Marine Corps Waits For Nuke Waste Removal From San Onofre

Thursday, November 2, 2017
By Alison St John
Credit: Associated Press
Above: Surfers pass in front of the San Onofre nuclear power plant, June 7, 2013.

The Navy and Marines would like to reclaim the land where the San Onofre nuclear power plant now sits, as soon as it is safely decommissioned. But with nuclear waste stored on the site indefinitely, that could be decades.

The San Onofre nuclear power plant shut down in 2012. Every few weeks, its owner, Southern California Edison, holds a meeting to keep the public engaged in the decommissioning process. Thursday night it was the Marine Corps’ turn to talk.

At a meeting on base, Marine Corps government liaison Tom Caughlan said Camp Pendleton began in the 1940s and Congress approved building the nuclear plant on the base in the 1960s.

He said the Marines have no authority over the decommissioning process, but they are looking forward to getting their land back.

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“What was sufficient training space in 1942 is very insufficient today,” he said. "We would like very much to return the land to training. We would like to be able to have access across the beach at the north end of the base, from not just one access down south. We would like to expand that.”

Caughlan said parts of the San Onofre site, about 50 acres east of Interstate 5, parcels 6 and 7, are already being cleared and the Marines hope to have that land back by 2023 when the lease runs out.

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But some areas west of the freeway will take much longer to reclaim. That is because the current plan is to store the nuclear waste indefinitely on site, on the beach, 100 feet from the ocean.

Many groups want the nuclear waste moved off the beach, to somewhere where it is less vulnerable to sea level rise and seismic activity. Caughlan said to his knowledge no one asked the Marines if it could be stored elsewhere on base. Anyway, he said, that is out of the question.

“The biggest chunk of the base is impact area; in other words, where you shoot artillery and weapons,” he said. “Well, you don’t want to store nuclear waste where you shoot high explosives. And frankly it would so constrain the ability of the base to operate as to be paralytic, so it simply is not something that we can entertain.”