Thomas Palmisano, vice president of decommissioning and chief nuclear officer of Southern California Edison
I appreciate this opportunity to share information about Southern California Edison’s (SCE) plans to decommission the San Onofre nuclear plant, and continue to safely store the plant’s used nuclear fuel.
Elected officials and community leaders in Southern California have been actively involved in public discussions the past three years to find ways to expedite the removal of the used fuel from San Onofre. SCE fully supports these efforts, which include proposed Consolidated Interim Storage (CIS) facilities in Texas and New Mexico that have broad-based support in those states. Congressional leaders of both parties are working to provide funding for these facilities, as well as the long-delayed federal repository for used nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
Contrary to a letter to the editor published in the March 23-29 edition of the San Clemente Times, CIS is clearly a potential option for San Onofre. The mischaracterization about CIS is one of several errors in the letter, and I would like to address a few of them:
- Dry cask storage of used nuclear fuel has been proven to be safe, with more than 30 years of operation in the U.S. with no radiological releases.
- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) currently requires that we inspect dry storage facilities, and will require more specific inspections of the individual canisters after the first 20 years of operation. SCE has already taken the first step by committing to submit an inspection and maintenance plan to state regulators by 2022 for the new dry storage facility.
- Because used fuel assemblies at San Onofre have cooled for so long, they would not spontaneously catch fire if exposed to air, a conclusion affirmed by the NRC.
- San Onofre was originally designed to withstand a 7.0 earthquake, and later evaluations showed the plant could withstand 7.5, a fact that was publicly discussed at a Feb. 16 Community Engagement Panel (CEP) meeting. San Onofre’s dry storage facilities are built to withstand a substantially greater magnitude quake than the nuclear plant.
- New research discussed at the CEP meeting by Dr. Neal Driscoll of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography affirms that the tsunami risk on the coast near San Onofre is low because the underwater geographic characteristics offshore form a natural baffle, which would blunt the energy if a tsunami approached the shore.
Emergency preparedness changes were made at San Onofre because potential accidents related to an operating plant are no longer possible here and the used fuel has cooled sufficiently. These changes were reviewed and approved by the NRC in 2015.
The above issues regarding safety, security and storage of used nuclear fuel are routinely discussed at quarterly meetings of the Community Engagement Panel.
SCE encourages our neighbors to join that conversation, if you haven’t already, so we can work together to achieve common goals, including relocating San Onofre’s used fuel. Please join us for the next CEP meeting on May 11 in Laguna Hills.