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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.

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)

  • The reason Edison wants to rush the fuel out of the pools is because of the millions of dollars of annual overhead costs they save. They bragged about this in a trade article.

    The pools are safer than the Holtec thin-wall cracking canisters. With the pools, they have a backup plan, and they can inspect the pools, maintain water levels and temperature and chemical balance so the pools don’t have explosions. When something goes wrong with the canisters, they have NO BACKUP PLAN to prevent or stop explosions or other major radioactive releases.

    Once cracks start in these thin-wall pressure vessels, they continue to grow undetected. And there is no pressure monitoring or pressure relief valves. The NRC gives numerous exemptions to ASME N3 Nuclear Pressure Vessel storage and transport safety codes because the utilities refuse to use thick-wall casks that meet the ASME codes.

    The oldest San Onofre thin-wall canisters are close to 17 years old. The Koeberg nuclear plant in South Africa had a container (a tank) that the NRC considers comparable to San Onofre thin-wall canisters. It leaked in only 17 years with cracks up to 0.61″ long. San Onofre canisters are only 0.625″ thick. We’re on borrowed time.

    Why won’t the NRC share the radiation levels from the roof top air vents where the older canisters are stored? There are 51 of these NUHOMS model canisters stored above ground close to the San Onofre State Beach. What are they hiding? Teri, will NRC or SCE give you the information?

    Linda Howell, NRC Region IV manager said her staff took the outlet air vent measurements when her inspectors were here investigating all the Holtec canister loading problems. She promised me she would share the information, but the NRC now has their PR department refusing to share the information.

    Instead, the NRC recently gave Edison and others permission to never have to measure radiation levels again from those rooftop air vents.

    When I asked former SCE Chief Nuclear Officer, Tom Palmisano, why SCE had requested their NUHOMS vender request this NRC license change to no longer require measuring the roof top air vents, Palmisano first pleaded ignorance. When that didn’t work, he ran to the bathroom. I still don’t have an answer from SCE. However, the NUHOMS vender years earlier had a similar NRC license change approved for canisters at Calvert Cliffs in Maryland. Some of the Calvert Cliffs canisters are about 28 years old. These are some of the oldest thin-wall canisters in the country. So it appears the real plan is to hide the radiation releases from the public and hope the canisters don’t eventually explode.

    Most countries use thick wall casks 10″ to 19.75″ inches thick. These don’t have cracking problems. They are over 40 years old, are maintainable and show no significant problems. There are some thick-wall casks in the U.S. They cost a little more money initially, but are less expensive overall due to lifespan and maintainability, and are transportability without requiring an additional transport cask.

    Please ask your federal, state and local elected officials and others to demand SCE use only thick-wall casks that have ASME N3 Nuclear Pressure Vessel storage and transport certification. Without this we are not safe financially or with everything we hold dear. SCE admits each canister holds at least a Chernobyl disasters worth of radioactivity.

    Senator Feinstein is sponsoring bill S.1234 that promises to get the waste out of California. However, the bill allows the federal government to take over title to this waste from SCE at the current San Onofre site without requiring SCE to first replace the canisters with monitored retrievable thick-wall casks. SCE knows this. This is why they support this and similar bills. SCE doesn’t want current federal law changed. Current federal law, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, requires the Dept of Energy to only allow monitored retrievable fuel storage containers. Most elected officials don’t read all the bills nor do their staff. And this bill is very long and not easy to understand. Instead, Congress trusts the wrong people to tell them what is in the bill. This and many of the other long waste storage bill are too important to allow that to happen.

    SCE never mentions that proposed storage sites in Texas and New Mexico will return leaking canisters back to sender They don’t mention that Texas and New Mexico don’t want this waste. Neither does anyone else. So we’re stuck with it

    SCE has asked the California Public Utilities Commission to give them ratepayer Decommissioning Trust Fund money to tear down the San Onofre domes and pools. Instead, this money must be use to replace the defective thin-wall canisters with thick wall casks. No money should be used to tear down the buildings until that waste is no longer there. There is no other pot of money to maintain that waste. There is over $4 billion in the Trust Fund. Let’s keep it there. Only the CPUC controls the money. But the Governor controls the CPUC.

    California has 100% control of this money The NRC has 100% authority to regulate radiological safety but no control over the money. SCE and PG&E have proven they need our government to force them to do the right thing for the benefit of all Californians and beyond. This needs to happen now or risk major permanent evacuations in California.

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