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Southern California Edison
Samuel Lawrence Foundation's petition challenges that the analysis used to grant Southern California Edison a coastal development permit was not adequate. File photo
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Judge rules in favor of Coastal Commission regarding SONGS demo

REGION — A Los Angeles judge has issued a tentative ruling in favor of the California Coastal Commission after a local environmental organization sued the agency for its issuance of a permit allowing the dismantlement of a former San Diego County nuclear plant.

The state commission issued a coastal development permit to Southern California Edison in 2019 to allow for the deconstruction of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

The permit was granted as long as it adheres to 18 special conditions that would make the project consistent with Coastal Act policies.

The Samuel Lawrence Foundation (SLF), an environmental advocacy group based in Del Mar, challenged the Coastal Commission’s decision shortly after the permit was issued.

According to the foundation, the California Coastal Commission abused its discretion when it issued the permit for SONGS deconstruction by not analyzing the “individual and cumulative impacts of destroying the spent fuel pools, or the environmental benefits of retaining the spent fuel pools or using alternative spent fuel repackaging options.”

Specifically, the petition challenges that the analysis used to grant the coastal development permit was not adequate.

After the recent June 16 hearing, Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff issued a tentative ruling denying Samuel Lawrence Foundation’s petition.

The environmental group argued that the commission failed to follow the law when it approved the permit through its requirement of Southern California Edison to submit annual reports updating the commission on potential opportunities for relocating the ISFSIs (independent spent fuel storage installation) that currently store spent nuclear fuel on-site.

The petition filed by Samuel Lawrence Foundation also asserts that the permit allows the site to be decommissioned without ensuring that the SONGS canisters of spent fuel remain transportable.

According to the judge’s analysis, it is not required to consider the individual and cumulative impacts because the project, defined as a new development project, is located in developed areas that are able to accommodate it.

The court also found that Samuel Lawrence Foundation did not meet its burden of demonstrating error on any alleged failure of the California Coastal Commission regarding analyses of these impacts.

“Southern California Edison has consistently maintained that the California Coastal Commission appropriately reached its unanimous decision granting the coastal development permit after rigorous analysis and review,” said John Dobken, public information officer for Southern California Edison. “The dismantlement of SONGS continues to progress in a safe and timely manner.”

Prior to the tentative ruling, Southern California Edison made a “good faith agreement” with Samuel Lawrence Foundation by promising to follow its current decommissioning schedule and not performing any additional work on the spent fuel pools for at least 90 days.

“The facts clearly show that the Commission was thorough in its analysis, thoughtful in its review and correct in its decision to approve the coastal development permit to safely dismantle SONGS,” Dobken said.

The judge has 90 days until he must render his final decision on the case.

Though the ruling was unfavorable to Samuel Lawrence Foundation, the environmental group still maintains some hope that the ruling will turn in their favor.

“This isn’t over,” said SLF Associate Director Chelsi Sparti. “The judge took our points under submission and the case is ongoing.”

According to Sparti, the foundation is supportive of the plant’s decommissioning but wants to make sure it is done safely.

“The California Coastal Commission has not given us those assurances,” Sparti said.