San-O Nuclear Plant to Explore Waste Removal Options

Settlement sets into motion a search for new accommodations

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Photo: LA Times

"1,800 tons of radioactive waste has an ocean view and nowhere to go," read a headline in the L.A. Times from early July referring to the shuttered I-5 freeway-adjacent San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), which still houses some 890,000 spent fuel rods and other lethal radioactive waste. However, according to the San Clemente Times, a settlement reached between the plant's operators, Southern California Edison, and San Diego based civic group, Citizens Oversight, ensures that officials will at least look for new accommodations for the waste, hopefully without an ocean vista.

Located roughly a mile from Trestles, SONGS sits at the edge of the Pacific Ocean and its nuclear waste stockpile puts the safety of more than eight million Southern Californians in jeopardy. The new agreement, approved on August 28th by a San Diego Superior Court Judge, stipulates that Edison will spend $4 million to entertain a plan for removal and storage of SONGS nuclear waste, according to The San Diego Tribune.

Although the nuclear plant's two remaining operational reactors shut down in January of 2012, the California Coastal Commission issued a permit in 2015 allowing SONGS's 3.55 million pounds of nuclear waste to be stored on site. The San Onofre plant, like many nuclear facilities across the country, was sitting on its stash of radioactive waste without a prescient plan to relocate the material. Citizens Oversight filed a lawsuit in response to the Coastal Commission's decision to issue the permit, and at the very least, the late August ruling provides momentum toward devising a plan to avoid a Fukushima-like disaster in the future.

But critics reasonably assert that Edison is unlikely to find willing takers for the hazardous material. And in the meantime, Southern California remains an earthquake, tsunami, or egregious human error away from potential disaster.

Agreeing that the ruling does not (yet) get the populous coastal region out of the woods, National Coordinator for Citizens Oversight, Ray Lutz, told the Tribune that the agreement was "about the best that we can do," saying, "I don't know if we're going to be successful on moving this (waste), but I think forcing everyone to talk about it is going to be really useful."