By Shawn Raymundo
Southern California Edison announced last week that the dismantling of its San Onofre nuclear facility will get underway in late February, as the power supply company enters into a new phase of the decommissioning process that began in 2013, when the plant went offline.
The process to deconstruct much of the structures at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) is expected last about eight years, according to SCE. The dismantlement will include the removal of the containment domes, as well as above-grade structures related to Units 2 and 3.
Edison had previously noted that part of the dismantlement includes the removal of “a significant amount of hazardous material from the site,” and the elimination of “prominent visual features associated with the facility.”
The offshore conduits, or large pipes SCE uses to bring and discharge ocean water for the plant’s cooling system, will be partially removed, while offshore buoys and anchors also get removed, Edison said this month.
To notify the nearby communities of the dismantlement, notices were mailed to about 12,000 residents who live within a five-mile radius of SONGS. In the mailer, Edison notes that the deconstruction activities have the potential to “disrupt traffic and daily routines.”
“To the extent possible, we’ll schedule and perform our work to minimize any inconvenience,” the mailer states, adding that Edison intends to expand its “rail capabilities on site to minimize the use of trucks, reducing potential traffic congestion.”
Edison is currently working toward completing its downloading operations to transfer spent nuclear fuel from the plant’s wet pools into the dry storage facility. Over about the next seven months, those operations will coincide with the start of the dismantling process.
“Our original baseline schedule anticipated 15 months of overlap, so activities have been well-analyzed and are understood,” John Dobken, spokesperson for Edison, said in an email. “Fuel transfer operations will take priority over dismantlement work, and such work will be monitored and coordinated. Until fuel transfers are completed at mid-year, dismantlement work will focus on areas away from where fuel transfers occur.”
According to Dobken, the company has downloaded 47 canisters containing nuclear waste into dry storage and has another 26 to go. Assuming Edison keeps a pace of downloading one canister a week, Dobken said they’re targeting a completion time frame of July to August.
Since 2013, Edison has been working to decommission the plant, which currently sits on land owned by the U.S. Navy. Per the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Edison has 60 years to complete the decommissioning.
The U.S. currently doesn’t have a permanent repository to store spent nuclear fuel, leaving the nation’s plants, including SONGS, to store their own radioactive waste on-site. In 2015, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) approved Edison’s development permit to build its Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) for the dry storage of nuclear waste.
Back in October, the coastal commissioners unanimously approved a separate development permit allowing Edison to begin dismantling the plant. The approval did include several caveats meant to “protect the quality of coastal waters, ensure biological productivity, and protect against the release of hazardous materials.”
A report from the CCC explained that SCE’s plans to remove the infrastructure would leave “significant amounts of foundation, footings, and other existing material in place,” potentially leaving the coastal environment and community vulnerable to safety risk.
One condition of approval for the development permit requires SCE to provide annual progress reports to the Coastal Commission every June. In a press release from Edison this month, SCE Vice President Doug Bauder explained that the company would also be publicly providing quarterly reports of the work.
“We’re going to be a good neighbor throughout the decommissioning process, and that means providing timely, usable information to the community and to the people who use the recreational resources next door to us,” Bauder said in the release.
Deconstruction activities are expected to start no earlier than Feb. 22.
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.