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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant Decommissioning Project Begins

 February 24, 2020 at 10:22 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 After eight years of standing idle. The San Onofre nuclear power plant is finally coming down the project to dismantle the plant gets underway today. It was a small radioactive leak in a steam generator in 2012 that caused the plan to be taken offline and ultimately shut down. The entire decommissioning process is expected to take eight years, but it is not without controversy, especially when it comes to the longterm storage of the plants spent nuclear fuel. Joining me is Ron Pontus, Edison's decommissioning environmental manager and Ron, welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. Tell us what the decommissioning project entails. Speaker 2: 00:42 Well, the objective here is pretty straightforward. That is to remove all the above ground structures that you see here at the site to at least three feet below grade with the exception of two important parts. One is the dry storage facility, which will remain and the switch yard, which will remain because it serves as an important interconnect between Edison and San Diego gas and Electric's transmission systems. Speaker 1: 01:06 Now, the iconic look of the Senate, no for new nuclear power plant for most people is those twin domes. When are those going to be taken down? Speaker 2: 01:15 Yeah, that looks like a, based on our current schedule, 20, 24, 2025 in that time frame, we would start taking those down. I think by 2026, they would be gone. Speaker 1: 01:26 And what will happen to all the material, the steel and the concrete that makes up the plant. Speaker 2: 01:32 So the, the plan here is, uh, is to remove all of this material. We'll assess whether it's radioactively contaminated or not and then we'll uh, ship it, ship it out of the, out of state basically. So the destination for most of the weight is the waste is going to Clive Utah to a repository there that takes a radioactive waste and uh, some smaller volumes will be going to Andrews, Texas to another similar facility that takes a slightly higher level of waste at that facility. And then there'll be some waste that'll probably be shipped to LaPaz, Arizona also as a, at a conventional landfill. But most, uh, most of the waste will go to Clive, Utah and most of it'll go out by rail. Speaker 1: 02:18 How much is the decommissioning expected to cost? Speaker 2: 02:21 Well, there was a, there, there's a decommissioning cost estimate that, uh, assesses all the, the total cost of the project, you know, and including the eventual remediation of the entire site after we perform this first step. And that's about 4.4 billion in, um, in $2,014. Speaker 1: 02:40 And who's paying for it? Speaker 2: 02:41 That money, the money to cover that estimated cost was paid for by the rate payers. The people bought electricity here from Addison and from San Diego gas and electric. That money was set aside in a trust fund and a, that trust fund was invested in the market and it has grown to cover the cost of the decommissioning. So the rate payers paid for this Speaker 1: 03:01 now, while the dismantling of the plant takes place, the transfer of spent fuel to canisters on the site that's still taking place. What is the status on that transfer of radioactive fuel? Speaker 2: 03:12 Yeah, as of, uh, last week we completed our 51st a trans transfer of a canister from what storage to dry storage. That means there's 22 more canisters to be transferred to the SVC or dry storage facility. Uh, we're doing about one a week. So in about 22 weeks or so, we should be finished with, uh, with all the transfer of fuel to that facility. Speaker 1: 03:36 Now, environmental advocates will be gathering at the belly up in Solana beach. Today. They are calling this events songs four songs. It's a rally against the storage of nuclear waste as Santa no free will. They want the waste to be repackaged and thick walled canisters to prevent cracking of the canisters. So why not put the fuel in thicker containers? Speaker 2: 03:58 The fact is that, uh, there aren't any thick walled canisters licensed in the United States that could take the fuel here that said Santa no free. Um, when we went about the selection of the, uh, the dry storage facility, we looked at what was licensed, uh, that, that we could safely package the fuel in. We selected a system that's in, that's commonly used throughout the industry. And, uh, that's what we have here. So, you know, previously we loaded a 50 canisters, a fuel in an Arriva system that was built here in 2002. We started putting fuel in it in 2003. And, um, the S the whole tech system that we selected later is basically, this is the same type of design, um, robust stainless steel canisters that are about five eighths of an inch thick, that are highly resistant to chloride stress, corrosion cracking. So the, the system is licensed by the NRC and it's, uh, and it's safe for the storage of fuel. Speaker 1: 04:55 And once the whole plant is decommissioned, who will be responsible for the fuel onsite? Is Edison still responsible for it? Speaker 2: 05:03 Yes. Edison is a licensee here at Santa, no furry. So, uh, the, as long as the fuel remains on site, we're responsible for it. Speaker 1: 05:10 Well, what is the latest on a plan for longterm fuel storage? Speaker 2: 05:14 I think you probably know that president Trump pulled funding for Yucca mountain, uh, from our next year's budget request. Uh, so it's not clear where Yucca is going. Uh, in any case, it would take some time for Yucca mountain to become a reality, even if it was pursued. Um, it's not clear what the federal government's going to do in terms of a permanent, uh, geologic repository. Uh, but that's up to them to solve that problem. The, the near term possibility is an interim storage facility. There's a couple of, uh, private entities that are pursuing licensing for such facilities, one in West Texas and another in New Mexico. Um, basically very close to each other across the New Mexico, Texas border. And those have a possibility of becoming a reality. There are deep into that. Um, yeah, that process, the licensing process right now. So, you know, our strategic plan now is to, is, is to, you know, position ourselves to take advantage of one of those or both of those facilities, should they be become licensed in a reality so that that's a, uh, a place to, uh, send us, send a fuel. Speaker 1: 06:23 Now, Southern California Edison, the plant's own owner, has some credibility issues with the public, at least it has had given the original radiation leak and then a near miss accident with the canisters that was only made public by a whistleblower. So my question is, how can the public trust that Edison is doing everything it can to ensure public safety? Speaker 2: 06:43 We understand that the public has some doubts, uh, about Edison. But I'll tell you this, that since, uh, August of 18, there's been a number of changes here at this site. Um, the culture here has been improved substantially. We're focused on, uh, a high performing nuclear safety culture here, uh, and we're openness with the public. And there's been a number of leadership changes made. And my opinion, we can trust that Edison is going to do everything that is right, uh, to make sure that all the activities performed here on site are performed safely. Um, and that, uh, the public is well protected. Speaker 1: 07:19 I have been joined by Ron Pontus, Edison's decommissioning environmental manager, and Ron, thank you very much. You're welcome.

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Southern California Edison, the plant's operator, said work on the eight-year decommissioning project got underway Monday.
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