CARLSBAD — Nuclear waste storage is arguably one of the hottest button issues regarding Southern California’s coastline.
On Sept. 10, the City Council approved a resolution calling on the state legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom to address the concerns regarding the safe handling and storage of nuclear waste at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which went offline in 2013.
One challenge, though, is decommissioning SONGS, which requires the transfer of spent fuel into safe storage, along with the removal and disposal of the remaining materials.
This battle, however, centered on SONGS’ current stainless-steel canisters, while the council supported dray cask storage. Currently, 31 canisters are in a storage vault with another 42 awaiting transfer, according to the resolution.
Cathy Iwane, who sits on the board of directors for the Samuel Lawrence Foundation, which has acted as a watchdog over SONGS, said no resolution is in sight for storing spent fuel.
“Science and climate change dictate that water levels will only rise in the coming years,” she said, “and yet, SCE is loading our waste into dangerous, subpar, thin-walled designed, 5/8-inch waste canisters.”
Most of the 3.6 million pounds of spent fuel at SONGS is currently on site in cooling pools awaiting transfer to dry storage. The site’s operator, Southern California Edison, is in the process of loading the rods into thin-walled canisters to be stored in cement chambers — a storage solution meant to keep the fuel safe until a long-term storage option becomes available further away from the shoreline, according to a July 18 story in The Coast News.
Residents and critics called an Aug. 3, 2018, a “near-miss” accident in which a canister become stuck as it was loaded into a cement storage cavity. The accident spurred outrage over the loading process. The incident fueled a growing distrust in Southern California Edison and the decommissioning process and drew criticism from local groups such as the Samuel Lawrence Foundation, which helped prepare the Carlsbad resolution.
John Dobken, public information officer at SONGS, said the issue of spent nuclear fuel is an item city councils should take up, especially those close to a nuclear facility. He said the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 required the U.S. Department of Energy to construct a permanent storage facility, but political pushback, notably in Nevada with Yucca Mountain, has yet to materialize a permanent waste site.
“The canister downloading event on Aug. 3, 2018, at San Onofre should not have happened,” he said. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducted numerous inspections and reviews since then. SCE made comprehensive changes and improvements to fuel transfer operations so there is not a repeat of Aug. 3.”
Dobken said the resolution contains multiple errors and misleading statements despite efforts to correct. One issue he took up was the 50-mile emergency planning zone, which has not been applied to SONGS.
“Since 2015, the two highest emergency classifications … no longer apply to SONGS,” Dobken said. “That’s because no radioactive material could leave the site boundary.”