DEL MAR – Del Mar recently became the latest North County city to weigh in the handling and storage of 3.6 million pounds of spent nuclear waste at the decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
On Sept. 30, the City Council voted unanimously to send a resolution to the governor and state legislature, calling for the facility to stop loading its spent fuel until certain safety requirements are in place – for example, ceasing the use of thin-walled canisters for storage and subjecting the canisters to regular inspection and monitoring.
Solana Beach was the first to pass a safe storage resolution in June, and later approved a stronger resolution in July, after hours of public discussion and debate over the safety of thin-walled canisters.
Southern California Edison – which operates the facility – is in the process of loading spent fuel from cooling ponds into large, stainless-steel thin-walled canisters. The canisters are then being lowered into concrete silos on site, which are capped with a heavy concrete lid.
Most seem to agree that the best long-term solution is eventually getting the waste off the coastline and harnessing congressional action to develop a disposal facility for not only San Onofre, but other decommissioned nuclear power plants across the country.
However, active locals part ways when it comes to how exactly the fuel should be stored in the meantime – with groups like the Del Mar-based Samuel Lawrence Foundation urging the use of thick-walled casks for storage, and the Surfrider Foundation backing up Edison’s current and ongoing use of thin-walled canisters.
Local jurisdictions are making it clear they do not approve of the use of thin-walled canisters.
“When loaded into on-site storage, thin-walled waste canisters are subject to gouging, potentially leading to corrosion, cracking and the possible release of radiation into the environment,” reads Del Mar’s resolution.
The resolution was passed with little discussion, and three comments from the public. Council members Ellie Haviland and Dwight Worden brought forth the resolution.
“We’re calling on the governor and our legislature to find a better way to handle that nuclear waste — move it inland, don’t use these thin-walled casks that are high risk, and protect us,” said Worden. “We’re all in the risk zone.”
Cathy Iwane, a Del Mar resident on the board of the Samuel Lawrence Foundation, said the current canisters are “full of problems.”
“Sea-level rise is a big issue in Del Mar,” said Iwane. “That same rising sea and naturally occurring water tables threaten to swamp and corrode the stainless-steel waste canisters at San Onofre.”
Representatives with Edison have defended the efficacy of the thin-walled canisters and said that delaying canister loading will simply keep the fuel on site longer.
Edison spokesman John Dobken told The Coast News that achieving a long-term storage option “is going to take a lot of people working together.”
“These sort of things are kind of distractions to the overall goal,” he said.
Dobken said Del Mar’s resolution includes “quite a few errors of fact” – some of which Edison has addressed in the past, in a press release published after the passage of Solana Beach’s resolution.
“SCE has done everything it can to construct a robust, safe storage system for spent nuclear fuel,” he said, adding that the thick-walled casks preferred by the Samuel Lawrence Foundation “aren’t available for us to use.”
After almost a year on pause, the loading process has resumed as of July. Dobken reported that SCE finished loading its 34th canister in the first week of October. There are 39 still awaiting transfer – each canister takes about six days to fill and load into the cement silos.
Lexy Brodt covers all things Del Mar and Solana Beach for The Coast News, with a primary interest in coastal development. A North County native turned UW-Madison alumna, she has produced for Wisconsin Public Radio and reported for The San Diego Union-Tribune and Wisconsin State Journal.