Could San Onofre soon claim the title of "America's largest beachfront nuclear waste dump"? Photo: Ellis

Could San Onofre soon claim the title of “America’s largest beachfront nuclear waste dump”? Photo: Ellis

The California Coastal Commission gave a controversial go-ahead to build a concrete structure that would hold nuclear waste from the inoperative San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the Orange County Register reported on Tuesday. The system — officially named an Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) — would house dry, steel casks of spent fuel to be stored underground, partially below grade and enclosed by a berm composed of concrete and fill. The system’s permit would reportedly last until October 2035, in time for officials to determine another storage location. But opponents of the plan fear the potential risks of storing nuclear waste beneath a highly-populated, earthquake-prone region just 100 feet from the power plant’s sea wall.

"I do have to conclude that the worst scenario is to leave this material in the spent fuel pools,” said San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox. “That's the worst of all alternatives out there. I wish there were other options available now. We may talk about another site out in the desert, but if that was a viable option, it would take 15, 20 years to get all the necessary approvals. We have a more immediate problem we have to deal with right now. I don't like being in this position, but we must protect the public. I do think it's the right thing to do at this point in time."

The Coastal Commission argues that 20 years of waste storage would mark enough time for Southern California Edison, the majority owner of the closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, “…to have developed the aging management strategies, and the tools and techniques needed for monitoring and inspection of the storage casks, which are necessary for ensuring the long-term transportability of the casks and eventual removal of the ISFSI from the site, which are not available at present."

Critics of the plan have raised many questions, including just how the quality of loaded containers will be monitored. Such rigorous systems do not exist yet, though the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said that the development of tiny robots to inspect canisters is progressing.

Edison must present a plan for evaluating its current dry-storage canisters to the NRC by 2022.