Stab Magazine | A 20 Year Warranty: How So Cal Edison Can't Stop Burying Nuclear Waste On The California Coast
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A 20 Year Warranty: How So Cal Edison Can’t Stop Burying Nuclear Waste On The California Coast

San Onofre nuke plant restarts its transfer of waste to accommodations closer to the shore.

news // Jul 20, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 2 minutes

South swells have been running for days in Orange County. Trestles and San Onofre have been their usual summertime busy. Joel Tudor called Lowers “Electric Bike Point,” which is apropos.

And on the bluff overlooking San O, large stainless steel canisters sit wrapped in blue plastic, ominously waiting to be loaded with spent nuclear fuel and put in the ground, yards from the high tide line. Since a near-miss incident at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) on August 3, 2018, the transfer of the waste into semi-permanent onsite storage has been on hold. In March, the Nuclear Regulatory fined SCE $116,000 for the incident.

Southern California Edison (SCE) announced this week that, after getting the green light to restart operations back in May, they are moving forward. 

“During the past 11 months, SCE and its contractor, Holtec, have systematically reviewed and strengthened procedures, oversight and training that directly supports a robust fuel transfer program,” reads a press statement from the utility company.

In simple terms, the process that SCE is undertaking at the moment requires workers removing spent nuclear fuel rods and waste from large cooling pools inside the generator (the big concrete “boobs” you see from Interstate 5) and placing it into these stainless steel canisters. The canisters are filled with helium for cooling purposes, sealed, and then placed in a large concrete matrix that has been built on site.

This process has been controversial from the get-go. The canisters have had a myriad of issues and don’t match the international standards that are being used at other disposal sites.

Corrosion, earthquakes and an ever-eroding shoreline are all huge causes for concern. The disposal site sits on U.S. military land, making it a national security issue as well. But scream and shout as people may, the fact of the business is, there is nowhere in the United States designated and designed for the longterm storage of nuclear waste.

There’s nowhere to put this stuff.

The canisters that SCE and Holtec are using for the project carry a 20-year warranty. After that, it is anybody’s guess what happens…but saltwater and stainless steel have yet to integrate. 

There are 44 more canisters left to fill and place in storage before the project is complete. By the time it’s done there will be well over 100 canisters containing nuclear waste from all three of the plant’s generators stored onsite…literally sitting on the beach. 

“We’ve done a lot of work to ensure that going forward we will be successful in safely loading and storing each and every spent fuel canister,” Doug Bauder, SCE vice president and chief nuclear officer, said in the press release. “We’re confident the improvements we’ve made are effective and sustainable. Our job now is to demonstrate that to our stakeholders.”

“Stakeholders,” really? That’s a sterile way of putting it. According to SCE’s own estimation, there are 8.4 million people living within a 50-mile radius of the plant. Those aren’t “stakeholders.” Those are families. They’re men, women and children who unknowingly go about their daily lives while this bumbling operation is allowed to proceed. 

But again, there is no real solution. That fight has to take place at the highest levels of the broken American government. The disfunction and politicking in Washington D.C. have ensured that SONGS and other nuclear power plants around America that will be going offline in the near future have absolutely no concrete plans in regards to where to put this stuff and what the plan is.

They’re too busy tweet fighting.

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