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Frequently asked questions about decommissioning the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

By Luke Jones from Anchorage (Nuclear Power Plant) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Early in 2014, Coastkeeper Executive Director Garry Brown received an arranged telephone call from Ron Litzinger, then president of Southern California Edison. He said Southern California Edison was putting together a panel of community leaders to compose what he called the “Community Engagement Panel” for San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and asked if Garry would agree to participate. The mission was to engage the community through the decommissioning process at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. I agreed to serve and now the real story starts…

Approximately 150 members of the public were lining up at each meeting making it clear they were looking to the Community Engagement Panel to protect their safety. However, the panel was designed as a forum to ask questions and express individual opinions to solicit answers from Southern California Edison on issues related to decommissioning.

The two major issues with decommissioning that community members were most concerned about are:

  1. Where to store dry spent fuel
  2. And in what type of dry storage container

Where to Store Spent Fuel

It is clear why San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was located water-front; it needed huge amounts of seawater for cooling. This location is also freeway front to 120,000 cars passing each day, railroad front to an active commuter rail line and neighboring 8.4 million residents within a 50-mile evacuation radius. However, now that San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has not produced a kilowatt of electricity since June 2013, the seawater is no longer needed. Stored canisters of spent nuclear fuel seemingly should not be stored water-front, freeway front, railroad front, and in close proximity to millions of people.

There are five nuclear-generating stations in California—four closed and only one still operating (Diablo Canyon). Why can’t California collaborate with the Federal Government to find a California solution for depositing spent fuel? California does have lots of isolated land areas. This certainly makes more sense than five separate storage locations in California. Is anybody working on this? The answer is no.

Spent fuel can only be transferred into a storage canister while it is submerged in a cold water pool. If we find a problem with one of the dry storage canisters in say 25 years, and it is determined that the fuel must be removed and placed in a new or reconditioned canister, how do we accomplish this task when we have decommissioned and removed the cold water pools that are required in which to transfer spent fuel?

What Type of Dry Storage Container Should Be Used for Spent Fuel?

United States-manufactured aluminum canisters are not to be opened once sealed, meaning the fuel inside can never actually be inspected. Conversely, there are European manufacturers that make canisters out of heavy steel that are sealed and bolted closed and can be reopened. In Europe, there is much more transporting of spent fuel and these can be loaded on trucks and taken down the road. United States canisters, on the other hand, are not big on transporting distances more than hundreds of yards from the pools to the dry storage area. Many believe the European canisters to be safer and preferable.

Continue Reading Swan SONGS: Part IV

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