California Nuclear Power Plant Approved for Demolition

SAN DIEGO (CN) – Amid a revived legal challenge over the storage of nuclear waste and public doubts over the safety of the decommissioning process of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the California Coastal Commission unanimously approved demolition Thursday of the iconic Southern California nuclear power plant.

The California Coastal Commission – which approves development projects along the coastal zone – approved SONGS owner Southern California Edison and co-participants San Diego Gas & Electric and the cities of Riverside and Anaheim’s coastal development permit to decommission Units 2 and 3 – the iconic dome shaped structures nestled between Interstate 5 and the Pacific Ocean between Oceanside and San Clemente.

The permit was approved with 19 special conditions including for the utility to waive any claim for damage or liability against the commission due to coastal hazards and to indemnify the commission against all liability or claims.

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (Photo by JELSON25/Wikipedia)

The utility will also be required to fund an independent, third-party review of its inspection and maintenance program by next March.

Spent nuclear waste from the facility – which was shuttered in 2012 following a reactor coolant leak – has already been moved into steel canisters and buried on the beach, a process which was stalled last fall after one of the canisters was nearly dropped 18 feet. The commission approved the permit to move nuclear waste in 2015, a process which is expected to be complete by next summer.

The day-long hearing ended with public outbursts and two breaks where commissioners left the Chula Vista City Council chambers where the meeting was held Thursday.

Commission Chair Dayna Bochco, exasperated when members of the public yelled comments including “Do the right thing,” pounded the table when someone yelled out asking for a roll call vote after she indicated the commission had unanimously voted to approve the permit outside the public hearing.

Scientists, engineers and concerned citizens who spoke at the meeting were split over whether the project should be approved, mainly because it calls for demolishing two spent fuel pools inside the units which could be used to repair cracked or leaking canisters in the event of a potential radiation breach.

But Tom Palmisano, SCE’s vice president of decommissioning and chief nuclear officer, unveiled a video at the meeting Thursday showing technology SCE had identified could employ robots to apply a nickel coating to the waste canisters while they’re in place.

A spokesman with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also confirmed the canisters in their current condition, including with scratches, pass muster to ship should a permanent nuclear waste repository be opened by the federal government.

The one point the room agreed on was the need to move the nuclear waste to a permanent location away from the coast.

Lt. Gov Eleni Kounalakis, who voted for the State Lands Commission to approve the Environmental Impact Report for SONGS decommissioning earlier this year said: “The main failure in all of this is the federal government guaranteed a permanent location for spent fuel and has failed to deliver on it.”

Bochco said the commission should consider if “this is one of those lawsuits we may want to pursue against the federal government.”

The approval Thursday comes amidst a renewed legal challenge in state court by the group Citizens Oversight which filed a motion to enforce a settlement agreement between it and the Coastal Commission and SCE from 2017.

Citizens Oversight claims SCE is not making good on its promise to make “commercially reasonable efforts” to relocate the nuclear waste away from the California coast.

A court hearing in the matter is scheduled for Nov. 1.

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