What Will San Onofre's New Emergency Plan Look Like?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015
By Patty Lane, Peggy Pico, Tom Fudge
Credit: Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Above: The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County is shown in this undated photo.

Questions about security remain after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week approved a new safety plan for the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

The facility on the edge of San Diego County was shut down in 2013 and is moving through a decommissioning process.

Regulators and plant operators at Southern California Edison concluded that ongoing safety plans do not have to be as strict as before because the plant is not operational.

This had led to changes such as eliminating a plan for emergency evacuations covering a 10-mile zone surrounding the plant in case of a nuclear accident.

“The facility today is very different from what it was during the operational phase,” Tom Palmisano, chief nuclear officer and vice president of decommissioning for Southern California Edison, told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday. “The (old) plan was based on accidents that can occur during operation. Most of the accidents that could have occurred are no longer possible.”

Southern California Edison has plans to move spent nuclear fuel rods being stored in cooling pools at San Onofre to a new underground type of cask. Some of the other spent fuel is being stored in dry casks at the plant.

Palmisano said other hazards like chemicals and gases have all been removed from the site.

Members of San Clemente Green, a citizens advocacy group, are voicing concerns about security. They say they are worried about all the radioactive nuclear waste being stored at the site.

“It’s a little premature to be making these steps,” Gary Hedrick, founder of San Clemente Green, said. “It feels we wouldn’t want to take these steps until the pool (of fuel) is empty.”