There’s 37 tons of nuclear waste stored in concrete casks at Humboldt Bay and two Cal Poly researchers are encouraging the community to consider “potential futures” brought on by sea level rise.
In a Feb. 23 webinar presentation sponsored by the Schatz Energy Research Center and Cal Poly Humboldt, the results of “focus group convenings” on how to deal with the waste from a former PG&E nuclear power plant were described.
Jennifer Marlow, a Cal Poly assistant professor of environmental law, is the founder of the 44 Feet Project. The name of the community engagement and research effort refers to the nuclear waste site’s height above sea level.
That’s a measure of concern because by 2065, sea level rise is predicted to rise enough – by 3.3. feet – to at times turn the site “into an island that will be increasingly vulnerable to wave erosion, sea level rise and saltwater intrusion,” according to 44 Feet’s website.
Co-presenter Alexander Brown, a Cal Poly graduate research assistant and master’s candidate, said the PG&E nuclear waste storage site is the second smallest in the U.S. but is “classified as one of the most at-risk sites to climate change.”
There isn’t another storage site available and Brown said relocation is “speculative at this point.”
Meanwhile there’s “shoreline retreat” due to erosion. Brown compared a 1952 photo to one from last January showing how the shore slope at the site is “considerably smaller now.”
To cope with risk, Marlow said 44 Feet sought to “learn from community members” by organizing discussion groups.
The ultimate goal is local involvement “where knowledge is accessible and shared openly,” “coalitions can help fill technical and political gaps” and the public “can enjoy a safe and resilient Humboldt Bay without risk of radioactive exposure.”
PG&E’s website says the waste site is “safe and secure” and gets regular federal inspections. Spent fuel is stored in canisters “within transportation casks” and the company describes the entombment of the waste as “an interim onsite storage program.”
During a question and answer session, Jen Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper said PG&E “assumes a static physical environment but we know the bay is changing and not always in ways we understand.”
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