A panel of eight experts and activists will provide their solutions for moving radioactive nuclear waste from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at a 6 p.m. presentation Wednesday, June 8, in the City Council chambers.
The experts want to force Southern California Edison, operator of the decommissioned nuclear power plant, to extract the stored waste and move it elsewhere, according to Rita Conn, organizer of the presentation and chairperson of Let Laguna Vote.
“Edison, if not stopped, will bury 1,632 tons of lethal radioactive material that contains 89 times the amount of radiation that was released at Chernobyl in untested and experimental canisters on the beach 42 yards from the ocean and three feet above the water table,” said Conn, who spent the last two years lobbying nuclear energy regulators, elected officials, the Orange County Terrorism Taskforce and experts in nuclear transportation to rid San Onofre of the toxic waste.
“You can’t see or smell radiation like you can our wildfires,” said Nina Babiarz, one of the panelists and a transportation and technology consultant who will discuss details and roadblocks of transporting nuclear waste.
Babiarz questioned the California Coastal Commission approval last October that allowed Edison to expand radioactive fuel storage at San Onofre State Beach. “If there were one human error, there’s the potential of shutting down a major rail corridor as well as an interstate highway,” she said. “When you have millions of passengers being carried through the rail corridors, we need to get this stuff out of here.”
The San Onofre nuclear power plant, beside Interstate 5 and an Amtrak rail line, was permanently closed on June 7, 2013, after a radiation leak shut down both generators at the plant 18 months earlier.
Edison encourages continued public engagement on the decommissioning of San Onofre nuclear plant, including questions about storage of used nuclear fuel, said Maureen Brown, an Edison spokesperson, who said an SCE representative will not attend the meeting.
Edison’s decommissioning plans call for moving two-thirds of the spent fuel rods, currently stored in a 40-feet-deep pool, to dry-cask storage in concrete-encased, sealed steel canisters, said Brown. One-third is already in dry-cask storage, scheduled to be completed by 2019, she said.
The 2,700 rods must be contained in dry-casks before they can be moved, Brown said. There also needs to be a licensed storage facility where the spent fuel can be moved, she said, which is still undetermined. Edison is considering temporary sites in New Mexico or Texas, she said. An unfinished Department of Energy repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is the utility company’s choice for possible permanent storage, she said.
“The easiest alternative is to put it on trucks and take it to the Mojave Desert in Arizona,” said another panelist, Michael Aguirre, a former San Diego city attorney and anti-nuclear activist. Palo Verde, a spent-fuel but unlicensed storage facility, already exists there, he said.
After two years, efforts to derail storage at San Onofre have gained momentum, Conn said. “We have reached the point that, with enough people behind us, we can force San Onofre’s nuclear radioactive spent fuel to be among the first to be moved to an interim Department of Energy nuclear waste repository in Texas,” she said, encouraging people to “step up and not leave this to a handful of activists.”
Some state and federal officials and even environmentalists are now refocusing on nuclear power because it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, a turnaround prompted by the Paris agreement on climate change, according to a recent New York Times article.
“The truth is that nuclear power is not clean because it’s toxic and it’s certainly not cheap,” said Conn.
At the presentation, Aquirre will discuss the legal argument for Edison to remove the waste. Conn will talk about the political and legal inroads made by the Secure Nuclear Waste Coalition and the needed next steps. Consumer fraud attorney Maria Severson will discuss allegations questioning San Onofre’s operations. Pam Patterson, current mayor of San Juan Capistrano and a member of the Edison Community Engagement Panel, will offer insights about that panel’s hearings.
Charles Langley, listed as a “watchdog,” will talk about costs to taxpayers and ratepayers. Bill Honigman M.D. will address emergency preparedness. Geologist and environmental scientist Robert Pope will talk about “geological and corporate erosion.”