Nuclear Safety Resources

The Issue

Southern California Edison is storing 3.6 million pounds of high-level radioactive material at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.  The utility is moving the material from cooling ponds into thin-walled steel canisters, which will be entombed in a concrete bunker two feet above the water table and about 100 feet from the ocean.  

It gets worse: The nuclear plant (it closed in 2013 because of equipment failures) is located on a seismic fault-line; a tsunami could reach San Onofre; rising sea levels could inundate the storage vault, and the storage system is largely unprotected and vulnerable to terrorist strikes.  

If the system were to fail our environment, our economy and our health could be imperiled. That’s not just Southern California, but all 8.4 million people.  

The nuclear power plant at San Onofre operated fro 1968 to 2013 at its oceanfront location in northernmost San Diego County.  The plant’s twin, dome-shaped reactors remain as a highly-visible landmark from Interstate 5 and the coastal railway.  Located just south of the Orange County line, the plant is 46 miles south of Long Beach and 50 miles north of downtown San Diego. 

Containment Challenges

January 2, 2019: This KPBS TV interview describes the problems with the storage of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) site using thin-walled canisters.

Nuclear waste is accumulating across the country and the federal government has provided nowhere to get rid of it.  Southern California Edison’s storage solution, however, is unacceptable. 

The steel canisters are prone to corrosion and cracking.  They can’t be monitored, much less fixed. If the salty air, tidal or geologic conditions or a hydrogen explosion were to damage the canisters, moving them to a permanent disposal site would become impossible.

An inspection by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of Southern California Edison and its contractor, Holtec International was recently conducted. It stemmed from the August incident in which a fully-loaded canister came within a quarter-inch of falling 18 feet. Regulators have since ordered a halt to the loading of spent fuel into the seaside storage vault.

At SLF, we support independent science. Our current pursuit is to gather as much quantitative research about nuclear waste storage. Globally dry cask storage is experimental.  The technology is so new and has not been tested with radiological material over a long-term scientific study.

Nuclear Waste
by the Numbers

3.6 million – Pounds of nuclear waste stored at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

13 – Average sized locomotives needed to reach an equivalent weight

8.4 million – People living within 50 miles of the plant 

108 – Feet separating the dry storage facility from the ocean 

2 – Feet separating the dry storage facility from the water table 

37 – Fuel assemblies to be packed into each steel canister 

100,000 – Years that Uranium, Plutonium, Cesium waste remains unsafe 

Source:  Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune


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