One of the great failures in U.S. energy policy was that we’ve never figured out what to do with the lethally radioactive waste produced by nuclear power plants. That’s why the owners of the decommissioned San Onofre nuclear plant have had little choice but to keep their spent fuel rods on site, bundled up in concrete bunkers at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, dangerously close to an earthquake fault and millions of people — and hope for the best until the federal government finds a good place to put the deadly waste.
As part of a legal settlement earlier this month, Southern California Edison, which is the majority owner of the shuttered nuclear power plant, promised to make a good-faith effort to find a safer home for the 3.55 million pounds of nuclear waste at the plant. That’s a welcome shift for the company, which has been focused on moving its spent fuel rods into safer containers on-site.
As for truly permanent storage, the U.S. Department of Energy’s proposed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada still appears to be the safest place in the country for a permanent nuclear repository, though even if all the stars aligned it would take decades to open. The federal government needs to renew its efforts to bring the Yucca Mountain site into operation.
Granted, when it comes to waste that’s going to remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years, there are no great solutions. But there are certainly better ones than continuing to hold more than 70,000 tons of nuclear fuel at about 120 operating and decommissioned nuclear plants across the country in facilities never intended for long-term storage, then hoping for the best.