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Nuclear Fuel Transfers At San Onofre Are Now Safe, Federal Regulators Say

The now-defunct San Onofre Nuclear Power Station is pictured May 30, 2019.

Photo by Shalina Chatlani

Above: The now-defunct San Onofre Nuclear Power Station is pictured May 30, 2019.

Southern California Edison has fixed safety concerns around how it transfers spent nuclear fuel from wet cooling ponds to dry cask storage, officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday.

Regulators had already given the utility the go-ahead to resume transfers two weeks ago and said they would explain why during a June 3 webinar open to the public.

By Reporter Shalina Chatlani

Southern California Edison was given the go-ahead by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume fuel transfers two weeks ago.

The decision comes less than a year after fuel transfers stopped at San Onofre when a canister of radioactive spent fuel was suspended without support 18 feet above the ground for nearly an hour. It had caught on a ring within the storage vault.

In a public webinar, Linda Howell, deputy director in the Division of Nuclear Materials Safety at the NRC, said Edison’s corrective actions following the near accident were satisfactory.

"NRC noted that while certain weaknesses in the licensee's corrective actions were observed, with one exception, all corrective actions and observed weaknesses had been addressed as of [March 25th]," said Howell.

RELATED: Feds Say San Onofre Nuclear Fuel Transfers Can Resume

That one concern was potential for scratching on the canisters while they were being lowered into their vaults. She said Edison had done extensive analysis on these scratches and whether they complied with standards from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and they checked out.

She says after an independent assessment, they believed the utility's conclusions on the structure of their canisters were "conservative" and reasonably reflective of "the anticipated scratch or wear from operational activities."

But, she said regulators will still be keeping an eye on what the utility does next.

"Once the licensee resumes fuel transfer operations, we will initiate unannounced inspections that will be performed frequently to observe the licensee’s implementation of their enhanced programs," said Howell.

In a statement following the webinar, officials from Southern California Edison said it will be several weeks before fuel transfers begin again.

“Now that the NRC has said fuel transfers can safely resume, Holtec crews are being remobilized and retrained and SCE has several weeks’ worth of internal reviews to perform before we are ready to announce a date for again moving spent nuclear fuel from wet to dry storage,” said Doug Bauder, SCE vice president and chief nuclear officer.

Howell said Edison will complete more training and equipment analysis before it resumes transfers.

San Diego News Matters podcast branding

In today’s San Diego’s News Matters podcast: Federal regulators say Southern California Edison has fixed enough of its safety problems to resume the transfer of nuclear waste at the power plant.

Plus, San Diego Fire Authority Chief Tony Mecham discusses this seasons potential for wildfires; a former Chula Vista politician declares himself the new elected governor of Baja California; and financial tips on how to save money while traveling this summer.

Aired: June 4, 2019 | Transcript

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