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Tons Of Nuclear Waste Outside Sacramento May Finally Be Removed

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) —Two hundred tons of nuclear waste sitting on the outskirts of Sacramento may be on the move after three decades in storage.

A deal approved by the House of Representatives would let local nuclear sites send their waste to temporary facilities.

That includes the waste at the decommissioned Rancho Seco nuclear plant, which is owned and operated by Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

"At the end of the day we do need a long-term facility," said Jim Shetler.

He worked as an assistant manager of the plant during its operation in the 1970's and facilitated its closure in 1989.

Protesters in 1979 were arrested after jumping the fence to show opposition to nuclear power. A decade later, the SMUD customers voted to shut it down.

"Probably for SMUD, the closure of Rancho Saco was the right decision, but it was a very difficult time to live through," said Shetler.

The waste has been sitting idle for 30 years. Securing it costs SMUD customers about $5 million a year.

On Thursday in Washington, D.C., representatives passed a bill that allows nuclear site waste to be transported to temporary storage facilities in states like New Mexico and Texas. The bill still needs Senate approval.

"We'd be able to repurpose that site and save customers money," said Chris Capra with SMUD.

The political move is a concern for environmentalists.

"I oppose moving it from the site where it was generated," said Dan Hirsch.

He is a UC professor and activist. Hirsch has spent decades working to make California nuclear free. He says it wouldn't be ethical to burden other communities with the dangerous material.

"We need a permanent well thought out repository," said Hirsch.

He is also concerned about moving the waste multiple times.

"There is always the risk of an accident or a terrorist attack during transport," explained Hirsch.

But experts say the radioactive waste filled canisters can withstand an accident.

"Is there no risk? I can't say that, but I think it's very minimal risk and it's worth the effort to get it consolidated," said Shetler, "at some point, someday, we've got to do it."

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