By Shawn Raymundo
Southern California Edison on Thursday, Dec. 19, will conduct a liquid batch radiological release, discharging operational wastewater from the San Onofre power plant 6,000 feet off the shore, the plant operator announced this week.
While the discharges are routine in nature and had regularly occurred during the lifespan of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), Edison’s notification to the public is part of a new commitment to transparency it had made with Surfrider Foundation and the California State Lands Commission.
The discharges, Edison explained, consist of fluids collected from condensate found in SONGS’s HVAC systems, as well as fluids from inside the plant before it ceased operations in 2012.
Ron Pontes, Edison’s manager of environmental decommissioning strategy, said that before the fluid is released, it’s first processed through ion exchangers, reducing the contamination levels to a very low amount.
The water is also sampled to ensure that the fluid contains only a fraction of a millirem—a unit used to measure radiation doses. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the average American receives a radiation dose of about 620 millirem, about half of which comes from natural background radiation.
In a recent presentation to the SONGS Community Engagement Panel (CEP), Pontes explained that a person working at the plant is allowed to get a total annual dosage of 25 millirem.
Speaking with San Clemente Times by phone on Monday, Dec. 16, Pontes noted that even though plant operators such as Edison put the water through ion exchangers, it’s impossible to ever get the fluid to a level of zero millirem.
According to Edison’s webpage announcing the batch release, Thursday’s discharge has a characterization of 0.00183 millirem total dose, which amounts to 0.0321% of the annual whole-body dose limit.
Pontes and officials with SoCal Edison, the primary owner of SONGS, stress that the fluid batches aren’t harmful to people or the environment.
“The important thing is there’s really no impact to the environment and the people,” Edison spokesperson John Dobken said.
Until recently, Edison routinely conducted the discharges while the plant was operational. The most recent discharge, Pontes told the CEP, was made in 2016.
“So, we’re about to start that again,” Pontes said. “These releases are performed in accordance with our NRC license, and I can tell you that they are very, very low levels of release to the environment.”
Per its agreement with Surfrider and the State Lands Commission, Edison is required to give a 48-hour public notice before conducting a release.
“(Surfrider) had a recommendation: ‘Can’t you guys tell us . . . beforehand?’. . . . We went back and said, ‘Gee, why can’t we?’ We offered to do it and worked with State Lands and Surfrider so we’ll make these notifications,” Pontes said, recalling the discussion.
Acknowledging the local surf community and its interest in the water they’re swimming in, Pontes said Surfrider asked that they consider sharing information similar to organizations that provide notices of ocean water quality.
According to Pontes, the plant has collected about 300,000 gallons of fluid that’s waiting to be discharged in the coming months. Edison, he said, will conduct the discharges in batches of about 20,000 gallons, lasting between four to eight hours.
That 300,000 gallons of fluid already in the queue, Pontes noted, doesn’t include the water currently in the fuel pools, which is about a million gallons that will first need to be cleaned before being released.
“We would guess that, based on our current projections, that sometime in the year 2022, if we follow the schedule, that we anticipate that we’ll be finished with these releases,” Pontes told the CEP. “At that time, we would stop the releases, close the conduits, and there will be no more of these releases.”
Thursday’s discharge will consist of 19,200 gallons, lasting for approximately four hours, according to Edison’s notification. Edison’s notification page for the batch releases can be found here.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.