By Shawn Raymundo

Operations to dismantle the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) will be scaled back amid the continuing public health crisis, Southern California Edison announced last week.

Per Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “safer at home” order meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and flatten the curve, SoCal Edison said it will temporarily curtail some of the deconstruction work that had begun in February.

“We have protocols we’ve implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These protocols are designed to keep our employees safe while allowing certain critical work to continue,” SCE Vice President Doug Bauder said in a press release. “This is an ever-changing situation, at the national, state and local levels, and we are staying flexible in our level of response.”

The years-long process of deconstructing the power plant officially got underway in late February. Some of the dismantlement plans include the removal of the containment domes, as well as above-grade structures related to Units 2 and 3.

In Edison’s March 25 press release, the company stated it had taken additional steps to limit what work can be done, adding that in the days ahead it would evaluate which deconstruction projects can move forward.

John Dobken, spokesperson for Edison, said on Tuesday, March 31, that some of the projects that will continue are the removal of asbestos in the containment domes and the removal of the Unit 1 reactor pressure vessel.

The pressure vessel, Dobken said, will be shipped offsite using the plant’s upgraded rail and is expected to occur within the next couple of months.

One of the more essential efforts of decommissioning SONGS, which officially went offline in 2013, has been the ongoing transfer of the plant’s spent nuclear fuel from the wet pools into the dry storage facility, or the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI).

SoCal Edison said it will continue its transfer operations while putting in place additional measures to protect employees. Dobken explained that one such measure includes practicing social distancing.

“Basically, it’s people who are able to space themselves six feet away while the download occurs,” he said. “Everyone has their own screens, as it were. So people don’t have to share screens as the downloading is going on and maintaining the spacing while it’s happening. Also, everyone utilizes headsets, so they maintain distancing while still having communication going on.”

The company, back in early February, was targeting a late summer time frame of being able to complete the fuel transfers. So far, Edison has downloaded 56 canisters containing nuclear waste into the ISFSI and has another 17 to go.

Asked whether the coronavirus pandemic has slowed Edison’s pace, Dobken noted that while the plant did suspend downloading early last week so employees can get trained on the new protocols, crews have still maintained their one-canister-download-per-week routine.

“So, with that, obviously it set us back a couple of days, but the last canister was downloaded Friday night,” Dobken said.

Other preventative measures Edison said it has adopted at the plant include canceling non-essential meetings—conducting other meetings via teleconference—suspending site tours and holding public meetings online, wiping down work stations before and after shift changes, and setting up health self-screening stations at site entrances.

“We are asking employees coming on site to self-screen at the start of each shift, to ask themselves some basic questions related to COVID-19 and their personal situations,” Bauder said in the release. “It starts with something as simple as ‘how do you feel?’ ”

Additional information about SONGS can be found at songscommunity.com.

SR_1Shawn Raymundo
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.

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comments (1)

  • Asking Edison what their plan is to prevent workers from contracting the virus is a moot question — since it’s impossible to do that unless the workers stay home! Decommissioning activities and loading nuclear fuel waste into dry storage must be stopped. Chief Nuclear Officer, Doug Bauer, said at the 3/26/2020 Community Engagement Panel meeting that no employees have been tested for the coronavirus. In any case, it’s not possible to know who is infected from day to day. That’s the reason for the Governor’s “stay at home” order.

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated at the 3/27/2020 public NRC COVID-19 meeting that the NRC is not responsible for regulating the coronavirus at nuclear facilities. When I asked them who is, they said the nuclear industry! I then asked who is providing regulatory oversite to the nuclear industry on the coronavirus, they said that is some other agency’s job, but declined to specify. Yet we know the President said he is leaving that up to the Governors.

    The NRC also refuses to make public which nuclear facilities have the virus. This should require a public NRC Event Notice. This laissez faire attitude from the NRC puts us all at greater risk.

    Mike Levin and others, please ask the Governor to step in and issue an Executive Order to stop these unnecessary activities at Southern California Edison. The US is estimating 100,000 to over 2 million US deaths from the coronavirus. That is the official health information from our government. We need real regulatory oversight to stop this financial decision from Edison. The Governor should also direct the CA Public Utilities Commission to freeze decommissioning funds now. SanOnofreSafety.org

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