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8 Years After Shutdown, Socal San Onofre Nuke Plant Still Causing Big Problems

by Michael Steinberg Thursday, May. 02, 2019 at 8:50 PM

The SoCal San Onofre nuke plant shut down in 2012, but it's still causing big problems.

Nuclear Shutdown News April 2019 Michael Steinberg Black Rain Press

Nuclear Shutdown News chronicles the declines and fall of the nuclear power industry, and highlights the efforts of those who are working for a nuclear free future.

Last Year's Radwaste 'Near Misses' Continue To Plague San Onofre Nuke Plant Southern California nuke plant shut down in 2013 after gross mismanagement and release of radiation into the environment by major owner Southern California Edison. San Diego Gas & Electric is a secondary owner.

The plant is, in retrospect, at an insane location. Bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, and on the east by Camp Pendleton Marine Base, the site is intersected by heavily traveled north-south route Interstate 5. It is also the "world's prime sub-adjacent nuclear storage site," according to the 4-22 surfline.com.

Did I mention that 8.5 million people live within a 50 mile radius of the plant, that an active earthquake fault is near the site, and that it's in a tsunami zone?

The first of three nuclear reactors at the plant started up in 1968 and closed down in 1992. The other two only lasted until 2012, though they were supposed to operate much longer.

Left behind was 3.6 million tons of high level nuclear waste. This is in the form of "spent" nuclear fuel rods,no longer viable to power nuclear reactors, but radioactive enough to kill anyone who gets too close for more time than we can comprehend.

These hot fuel rods were stored under water in pools high up in the reactor buildings.

Since the shutdowns the problem of what to do with all the too hot stuff has become part of what is a national dilemma. The federal government was supposed to take all this radwaste and store it in one central location in the early 1980s. No such solution yet exists.

What has been happening at San Onofre is that some of the spent fuel has been removed from the pools and last year a company named Holtec hired by Edison began to transfer it to "dry storage" casks for "temporary" burial at San Onofre's world famous surf beach, only 100 feet from the shoreline.

But a problem arose last March. It turned out that Holtec was using a newly designed cask, and while doing so a bolt broke off, potentially compromising the container's integrity. On top of that, other newly designed casks had already been buried. Edison and Holtec claimed it was impossible to check to see if they were OK.

Work stopped on the transfer process, but not for long.

Then, in August of 2018, it came out that while lowering another 50 ton cask, it became stuck 18 feet above the bottom of the cavity, and it took the better part of an hour for anyone to notice and correct the potentially catastrophic problem. We only learned of it because a federal worker at the plant blew the whistle at a public meeting soon thereafter.

Following this,'Near Miss,' it took the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) seven months to issue a "proposed 6,000 fine for Edison, which took in billion last year.

On April 26 LTLA 5 reported, "Watchdog Group Calls Regulation Of San Onofre Waste Fuel Site 'Miserable Failure' "

The story was based on a press release from San Diego-based independent advocacy group Public Watchdog.

In its press release Public Watchdog asserted that the NRC would not fine Holtec over the March 18, 2018 bolt snafu in the cask transfer at San Onofre.

The advocacy group also claimed that Holtec violated regulations by not informing the NRC of the change in design of the casks, which subsequently failed.

This recalls Edison's failure to notify the agency about a design change Misubishi made in major components in San Onofre's reactors, which ultimately led to the nuke plant's permanent closure in 2013. Of the NRC's lack of action in this case, Public Watchdog's executive director Charles Langley said, "Holtec 's cans store the deadliest stuff on earth. That's why they're required to report design changes to the NRC. The NRC gives them a free pass to continue violating the law. And the NRC is not serious about protecting public safety."

Sources: Surfer Magazine, surfer.com; surfline.com;KTLA5, ktla5.com.

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