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San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. File photo
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Spent fuel storage process complete at San Onofre

REGION — At long last, all 73 canisters of spent nuclear fuel have been downloaded into dry storage at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The last of the 73 canisters were stored in the decommissioning nuclear plant’s Holtec dry storage system on Friday, Aug. 7.

SONGS has two different dry storage facilities for its spent nuclear fuel. With 73 canisters stored in the Holtec system and another 50 in the TN-NUHOMS system, SONGS has 123 canisters of spent nuclear fuel stored on-site.

The canisters were moved from the site’s wet storage to dry storage. The plant’s owner, Southern California Edison, maintains that both wet storage of spent fuel in pools of water and dry storage in stainless-steel canisters are safe.

Still, according to Edison spokesperson John Dobken, dry storage offers additional safety benefits. Specifically, the dry storage at SONGS has more than twice the seismic rating as the spent fuel pools and requires no electricity because the fuel is cooled with ambient air.

The road to downloading all 73 canisters into the Holtec system came to a stop for nearly a year after an August 2018 incident when a canister containing spent fuel got stuck during the downloading process. The plant was able to resume downloading the canisters into dry storage in July 2019.

Currently, Edison is working on a strategic plan with the environmental consulting group North Wind, Inc. to develop a plan to assess the feasibility of relocating spent nuclear fuel from SONGS. North Wind has created a team of several experts in handling spent nuclear fuel to developing the plan.

The plan will not identify a single solution but rather several alternatives for offsite storage or disposal. It will also provide suggestions for Edison to be ready for transport once a viable relocation site becomes available and to advance policy that promotes off-site storage or disposal.

With all 123 canisters in dry storage, more attention will be focused on demolition of the plant. So far, the plant has gone through asbestos removal from inside its containment domes, and Edison has shipped the plant’s Unit 1 reactor pressure vessel off to a disposal site in Clive, Utah.

Much of the upcoming deconstruction work at SONGS will be inside the containment domes. Crews need to prepare to remove “lots of steel and concrete,” explained Doug Bauder, Edison vice president and chief nuclear officer.

That material will be transported by rail to disposal sites in Utah, Arizona and Texas.