The ever-evolving situation at the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station and its nuclear waste problem has become a hot-button issue for residents of San Clemente, Oceanside, and beyond. It’s immensely complex, but allow me, if you will, to oversimplify.
Spent nuclear fuel goes through a years-long cooling process in pools before it can be moved to dry storage where it further cools until it is safe for transport to long-term storage. “Long-term” storage facility, though, is a misnomer. It’s essentially the permanent resting place for nuclear waste stored in extremely thick metal canisters. The problem at San Onofre and many decommissioned nuclear generation stations across the country, though, is there is no long-term storage facility. Or rather, one was planned for an area called Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but in 2011 the Feds pulled the plug. As a result, short-term solutions have become defacto long-term solutions, which is where we are today at San Onofre.
Back in February, Southern California Edison and contractors involved in the SONGS decommissioning process began transferring spent nuclear fuel from pools to dry storage – or dry cask storage. Tens of thick metal canisters of spent nuclear fuel have since been stored on site adjacent to the generators beneath a concrete pad called the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI).
When I toured the facility back in May (more on that later), SoCal Edison employees were adamant that public safety was of the utmost importance, and that these thick metal casks were not “buried in the sand” but rather safely stored in concrete for the interim. Employees also emphasized that Southern California Edison’s goal is to move the spent fuel as expeditiously and safely as possible. “Don’t forget, our families go in the ocean nearby, too,” many said.
But Congressional gridlock and an inability to designate a feasible long-term storage site means what was once thought to be a safer short-term solution (dry storage is passive and doesn’t require energy to cool as in cooling pools) may need re-thinking.
That’s why a group of activists called the Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles recently launched a letter-writing campaign urging the California State Lands Commission to authorize the local transfer of spent nuclear fuel to an area further east in Camp Pendleton.
“3.6 million pounds of highly radioactive nuclear waste at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Diego is currently in the process of being buried on the beach, just 100 feet from the ocean and a mere few feet above the water table,” their website reads. “Send in a comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and demand a better solution: the nuclear waste should be moved off the beach to a new, above-ground concrete-reinforced temporary storage facility located further east in Camp Pendleton—where it can be protected from sea level rise and potential terrorist attack.”
The Committee to Bridge the Gap, a “non-profit nuclear policy organization focusing on issues of nuclear safety, waste disposal, proliferation, and disarmament” that was founded in 1970, has created a petition page urging concerned citizens to put their name on a letter voicing their discontent. According to their website, the group claims this revised plan has garnered the support of former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chief Greg Jaczko, U.S. government advisor on nuclear waste Tom English, and retired Navy Admiral Len Herring.
The campaign explains that the failure to even consider the idea of moving the fuel east of the primary ISFSI site is a serious oversight on the part of those involved in the decommissioning process.
The letter PSRLA is urging residents to sign implores the State Lands Commission to step in. “As public servants and members of the CSLC you have a moral duty to protect our safety. Please do not take that responsibility lightly,” it says.