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A June 8 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. could impact the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision on re-licensing California’s two nuclear plants, as well as dozens of others across the nation.

In a 2010 Waste Confidence Decision, the Commission ruled that permanent storage for highly radioactive spent fuel used in the reactors would be available “when necessary,” and said that it would be safe to store the spent fuel on the site of various power plants until a long-term repository became available.

But the only proposed permanent storage facility, at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, has been in limbo for years. In 1984 the site was supposed to be ready to begin receiving nuclear waste in 2009, but in 1990 that date was extended to 2025, and little progress has since been made to suggest that the facility will be ready by then, or if it will be built at all.

Today, 22 groups and two individuals filed a petition to ensure that environmental considerations regarding the continued storage of spent fuel at local reactors would be taken into account in any decision to extend the operating licenses of existing nuclear generating facilities, as the Appeals ruling requires.

Central California’s Diablo Canyon plant, one of two still operating in California, has already begun their push for re-licensing. If granted, the prospect of continued storage on-site could mean that nuclear waste could end up being stored there in “temporary” facilities for 100 years or more.

San Diego County’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the second nuclear plant still standing in the state, has been closely watching proceedings with Diablo Canyon as it prepares the push to extend its own operating licenses for its two reactors beyond their current expiration early next decade. Plant operator Southern California Edison is also still scrambling to find a fix that would allow it to bring its reactors, idled since January over safety concerns, back online.

Anti-nuclear activist Ben Davis Jr. is also pushing to get a proposition placed on the statewide ballot that would force both California facilities to go offline and remain shuttered until such time as a feasible plan for nuclear waste storage was actually developed.

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