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Last month, Orange County Coastkeeper and The Surfrider Foundation collaborated to advocate for a stronger, more comprehensive water discharge permit for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The permit was up for its five-year renewal with the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The previous water discharge permit for SONGS only required water sampling twice a year and tested for just three components: pH level, temperature, and dissolved oxygen. Coastkeeper and Surfrider found this unacceptable, as the permit would need to generate more data to accurately characterize the water quality in the area.

In a joint letter to the regional board staff, the two groups pushed for a revised permit that requires quarterly monitoring and extensive testing for pollutants such as bacteria, metals, and sediment. The staff agreed with our recommendations and revised the permit accordingly.

Coastkeeper Founder and President Garry Brown testified in person at the hearing, reiterating the need for a larger data set to better understand the area’s water quality and accommodate variations in discharges due to the plant’s demolishing within the next five years. Garry also conveyed that Surfrider supported the more robust discharge permit. Southern California Edison, the operator of SONGS, testified their agreement with the improved permit. The board unanimously adopted the revised permit.

Plagued by cooling system problems and the near end of their operating permit, Edison decided to permanently shut down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in June 2013. The decommissioning process is now in its third year of a five-year demolition plan.

San Onofre State Beach is world famous for its surf breaks.

The biggest question now is what to do with all the spent nuclear fuel. Spent nuclear fuel can remain dangerously radioactive for thousands of years and can pose serious health and environmental risks if not stored and handled properly. The San Onofre site is a waterfront property alongside a busy interstate highway with over 8 million people residing within a 50-mile radius – conditions unsuitable for long-term storage.

Since its inception in 2014, Garry Brown has served on the Citizen Engagement Panel for SONGS to ensure environmental health is prioritized while the plant is decommissioning. Garry serves on another coalition called Spent Fuel Solutions Now, whose sole purpose is to find an appropriate interim storage facility away from this vulnerable site.

As SONGS continues to decommission, this stronger water discharge permit will ensure that the waters surrounding the plant remain swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. You can help us continue advocating for cleaner waters by donating on our website!