Feds seek input on community advisory boards for decommissioning nuclear reactors

The community advisory board that provides input on the decommissioning of the Humboldt Bay Power Plant has involved a diverse group of elected officials, experts and community residents comprised of school principals and members of environmental groups, said Jennifer Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper. The main way that community advisory board, or CAB, could be improved is by including tribal representation.

That’s the primary input locals gave representatives from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at a meeting at the Wharfinger Building on Monday night. The representatives were seeking input on the best practices for establishing and operating community advisory boards for decommissioning nuclear power reactors.

“There’s a real need to broaden the stakeholder base in general,” said Jennifer Savage, of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit that has been working to get nuclear waste off the state’s coast.

The meeting was in the evening, didn’t have food and didn’t have child care, “excluding a lot of people who might otherwise want to participate,” Savage said.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.

“The most important thing was that there were a lot of PG&E reps who’ve been involved with decommissioning and involved in the CAB for years and years,” Kalt said. “They heard loud and clear that we want the CAB to continue as long as there is nuclear waste stored at the site.”

The decommissioning process is almost over, Kalt said, and should be completed sometime next year, “but the waste is buried underground at the top of the bluffs there in King Salmon.”

Suzanne Hosn, spokesperson for PG&E, said the safety of the community is a priority and that “PG&E plans to maintain the site for the foreseeable future.”

“We will be maintaining a presence at this site for quite some time,” Hosn said, “so the public engagement process doesn’t just come to an end.”

The federal government has been promising a repository for all the nuclear waste in the country for at least 50 years, Kalt said, but it has yet to happen. Meanwhile, the sea level is rising and the waste is dangerously close, within 115 feet, to the bluff’s edge, which has also been eroding over the last century.

“It’s probably going to be there forever because there’s no federal repository,” Kalt said.

The main focus of the meeting Monday night was the best way to go about forming and running community advisory boards. The problem is because these are companies and not public agencies, “it’s totally up to them whether they want to have a CAB that’s just a formality or whether they want to have a CAB that’s more representative of the community and actually giving input,” Kalt said.

Locally, PG&E has spent a lot of time trying to inform the CAB members about the complexities of the decommissioning process, Kalt said. The utility company has also been receptive to the recommendations of the advisory board, she added.

For instance, PG&E wanted to remediate the top few feet of the soil where the reactor was, but the reactor extended 65 feet below the surface of the soil and was right next to Humboldt Bay, Kalt said. The community advisory board succeeded in convincing PG&E to remediate the soil to a depth of 75 feet.

The community’s ongoing participation has played a big role in the decommissioning process, Hosn said, and the company is grateful for the participation of the CAB.

The Humboldt Bay Power Plant operated from 1963 to July 2, 1976 when it was shut down, according to information from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission website. In 1983, PG&E decided to decommission the plant, which involves removing or decontaminating the portions of the facility that contain radioactive waste. The community advisory board was established in 1998.

Individuals can submit comments on best practices and lessons learned about establishing and operating a community advisory board for decommissioning nuclear reactors at tinyurl.com/y5s9fm7f. The input will be included in a report to Congress and is the result of the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act.

“The problem of having stored nuclear waste is going to be an issue for generations,” Savage said, so there needs to be a focused and transparent effort to get the community involved.

 

Feds seek input on community advisory boards for decommissioning nuclear reactors, by Sonia Waraich, Eureka Times-Standard, August 27, 2019.

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