiched between densely-populated San Diego and Orange counties.

The continued storage of SONGS’ waste on site poses a threat to surrounding communities and beyond.

For years, I and many other local and state elected officials have urged the federal government to take possession of nuclear waste from SONGS and other sites across the country and store that waste at a safe location.

I previously served on the San Onofre Community Engagement Panel when I was a county supervisor.

I worked with my fellow panelists to address the issues raised by the continued storage of SONGS’ waste on-site.

In 2016, my first full year in the state Senate, I authored Senate Joint Resolution 23 that urged Congress to pass the Interim Consolidated Storage Act.

The Act would have paired a region that is volunteering to host an interim waste storage facility with communities around the country that have nuclear waste demanding a better storage solution.

Unfortunately, the Act did not become law, nor did a similar attempt by former Congressman Darrell Issa in 2017. Other attempts have also failed.

Nevertheless, there are signs this year in Washington D.C. that something could be done. President Trump has again proposed funding to restart licensing for Nevada’s Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and fund a “robust interim storage program.”

Congress in 1987 designated Yucca Mountain as the nation’s sole site to permanently store nuclear waste due to its remote location.

But in 2011, President Obama halted federal funding for the project at the urging of U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada.

In the House of Representatives, Congressman Mike Levin has introduced House Resolution 2995 that would prioritize the removal of SONGS’ waste away from our region.

In the U.S. Senate, Senator John Barrasso has proposed jump-starting licensing hearings for Yucca Mountain. The fate of these efforts remain to be seen.

The bottom line is this – the federal government must do its job to develop safe storage areas for the country’s nuclear waste, but the State of California also needs to do its job.

For as long as nuclear waste remains at SONGS, the state has a responsibility to ensure that local first responders are prepared should they need to respond to an incident.

That is why I authored Senate Bill 465 this year that would ensure continued funding for offsite emergency response planning, training, and exercises related to SONGS.

Specifically, SB 465 makes it clear in state law that local governments will continue to receive funding for costs incurred as a result of carrying out activities that ensure the safety of the communities surrounding SONGS.

These activities include emergency responder training and drills, radiological monitoring equipment and analysis software, crisis management systems, and emergency notification systems.

The good news is that the state Senate approved SB 465 on a strong bipartisan vote on May 23. However, the bill still needs the approval of the Assembly and Governor Newsom this year before it can become law.

While we wait for federal officials to enact a long-term nuclear waste solution, I hope the Assembly and the Governor can approve SB 465 this year to help keep everyone safe.

Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) represents the 36th District in the California Legislature.