Settlement Reached for San Onofre Nuclear Waste Storage

SAN DIEGO (CN) — Southern California Edison acknowledged its “shared interest” with citizens who want the spent nuclear fuel sent away from the Pacific Ocean, not buried under the beach.

Citizens Oversight, a nonprofit, and Patricia Borchmann sued Southern California Edison in 2015 over a coastal development permit the California Coastal Commission issued to Edison to store spent nuclear waste from the San Onofre nuclear power plant under the beach next to the shuttered nuclear power plant.

San Onofre was shut down in 2012 after reactor coolant leaked from an 11-month-old steam generator, leaking 82 gallons of coolant a day. Since the power plant shut down, debate over where to store the volatile nuclear waste has centered on safety concerns.

Edison has said it plans to move two-thirds of the spent fuel being stored in steel-lined, concrete pools into dry storage by 2019, where it will remain until an off-site storage facility is available, according to a statement on the Edison website.

In the 18-page settlement agreement filed with San Diego Superior Court Monday but dated and signed by the parties last week, Edison acknowledged it had a “shared interest” with Citizens Oversight in relocating spent nuclear fuel, but says the U.S. Department of Energy should be responsible for relocating the nuclear waste and “has not yet discharged its responsibility.”

The plaintiffs asked that the case before Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes be dismissed.

“Plaintiffs desire to expedite the transfer of the SONGS [San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station] spent fuel to a more inland location because they believe that is an overall benefit to the local community. Given that circumstance, the parties acknowledge that they have a shared interest in relocating the SONGS spent fuel on an interim basis to an offsite facility that would be licensed by the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] and permitted, constructed, and operated by either the federal government or a third party,” the settlement states.

Southern California Edison will maintain ownership of the nuclear waste until the federal government decides what to do with it — a decision for nuclear plants nationwide that has hung fire for decades, and for which there is no end in sight.

Edison has agreed to use “commercially reasonable efforts” to temporarily relocate the nuclear waste to one of the sites proposed in the Southwest, including New Mexico, Texas or an expanded nuclear waste storage site at a power plant in Arizona, according to the settlement.

“We will be vigilant in our efforts to prompt the federal government to act, and until we can secure off-site storage,” Edison president Ron Nichols said in a statement.

Citizens Oversight attorney Mike Aguirre said in an interview that concerns about moving the nuclear waste away from the coast – which is susceptible to natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and tsunamis – are of even higher concern given the unprecedented damage Hurricane Harvey is wreaking on Texas.

“It’s an opportunity to get the spent fuel – 1,800 tons of it – moved,” Aguirre said.

Edison agreed to spend $4 million on consultants to develop a plan on moving the nuclear waste. It must provide Citizens Oversight with monthly progress reports for six months, then provide quarterly updates.

Citizens Oversight agreed not to file any new lawsuits on the issue. If disputes over the settlement arise, they will go mediation.

Edison agreed to pay the plaintiffs’ $800,000 attorney’s fees.

The California Coastal Commission’s October meeting in San Diego is expected to include a public hearing on San Onofre and the nuclear waste.

The Coastal Commission was not a party to the settlement.

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