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Aerial of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Courtesy photo
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Edison limits on-site work at SONGS, reviews wastewater spill

REGION — Southern California Edison announced that some deconstruction work at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) has stopped temporarily, following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “safer at home” directive given March 25.

The deconstruction of SONGS began in February as part of the plant’s overall decommissioning process.

The Department of Homeland Security identified critical infrastructure sectors like electric utilities and determined that specific functions are considered essential, thus excluding them from Newsom’s directive. This included operating and decommissioning nuclear plants.

Edison has taken additional steps to limit on-site work, which includes canceling non-essential meetings while holding others via teleconference; practicing social distancing, hand-washing and limiting physical sharing of documents; sanitizing work stations before and after shift changes; suspending site tours and moving public meetings online; and setting up health self-screening stations at entrances.

The transfer of spent nuclear fuel from wet to dry storage will also continue, which has Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) concerned.

The congressman sent a letter to Edison President and Chief Executive Officer Pedro Pizarro on March 30, asking why the company has chosen to continue its spent-fuel transfer operations.

“While I agree that power generation operations in the state have been appropriately declared essential by Gov. Newsom, I believe that fuel transfer activities should be evaluated separately from operations that keep hospitals running and customers’ lights on,” Levin wrote in his letter to Pizarro.

Levin asked for a response to his letter by April 13. SONGS Public Information Officer John Dobken confirmed with The Coast News that Edison has received the letter and will review it and respond to Levin.

Additionally, Levin also notes his concern regarding a recent release of 7,000 gallons of sewage wastewater from the SONGS site, which occurred March 25.

“What happened was we had an unexpected influx of wastewater into the system of about 20,000 gallons and so that caused some displacement of the wastewater that was already in the treatment plant,” Dobken told The Coast News. “Subsequently, there was a release of 7,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater into the ocean.”

Dobken said SONGS does not yet have a cause for why the influx happened but is currently conducting a review to determine the cause. Once the wastewater was released, the system detected it and alerted the facility. SONGS then isolated the treatment plant and took it out of operation.

The site’s sewage treatment plant is still out of operation, but SONGS has brought in tanker trucks that create additional space for sewage at the plant, allowing employees to use the bathrooms like normal. Dobken added that employees were always able to use sinks to wash their hands despite the treatment plant being shut down.

Dobken noted that the sewage system’s wastewater is non-radiological.

“We’ll continue to conduct our work by our core decommissioning principles of safety, stewardship and engagement throughout this process,” Dobken said. “In this case, it means following our procedures, making the proper notifications, conducting a thorough review of the event and taking the appropriate responsive corrective actions.”

According to Dobken, SONGS expects sewage treatment plant operations to resume soon.

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