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Feinstein Seeks Better Management Of Spent Fuel At California Nuclear Plants

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Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. (County of San Luis Obispo)

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. (County of San Luis Obispo)

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – California’s two nuclear power plants should not rely on pools similar to those used at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant for long term storage of spent fuel rods, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Wednesday.

Feinstein said the most striking aspect of her recent tour of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Luis Obispo and the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Southern California was the reliance at both facilities on spent fuel pools that have become so problematic in Japan since the March 11 quake.

“These pools often become de facto long term storage,” she said during a Senate subcommittee in Washington convened a week after the tour.

KCBS’ Holly Quan Reports:

Spent fuel must remain in water for five to seven years before it is encased in concrete and steel canisters, known as dry cask storage. But Feinstein said it often sits much longer, and urged regulators to require a swifter transfer to more stable storage.

“In California for instance, fuel removed from reactors in 1984 is still cooling in wet spent fuel pools,” she said.

Officials from the Energy Department and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission testified that storage pools are safe for at least 100 years.

Feinstein said she was impressed by the safety precautions Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison had put in place at the two facilities that supply 15 percent of California’s electricity and together employ thousands.

Still, Japan’s magnitude-9.0 quake and tsunami showed how fragile the best emergency preparations can be, she said.

“We need to reconfirm that these facilities are designed to withstand the threats we can foresee, and prepare to respond to scenarios we never imagined,” Feinstein said.

Officials at Southern California Edison said they were already planning a new seismic study at San Onofre. A seismic study released in February found the plant could withstand a magnitude-7.0 quake.

PG&E built Diablo Canyon to withstand a magnitude-7.5 quake, and local lawmakers want the utility to withdraw its license renewal until new studies assess the potential damage of a previously unknown fault line a half mile from the plant.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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