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Transfer Of Nuclear Waste At San Onofre Scheduled To Begin This Month

KPBS Staff
The shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station shown on May 9, 2017.
Transfer Of Nuclear Waste At San Onofre Scheduled To Begin This Month
San Diego Public Library Highlights Banned Books By Reading Censored Books Aloud GUESTS:Rob Nikolewski, energy reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

What has been happening to the radioactive waste where a nuclear power plant has been decommissioned north of San Diego. Lawsuits have pointed to the insanity of storing the waste indefinitely. Millions of people are in the surrounding counties living nearby. Our guest is the energy reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune and has been following the story of this waste left over from decades of operating the plant. Thank you for being with us.Thank you for having me.How many years, in fact, did San Onofre provide electricity to Senegal before it shut down?About 40 years.So we are decommissioning the plant after it closed down prematurely in 2012 after a small reactively get medicine said they would begin transferring the waste into dry storage by the middle of December. Do you know when this process will be beginning?We do not know. I spoke with a representative of Southern California Edison and they wouldn't comment. The plan is that they will start moving the fuel that is now in wet storage over to dry storage. Basically the head honcho of the decommissioning process said by mid December it would start and it would all be done according to schedule, by the end of 2019.Why is dry storage supposed to be safer?There is some debate about that, but most nuclear experts say dry storage is a better place for it to be. It's more stable, including not just some of the nuclear regulatory agencies, but also the communion of concerned scientists, have all gone on record to say that dry is better than what.About one third is already in dry storage. How is this new dry storage system from the existing guys storage system? Existing dry storage system?It's right next to whatever is already in dry storage. The new wave which is 73 canisters, I think, is going to go to the new storage facility which is next to the old one.Which is even closer to the ocean.Everything is pretty close. The facility is right there, on the shoreline. Both the old storage facility and the new one are about a little over 100 feet from the ocean separated by a seawall.Most of these canisters are like the ones in Europe. We have a clip of what the chief nuclear officer told the committee about mitigation measures. In other words, what they would do if they found a crack in one of those canisters.We are working with all of the vendors, the industry, to develop mitigation techniques, ranging from repair for a minor spot to a canister in canister interpolation total encapsulation if we have something more serious. I will talk more about this in the future and again it deserves more of a discussion.Is this reassuring, do you think for people who have worried about the canisters being there indefinitely?I don't know.Whenever you talk about the San Onofre nuclear generating station, you are going to have people concerned about everything. They have every right to be, as you mentioned at the top of the broadcast. You have got all of this nuclear waste, 3.5 million pounds of it right near a busy city for a -- busy freeway and the Pacific Ocean. The canisters have been checked off and they have been inspected and cleared by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal government regulating agency. The utility insists they are safe but there's a lot of people who are concerned.Is C will rule -- is C level rise being taken into account here?The coastal commission says that under the 20 year agreement with Southern California Edison, to build this second storage site, with that 20 year agreement, they will be able to study the level rise and they will -- in the minds of the coastal commission -- an extra layer of oversight.So we have this 27 foot wall. If see Raval rise -- if C level rise were to affect this, would the canisters will be safe?According to the nuclear regulatory commission and Edison, it would be safe.Is there any point where this would be considered that they are not liable for this?If athletic -- if it ever gets moved, that is one thing and probably the only thing that all the parties have in common. They want the nuclear waste moved but they can't move in until the federal government build a repository. They have not yet. They were supposed to build one. There were supposed to be two, one East of the Mississippi and one of the one west of the Mississippi. They only got one built but that got shut down by the Obama administration. That has left this in limbo. San Onofre is not the only facility that's got stranded nuclear waste. In fact, every single nuclear reactor in the United States is stranded. There is nowhere to move it to because there is no federally licensed nuclear repository. There's talk about getting some movement from other places.Let's talk about that. There are some other options and critics have said, why don't you move it East of the freeway. Why don't you move it to Palo Verde which is another generating station? Why don't you move it to some kind of interim storage which is being talked about? Where are we at?There has been talk of about -- moving it to another site at Camp Pendleton, up to the mesa which is a little higher, farther away from the ocean. I talked to the U.S. Navy representative, U.S. Marine Corps representative, and asked them directly pick they say they essentially defer to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the fuel is in a safe place right now and the U.S. Navy has not expressed any concern about that.Is a chance that Yucca Mountain might get back off the ground?There is a chance but the Trump adminstration has earmarked some money to at least study the issue. Congress, there's a couple of movement in Congress to possibly reopen Yucca Mountain. That's going to get fierce opposition from representatives on capital Hill from the state of Nevada. Even if you got the okay from Yucca Mountain, even if you could do it, it would take years. It might take 1, 2, 3 or more years. You can't do this overnight.Thank you Robert for filling us in on this up-to-date. This is the energy reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune.

Southern California Edison has declined to confirm whether or not the process to move nuclear waste from wet to dry storage has begun at the decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The company previously said the process would begin in mid-December and be completed by 2019.

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Experts say that dry storage is a safer way to store nuclear waste than wet storage.

The nuclear waste is being stored at the decommissioned facility because the federal government has not yet approved a permanent location for the spent nuclear fuel.

Rob Nikolewski, energy reporter at The San Diego Union-Tribune, has been reporting on the issue since 2016. He will join Midday Edition on Tuesday to provide an overview of the process.