Deal pushes SCE to consider alternate sites for San Onofre waste

REGION – A nonprofit group calling itself Citizens’ Oversight announced that it has reached an agreement with Southern California Edison that requires the utility to relocate approximately 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste from San Onofre beach.

The agreement establishes an overarching plan, including the use of experts in spent nuclear fuel transportation, nuclear engineering, spent fuel siting and licensing, and radiation detection and monitoring to advise on issues related to proposed relocation to an offsite storage facility away from the ocean ecosystem.

“Leaving the spent fuel only 100 feet from the ocean with no other options being developed is simply unacceptable,” said Ray Lutz, founder of Citizens’ Oversight and an engineer. “Our agreement plots a prudent strategy that aims to movie the fuel off our coast more promptly and avoids the possibility that it would just be left on the beach indefinitely due to inaction. This is a practical solution that respects safety concerns.”

The California Coastal Commission voted Oct. 6, 2015, to approve a permit to install and use a new “Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation” (ISFSI, also called “spent fuel dry storage”) only 100 feet from the seawall at San Onofre.

After speaking in opposition at the meeting, Lutz joined with activist Patricia Borchmann and the law firm of Aguirre & Severson LLP to file a lawsuit against the Coastal Commission to revoke the permit. Southern California Edison (SCE), the majority owner of the now-shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant, is the party of interest in the case. The lawsuit asserts that the permit was improper due to lack of public review, numerous ex parte meetings, and lack of consideration of technical issues.

With only a week remaining before the court hearing scheduled April 14, the parties agreed to settlement discussions. With the ISFSI in the process of construction, a cooperative settlement process was considered the best alternative to the parties involved.

However, even with this agreement, moving the nuclear waste to a better location is not a done deal. The agreement does not attempt to reach conclusions on the actual implementation plan, which is to be determined by experts in the field who will be hired by SCE. They will investigate alternative sites and develop a transportation plan and a strategic plan to move the waste using “commercially reasonable efforts.”

The agreement requires public reporting at regular intervals so that Citizens’ Oversight can monitor the progress, inform the public, and can turn to the court if necessary to enforce the deal.

SCE must also evaluate at least two options: Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona near Phoenix, which is partially owned by SCE, and “consolidated interim storage” (CIS) sites that have been proposed for western Texas and eastern New Mexico. But the agreement does not limit the review of considered sites to just those two.

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