The Coast News Group
Ralph Howard, a current plant operator, expresses his concern that local help is hired during the decommissioning process. Photo by Ellen Wright
Ralph Howard, a current plant operator, expresses his concern that local help is hired during the decommissioning process. Photo by Ellen Wright

Decommissioning of San Onofre plant one step closer

REGION—The San Onofore Nuclear Generating Station has been shut down for more than a year now, but the decommissioning process has a long ways to go.

The Community Engagement Panel met on Aug. 28 to update the public on the decommissioning process.

The diverse group of stakeholders cannot make any decisions, but serves as an intermediary and informant between the public and Southern California Edison (SCE), which owns the plant.

Tom Palmisano, SCE San Onofre Site vice president, told the panel the planning phase is coming closer to an end, which means the physical decommissioning phase is closer to beginning.

“In the planning phase, we’re not authorized to conduct major decommissioning activities, like the removal of radioactive materials,” said Palmisano.

He told the panel the Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activity Report is almost done and will be submitted to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) within the coming weeks.

The report summarizes the decommissioning plans and costs.

He estimated the decommissioning phase would begin in early 2016.

Chris Thompson, SCE vice president of Decommissioning, told the panel the estimated cost to decommission the plant is $4.4 billion.

Currently, Edison has $4.1 billion set aside, and with wise investments, Thompson said, the funds should appreciate enough to cover the entire cost of decommissioning.

Any excess funds will be returned to customers when the decommissioning is complete, which officials estimated, will be in about 20 years.

Once the report is submitted, the NRC reviews the 50-page document to ensure that all regulatory requirements for content are detailed and accurate.

After 90 days, and a public hearing, the NRC can ask more questions, said Palmisano.

Decommissioning activities can begin once the report is approved.

Palmisano said Edison officials are required to keep the report up-to-date and notify the NRC of any major changes during the decommissioning process.

The goal of the panel is also to hear from the public.

Ralph Howard, who is an operator at the power plant, expressed his concern that SCE hires local employees.

“My concern is that we do not wait until after we hire (contractors) to consider the veterans in the area,” Howard told the panel.

Residents from all over, including Dana Point, Escondido and Fallbrook, spoke about their concerns of the use of five-eighths inch thick steel casks, which contain the nuclear waste.

Many feel the containment is not enough to protect against leaks, terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

They urged the panel of the importance of looking into longer lasting storage alternatives.

Palmisano told the panel 50 casks filled with nuclear waste and one with class-c waste sit at the power plant in a concrete storage facility.

He said they’re monitored periodically and contamination levels are tested. No leaks have been reported.

He also said the casks must meet certain regulations by the NRC, including security regulations, in order to be approved for nuclear waste.

Tours of the plant will be open to the public soon and the next meeting will take place Oct. 9 to discuss the emergency plans at the plant.