Burying 3.6 Million Pounds of Nuclear Waste at San Onofre State Beach Is a Terrible Idea

by on January 3, 2018 · 4 comments

in Energy, Environment, Health

Sign carrying protestors march in downtown San Clemente against plans to bury toxic waste from the now defunct San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station on the beach. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

It’s heating up around the shuttered nuclear plant at San Onofre because locals are not happy with the plan to bury 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste at San Onofre State Beach. There were protests recently in the nearest city, San Clemente, against this plan.

Meanwhile, a local group, Citizens Oversight, has submitted a formal petition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission under NRC Regulations  that govern how the nuclear industry handles spent nuclear fuel. They believe the containers of the toxic nuke spent fuel should be designed for 1,000 years rather than the current requirement of only 40 years.

Everybody is talking about San Onofre. In the current San Diego Reader, Don Bauder has a piece about how nuclear waste in the sand now will create a toxic ocean later. Sarah “Steve” Mosko, at Boogie Green writes there’s a ticking time bomb at San Onofre Nuclear Plant.

Here’s Laylan Connelly’s article at the Orange County Register:

Monique and Todd Furuike can’t remember the last time they joined a protest. It definitely was the first time for their children, Blake, 13 and Presley, 11.

But when they heard about a group gathering in San Clemente on Saturday [Dec. 30] to oppose plans to bury 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste at San Onofre State Beach, Monique and Todd knew they wanted to rally as a family.

“I think it’s important to see what we’re doing as adults, about what we feel passionate about. My kids are beach kids … we have our annual San Onofre beach day,” said Monique Furuike, who drove from Huntington Beach for the protest. “It’s important to see what’s going on around them. There’s so many different causes. This is our family cause.”

More than 100 people showed up at the San Clemente Community Center, some clutching signs with statements such as “kids should grow, not glow” and “it’s better to be active, proactive, reactive than radioactive!” before protesters marched up Avenida Del Mar and El Camino Real.

The latest protest follows similar efforts in recent weeks at Laguna Beach, then Huntington Beach, where opponents to the nuclear waste burial are trying to make a last-ditch effort before spent fuel is buried in the ground in a cliff near the ocean on Camp Pendleton land between Orange County and San Diego at the shuddered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station .

There’s no concrete date on when the fuel is going to be placed in the canisters, but it could be as soon as mid-January, said Lori Donchak, a San Clemente council member who has followed the issue for a decade.

“If something were to go wrong with the storage, water knows no boundaries,” Donchak said. “It will go straight into the ocean and affect all of California. There’s no reason to believe this part of the country is exempt from natural disaster.”

A spokesperson for Southern California Edison, San Onofre’s operator, did not respond in time for this story’s deadline on Saturday.

Plans to transport the spent fuel to Yucca Mountain in Nevada were taken off the table years ago, and officials haven’t figured out what to do with the nuclear waste other than storing it temporarily on site, in multi-billion-dollar canisters, just a short distance from shore.

In 2015, shortly after the California Coastal Commission gave Southern California Edison the green light to build on-sight storage, the nonprofit group Citizens Oversight filed suit to stop it.

The suit claimed the commission, which must review and approve or disallow seaside projects, failed to adequately evaluate other storage spots or the Holtec system that will entomb the waste. The suit also argues that Southern California Edison presented the spot just a few hundred feet from the beach as the only option.

The Coastal Commission said it followed state law and Edison argued that the new dry storage system is an expansion of an already-existing “safe, secure facility to temporarily store the spent nuclear fuel.”

The highly radioactive fuel will be much safer in the steel-and-concrete bunker than in the pools where it currently cools, Edison said. All waste is slated to be in dry storage by 2019.

Edison has little choice, it has argued. The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over the transport, monitoring and storage of spent nuclear fuel and has the legal obligation to permanently dispose of it – not just from San Onofre, but from every commercial reactor in the nation.

Edison produced electricity at the site for 40 years, creating millions of pounds of radioactive waste. The reactors were shut down in 2012 after steam generators malfunctioned.

