SAN DIEGO (CN) - Southern California Edison agreed to pay $5 million to the California Coastal Commission for an illegally issued permit to bury 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste on a San Diego beach, a citizens' group claims in court.
Citizens Oversight asked the Superior Court to vacate the permit, and nullify the permit the Coastal Commission issued on Oct. 6.
The Nov. 3 lawsuit against Edison and the Coastal Commission claims the waste would be within 100 feet of the ocean, where 8.4 million people live within a radius of 50 miles.
The group calls the deal "an unenforceable indemnity agreement from Edison in which Edison agreed to indemnify the CC commissioners for the intentionally unlawful act of issuing the permit" and any potential liability from approving the permit.
The commission relied only on statements made by Edison, which did not exhaust alternative storage and disposal means, the group claims.
"The whole record and the relevant evidence demonstrates that the commission's reliance on Edison's statements, in light of Edison's misrepresentations and reckless conduct in deploying the failed steam generators that closed the plant, was wholly unjustified," the complaint states. "No reasonable person would have granted a permit to store the nuclear waste on the beach from the shoreline on this record."
Citizens Oversight wants the Superior Court to review the permit process, claiming the Coastal Commission exceeded its jurisdiction, abused its discretion, denied citizens due process by not holding public hearings, and issued the permit without substantial evidence to support it.
From 1968 until 2012 Southern California Edison generated and sold electricity from San Onofre nuclear power plant in San Diego County, which was the second-largest power producer in California, producing up to 16 million megawatt hours of electricity for up to 2.3 million households.
The utility shut it down on Jan. 31, 2012, after finding a reactor coolant leak coming from an 11-month-old steam generator, which was leaking 82 gallons per day, and put its fuel assemblies in underwater storage for cooling.
"There are 2,668 spent fuel assemblies in wet storage pools in buildings in which Edison conducted the business that produced the nuclear waste," Citizens Oversight says. "The fuel is highly radioactive and will remain so for thousands of years."
Edison used uranium oxide fuel, small ceramic pellets in metal fuel rods, to power the plant's three reactors by generating a tremendous amount of heat to create steam to power turbine generators.
As the fuel rods became less efficient, Edison replaced them with new ones and put the old ones in underwater storage at San Onofre, which now has 2,668 spent fuel assemblies that it plans to bury by the beach.
"Edison's decision to establish an independent spent-fuel storage installation ... just 100 feet from the shore of a San Diego beach is the worst alternative," Citizens Oversight says.
The buried waste requires a berm due to the water table; the coastal area is prone to erosion and earthquakes and is in a tsunami zone, the group says.
The relatively thin canisters in which the waste is stored are prone to salt-air corrosion and might last only a few decades before cracking due to chlorine stress corrosion, Citizens Oversight says, and each canister weighs hundreds of thousands of pounds, making them too large for conventional travel via railcar.
The Coastal Commission abused its discretion and held no hearings when it authorized Edison to bury up to 3.6 million pounds of high-level nuclear waste with no plan for removal and without requiring the utility to seek alternatives, Citizens Oversight says.
It is represented by Michael Aguirre with Aguirre & Severson, who was not immediately available for comment. Nor were officials for Southern California Edison or the California Coastal Commission.
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