San Onofre Decommissioning to Begin, Edison Says

By Published On: May 29, 2014

The closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is primed to withstand only a 1.5 earthquake, according to Southern California Edison chief nuclear officer Tom Palmisano. The spent radioactive waste in dry cask storage onsite is supposed to survive a 7.0 Richter scale quake, according to Palmisano. Decommissioning of the state’s biggest shutdown nuclear facility is set to proceed although no plan has yet been filed. The power plant was permanently shut June 7, 2013. The plutonium-laden spent fuel—1,187 fuel assemblies—has been moved out of the reactor site to dry cask storage on site, according to Palmisano. But, there is not enough storage existing for highly radioactive fuel. He suggested that the real estate for radioactive waste be increased to 100,000 square feet May 22. That would triple onsite storage. Edison estimates the cost of that storage expansion would be $400 million. Palmisano maintained that Edison expects the federal government will have a permanent nuclear waste facility dump by 2049. But, “for planning purposes, we should not believe what the Department of Energy” promises, said Bill Parker, professor and department chair, physics & astronomy school of physical sciences, University of California, Irvine. The major owner, Edison, has yet to submit a decommissioning plan for units 2 and 3 to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Unit 1 was taken out of service in 1992. Because there is no long-term storage for radioactive waste, the reactor vessel still sits on site. Spent fuel is expected to be toxic for 140,000 years. Since the 1980s, the federal government has promised a new long-term radioactive waste site. The promise remains unfulfilled. Thus, California’s nuclear-owning utilities have stored radioactive waste on site at their coastal power plants. Edison owns 78.2 percent of San Onofre and 15.8 percent of the Palo Verde plant in Arizona that exports power to California. San Diego Gas & Electric owns 20 percent of San Onofre. There’s $5.1 billion in the trust fund set up for decommissioning units 2 and 3, according to the 2013 first quarter financial reports filed by owners Edison and Sempra Energy with the Securities & Exchange Commission. Complicating decommissioning at the San Onofre site is that the facility sits on federal land—owned by the Navy. It’s leased for about another 50 years from the government.

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