As many folks know, San Onofre and other nuclear power plants must periodically replace the reactor fuel rods — leaving them with a growing stockpile of radioactive ‘spent’ fuel rods. Since the federal government has not fulfilled its promise to provide a repository for the dangerous waste, nuclear plants have been storing it on site.

A California Energy Commission report from November says San Onofre doesn’t have enough storage to handle the waste through its existing license, which expires in 2022. In addition, it doesn’t have storage for another 20 years worth of spent fuel rods if the plant’s licenses are renewed and no off-site solution emerges.

The report notes that San Onofre uses water-filled pools to store spent fuel for at least five years. But it does not have sufficient pool capacity to store the waste that will be generated through its existing license period. So San Onofre has been adding dry cask storage facilities, and then filling those slots with spent rods that have already been in the storage pools for the required five years.

But the consultants hired by the state energy commission concluded that even with the additional dry cask storage, San Onofre “will need to develop additional on-site storage or secure off-site storage to store all the spent fuel to be produced during the plant’s current operating license,” i.e. through 2022.

The consultants also note that “there are no estimates as to how long the spend fuel will remain in interim dry-cask storage, and no additional off-site or on-site interim fuel storage facilities are being considered” by San Onofre. In any event, given San Onofre’s space limitations, the plant would be hard-pressed to add enough storage for the additional 20 years of operation that it seeks.

Update: The original version of this post said the lease expires in 2020. It expires in 2022. We regret the error.

— ELIZABETH DOUGLASS

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