OCEANSIDE, Calif. (CN) – Southern California residents packed a California State Lands Commission meeting Tuesday night to protest the plan to demolish the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
The SONGS nuclear power plant closed in 2012 after reactor coolant leaked from an 11-month-old steam generator, leaking 82 gallons of radioactive coolant a day. Edison alerted the public to a "possible leak" on Jan. 31, 2012, and on Feb. 17, 2012, responded to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report about the leak with confirmation a "barely measurable" amount of radioactivity was released into the atmosphere.
The California Coastal Commission issued a permit to SONGS operator Southern California Edison to store spent nuclear waste in canisters buried under the beach next to the shuttered power plant.
This year, Edison began burying the spent nuclear waste on the beach and is a third of the way through burying the 70-plus canisters.
But to complete the entire decommissioning process – including tearing down the twin buildings which used to house energy operations – the California Coastal Commission needs to approve a final permit.
That permit will not be taken up by the Coastal Commission until a recently released 706-page environmental impact report by the California State Lands Commission – which assesses the environmental impacts of tearing down SONGS – gets approved.
It outlines the components and structures proposed to be taken down in a way to reduce radioactivity and impacts on the environment. Among significant “unavoidable impacts” outlined in the EIR, however, are potential release of radiological materials and impacts on air quality.
The majority of speakers from a group of more than 100 people at Tuesday’s meeting said those “unavoidable impacts” are unacceptable.
Charles Langley, executive director of nonprofit Public Watchdogs, said the EIR “does not address pollution issues” in case of a nuclear accident. He also raised concerns about the lack of a plan for real-time monitoring of radiation at the site during the decommissioning process.
“Radiation is easily measured. The public has a right to know,” Langley said.
He suggested since the commission measures and tracks for harmful levels of pollutants it could add plutonium and uranium to its list.
Other speakers cited nuclear accidents at Fukushima, Japan, and Chernobyl, Ukraine, as cautionary tales and the impetus to create an evacuation plan for the 8 million people within a 50-mile radius of SONGS.
Citizens Oversight founder Ray Lutz, whose group brought sued Edison over its plan to store nuclear waste onsite – a case that was settled last year – told Courthouse News the decommissioning project should never have been split into two separate phases.
He said he wants the commission to consider how the decommissioning should be done rather than what should be done, especially since the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not advise utilities on how to handle nuclear waste.
Lutz said the commission should not destroy spent fuel pools until there is a plan on place for how to safely store cracked nuclear waste canisters onsite in a secondary enclosure to avoid radiation exposure.
He also said the Marine Corps needs to take responsibility for moving the spent fuel away from the coast and a few miles inland to a mesa on Camp Pendleton.
“We’re not going to be in court over this. We want to work with the utility and experts to move the nuclear waste away,” Lutz said.
“The reason we have the waste is because of nuclear weapons, here is basically a vestige of war. The military should take an active role.”
The public comment period on the EIR runs through Aug. 28. A tentative commission meeting to approve the EIR is scheduled for Dec. 11 in San Diego.
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