In August, Citizens Oversight, SCE and the Coastal Commission struck a deal to take specific steps toward eventually removing nuclear waste from the region. But details about how that might happen remain vague.

Under terms of the settlement, Edison agreed to spend up to $4 million to hire a team of experts in fields such as nuclear engineering, siting, licensing, transportation, and radiation detection to develop plans to relocate San Onofre’s 3.6 million pounds of spent fuel.

One site the team is supposed to consider is the Palos Verde nuclear plant in Arizona, a site where Edison has a financial stake. The team also is supposed to explore temporary storage sites in New Mexico and Texas.

Already, some spent fuel has been sitting in storage bins – cooling for years – at San Onofre. Some experts argue the proposed dry storage, the steel-and-concrete bunkers, offer greater protection against earthquakes, fire, tsunamis and terrorist threats. And getting it into canisters for dry storage by 2019 is the first step toward transferring it off-site when a facility becomes available, proponents argue.

But concerned citizens in Orange County argue the canisters are below standards used around the world and not nearly as thick as they should be.

Placing the fuel just 100 yards from the water is risky, especially in an area that is due for a major earthquake, said Todd Furuike.

“I think it’s important the public knows of all these risks,” he said as he marched with the group. “That’s how we’ll put pressure on the federal government to respond.”

Torgen Johnson, of Solana Beach, spoke to the group gathered on a grassy lawn before they took to streets to protest.

“The waste is going to outlast recorded history by a huge amount,” he said. “We got our lights on for a few moments, now we have to babysit this fuel for eternity.”

He pointed to his four kids, Layse, 10, Enzo, 8, Coco, 6 and Del Mar, 3.

“We have to keep them safe, and their great, great, great, great grandchildren safe from this stuff,” he said. “It’s thinking about protecting your families and people who aren’t even on the planet yet.”

He was optimistic the crowd’s voice would be heard.

“It’s going to take people like you to speak up,” he said. “We have a big problem, but we have a big crowd and a lot of spirit here. I hope that all of you stay engaged in this fight.”


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

retired botanist January 3, 2018 at 1:14 pm

Its all so depressingly predictable. The arguments are inexcusable; Edison’s “we have no other option”, “temporary storage” “cannisters” “bunkers” “Yucca mountain”…its as if acknowledgement of the real problem with nuclear energy has just occurred to these energy and coastal commission people! Nuclear waste has ALWAYS been the problem; 40 years, 100 years, those numbers are just specks compared to the amount of time required for radioactive decay! I spent some time on Enewetok Atoll back in the 70s, where they tried to ‘bury’ the radioactivity…its an environmental tragedy! People just don’t understand because you can’t see it, smell it or feel it…there simply is no “disposal” of nuclear waste. Period. And to “temporarily” park it on the waterfront in an earthquake area? Insanity!


Dr. Jack Hammer January 3, 2018 at 9:39 pm

What could possibly go wrong?


DaveLV January 4, 2018 at 6:14 am

California voted twice for Obama who promised to delay for 50 years any national nuclear waste repository opening and now you whine about the waste being kept where it is?


retired botanist January 4, 2018 at 1:23 pm

No, I’m whining, pointlessly I suppose, about the fact that those of us who’ve been against nuclear energy for 50 years, and have demonstrated tirelessly against it, tried very hard to elucidate the real problem- the waste and no acceptable place to put it- for decades. And now all of a sudden its a problem for the energy companies and the government regulators? “I told you so” is neither satisfying nor mitigating. And the proposed current solutions? Cannisters? How about that idea a few years ago to dump it on Native American “wasteland”? This is what they come up with after 50 years? And now they’ve decided its too dangerous to transport by train? As Mr Jonson said, ” We got our lights on for a few minutes, and now we have to babysit this spent fuel for an eternity”.
And make no mistake that the consumer is paying for that 4 million dollar Edison “team of experts”. Edison said “they have little choice”? They had a choice decades ago and chose to create “millions of pounds of nuclear waste”. That’s beyond whining!


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