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Feds Say San Onofre Nuclear Fuel Transfers Can Resume

Federal regulators are allowing operators of a closed Southern California nuclear power plant to resume transferring nuclear waste to a storage facility.

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Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 Federal regulators have given the green light for the transfer of nuclear waste at San Onofre to continue. The decision comes after the transfer stopped back in August of last year when a 50 ton canister was left suspended for 45 minutes. Many people are concerned about safety. Rob Nikolsky has been covering this. He is an energy reporter with the San Diego Union Tribune and joins us with more. Rob, welcome.

Speaker 2: 00:25 Hi Jade. Could talk to you again.

Speaker 1: 00:27 What can you tell us about why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is allowing Edison to resume the transfer of spent nuclear waste San Onofre?

Speaker 2: 00:35 Well, that's a good question. The NRC said they made the decision quote, following extensive review of technical data, uh, regarding some scratches on the canisters that Edison as huge thing and the, the uh, uh, contractor at the side Holtec has designed. Um, so that's really the extent of what the NRC is said. That why they've decided to go ahead and give them the, uh, the okay for this. Now there'll be a webinar in which the public Luke can take part on June 3rd in which I'm sure the NRC will go into more specifics, but for now they haven't really gone as a whole lot of specifics as to why.

Speaker 1: 01:14 Now let me ask you this. You know, representative Mike Levin has been critical of the NRCS decision to move forward saying they use data provided by Edison as you mentioned. Is that problematic?

Speaker 2: 01:24 I think it might be, I mean certainly raises an issue because uh, southern California Edison, according to representative 11 has a lot of incentive to try to get this resumption back on track as soon as possible. But the NRC comes back and says that they have given oversight to this and that's their job. And as far as their concern, Edison has been able to satisfy the NRCS concern. Also, as you mentioned at the top of the storage, this whole thing started back in August when there was a canister fill, once spent nuclear fuel or nuclear waste out, left suspended on a metal flange and one of these downloading operations for 45 minutes for about 18 feet now that went into the NRC findings, southern California Edison, $116,000 Edison and its contractor Holtec says that they are the improved safety standards and that, um, they're, they've done everything in their power to make sure that that doesn't happen again. But there have been some concerns from people saying that Edison, and perhaps Holtec should do a better job about transferring these spent nuclear fuel canisters from what's called wet storage to the brand new drives towards facility that was built a little bit more than a year ago.

Speaker 1: 02:42 And you know, the incident when it initially happened was, was never even reported by Edison. It was actually disclosed by a worker involved in the transfer, correct?

Speaker 2: 02:51 That's correct. And that's one of the things that Edison has been tripped up on is that the representative for southern California Edison was a community engagement panel meeting and it was very cool man. He just said that the, there was a pause in the transfers. It wasn't until later in that same meeting where a worker who was there at the time when they have this, uh, canister that was suspended, stood up and said, I wasn't gonna say anything. But since the representative from Edison didn't go into specifics, here are the specifics and it should be pointed out that everything that that worker said turned out to be proven correct. That uh, there was a cancer that was suspended. The worker said that there wasn't enough training that was involved, that some of the people who were taking part in the downloading were not properly trained and all that has come to pass something that the NRC itself was able as in an investigation to confirm.

Speaker 1: 03:46 And Andre are also concerned about the canisters getting scratched as they're lowered into storage.

Speaker 2: 03:51 Yeah. And that's the, that's another question too. [inaudible] southern California Edison, they dismissed that and said that the canisters are incidental, but they're not a big deal that you don't pose a problem for safety. But critics of Edison and also uphold whole tech have said that, well if the actual compliance form that whole tech failed out of there won't be any scratches. And then proving that there had been some scratches that raises questions in their minds.

Speaker 1: 04:18 And how has that Edison address this whole issue of scratches and being concerned about that?

Speaker 2: 04:24 Well, they said that the fabrication, that that was done by Holtec, that those scratches were incidental and they don't pose a problem for safety and that's the canisters themselves that are about three eighths of an inch thick, that they were sufficient and they're safe and they don't pose any kind of problems for the greater public.

Speaker 1: 04:43 Do you know how much waste has already been transferred to the new storage containers and how much more is still left?

Speaker 2: 04:49 29 canisters have been moved to the brand news waste storage facility. 44 more still need to be moved before they're completely done from transferring from what storage to dry storage. And a big question that all of us have is, well, if he had, if the NRC has now approved the resumption of transfers, one of those transfers going to resume. I asked the Edison that they said they haven't made up their mind yet there, but go through discussions with Holtec and um, they said that they'll make that decision after they've gone through consultation with Holtec and then PR then resume the transfers

Speaker 1: 05:27 and you know, given that the NRC is relying on data from Edison and the criticism that's come on the heels of that, do you think that the NRC is independent enough to make these decisions?

Speaker 2: 05:39 I don't know if I'm in a position to make a decision on that, uh, or to make a call on that. But I do know that the NRC has been criticized in the past for being beholden to the nuclear industry itself. But, uh, the NRC does have a track record of, of, of, of safety in their defense.

Speaker 1: 06:00 I've been speaking with Rob Lasky, the energy reporter with the San Diego Union Tribune. Rob, thank you so much.

Speaker 2: 06:07 Thank you.

Speaker 3: 06:09 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.