The 8-year project to dismantle the San Onofre nuclear plant is about to begin
- Jan 27, 2020 9:40 am GMT
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Seven years after the
The plant's operator,
By the time work is complete, all that will remain will be two dry storage facilities housing canisters of used-up nuclear fuel from the days when the plant still produced electricity, a security building with personnel to look over the waste enclosed in casks, a seawall 28 to 30 feet high, a walkway connecting two beaches north and south of the plant and a switch-yard with power lines.
The substation without transformers stays put because it houses electricity infrastructure that provides a key interconnection for the region's power grid.
"To the extent possible, we'll schedule and perform our work to minimize any inconveniences to you and your neighbors,"
The twin domes, rising 200 feet between
Away from the plant's immediate footprint, the project will also get rid of offshore buoys and anchors and partially remove the large pipes that sucked in and then discharged ocean water in order to cool the plant.
The costs for the dismantlement will come from
Getting rid of the pools
The work comes after
But the decisions were not without controversy. A number of critics of SCE's management of the plant argued against granting the permits. One of their major concerns centered on the demolition of two spent fuel pools where used-up nuclear waste goes to be cooled.
While fuel inside a nuclear reactor typically loses its efficiency after about four to six years, it is still thermally hot and emits a great deal of radiation. To keep the fuel cool, nuclear plant operators , typically for at least five years. Once cooled, the fuel is often transferred to a dry storage facility.
"If canister integrity gets compromised in this coastal and corrosive environment, there needs to be a mechanism to repackage or repair it,"
SCE officials say sending a damaged canister back to a pool poses more risks in terms of increased radiation dose to workers, potential radiation releases or damage to fuel rods than repairing the canister by using a metallic overlay or putting the canister into a licensed cask that can be transported.
"It would also be difficult to dismantle some of the structures and fully decommission the site if we had to maintain a working spent fuel pool," SCE spokesman
In an agreement with the
By this July, the
Dismantling the pools is anticipated to start late next year and continue for several more before work is completely finished.
The water will be cleaned, sampled and, according to SCE's Dobken, "once we ensure it meets our strict regulatory requirements, it will be released to the ocean through conduits that carry it 1.1 miles offshore, 50 feet below the surface." Dobken said the radioactivity of the water will be "at very low levels that meet strict regulatory guidelines when released."
What happens to rest of the stuff?
As for the tons of steel and concrete that made up the plant, they will be shipped to various facilities in the West and buried.
Low-level radioactive waste will move via rail to a disposal site in the desert near Clive,
Dismantlement of the plant will be carried out by a general contractor selected in
While the plant has not been producing electricity for the past eight years, transfers of used-up fuel from the "wet storage" pools to a newly constructed "dry storage" facility at the plant continue. The first seven months of the dismantling will run at the same time that 50-ton canisters loaded with the waste are slowly moved using heavy equipment and eventually lowered into their respective storage cavities.
So far, 47 canisters have taken the trip to the north side of the plant, with 26 more coming. SCE officials expect to complete all the transfers by late this summer.
Dobken said until the transfers are completed, dismantlement work will focus on areas away from where the waste is being moved.
Transfers were suspended for nearly a year after a 50-ton canister filled with fuel assemblies came to rest on a metal flange, 18 feet from the floor of a storage cavity for about 45 minutes to an hour in
News of the incident came to light after an industrial safety worker disclosed details at a public meeting six days later and prompted a special inspection by the NRC.
The regulator concluded that SCE failed "to establish a rigorous process to ensure adequate procedures, training and oversight guidance" and fined the company
Vowing to avoid another "near-miss," SCE officials instituted a series of more robust measures to transfer waste at the site.
But the incident — along with the leak in a steam generator tube in 2012 that led to the closing of the plant — has led some to question how effectively SCE can conduct the decommissioning project. And the fact that the canisters will almost certainly remain after the project is scheduled to be completed is cold comfort.
"My skepticism runs deep because I've seen what's happened in the past," said
Sackett, who said Surfrider will monitor the dismantlement "very closely," said SCE "does seem like they are working to be more transparent, thorough and careful" in the aftermath of the
"We really hope that they will continue to act and dismantle in a way that takes into account public safety and they hold themselves accountable to an extremely high standard that protects public safety and the environment," Sackett said.
All told, there are 3.55 million pounds of spent fuel at San Onofre. But the plant is far from the only facility with waste on its premises.
About 80,000 metric tons of used commercial fuel has accumulated at 121 sites in 35 states because the federal government has not found a repository where it can be stored. Federal authorities were supposed to begin taking custody of commercial nuclear waste in 1998.
Originally licensed in 1967, San Onofre was carved out of an 85-acre chunk of
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