Concerns Raised At Community Panel on Decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant

Friday, August 29, 2014
Promise Yee

The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant has been shut down and defueled. Now plans to permanently store the plant’s nuclear waste are being drafted.

A Community Engagement Panel convened by the plant's owner, Southern California Edison, met Thursday night to discuss plans for next steps. The panel is made up of elected officials from the city and county, environmental advocates and scientists.

Gene Stone, a panel member and representative of Residents Organized for a Safe Environment in San Clemente, brought up his concerns about containers or casks that will store the nuclear waste through perpetuity.

He compared the importance of their selection to the steam generators, which leaked and caused the plant to be shut down last year.

“The biggest thing on the radar is making sure Edison doesn’t award a contract too quickly, and that all the cask manufactures have a chance to make a bid, and that we choose the right cask and not the cheapest cask,” Stone said. “It’s very important for the people of California and the economy that we don’t have to buy these things again, like the steam generator debacle.”

David Victor, chairman of the panel and professor at UC San Diego, agreed, and said another concern is how the stored waste will be monitored over the long term.

“Part of that is buying a container, and part of that is a plan for monitoring the container, monitoring what’s called the ‘overpack,’ which is the concrete in which the container sits, and then periodically relicensing it,” Victor said. “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires that every container be relicensed every 20 years.”

Thursday evening’s discussion was not the end of questions on the containers. There have been so many technical concerns that a panel subcommittee has narrowed inquiries down to seven key questions, which they are in the process of researching.

Key questions include what would be done if a problem were found in a container and what is known about the aging of the materials the containers are made from.

Environmental impact reports and project costs were also discussed at the meeting.

Vice President for the Chairman’s Office at Edison International Chris Thompson said enough money to decommission the plant has already been collected from ratepayers over the life of the plant. The cost is estimated to be $4.4 billion, of which $3.3 billion is Edison's responsibility. SDG & E is 20 percent owner of the plant but did not speak at the meeting.

The plan covers storing the radioactive waste through 2050. Edison officials are calling for the U.S. Department of Energy to be responsible after that, since Edison said it has failed in its commitment to provide a long term storage solution for spent nuclear fuel.