“Boo, Yes.” – Coastal Commission Vote Sets San Onofre Radioactive Dump-by-the-Sea in Concrete – Updated

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Southern California Edison’s radioactive waste dump-by-the-sea (center left) sits between the rising sea and the state’s main north-south rail and highway corridor in an earthquake and tsunami zone, surrounded by a population of 8 million people. What could possibly go wrong? – Photo from EON’s forth-coming feature-length documentary SHUTDOWN – ShutdownFilm.com


By Mary Beth Brangan and James Heddle – EON

“We’ll hold our noses and vote.”
Despite passionate public comments from community groups and individuals – and even concerned comments from some Commissioners themselves – presenting a long list of the legitimate public safety and environmental risks posed by the San Onfre dry storage facility for 3.6 tons of intensely radioactive fuel rods being created by Southern California Edison, the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously on July 16, 2020 to give the project the go-ahead.  There were, however, two “yes, boo” votes.

[ As of July 24, 2020, Attorney Mike Aguirre writes: “If people want to challenge the Coastal Commission decision on the grounds that (1) the hearing was unfair it should have been an evidentiary hearing and it was marred be cause the commission had already made up its mind before the hearing started; (2) the findings don’t support the decision and  (3) the evidence does not support the finding we must act within 30 days from the decision or sooner.” ]

Community Pleas for a Hot Cell Facility
In a remarkable show of community agreement, the bulk of the public comments from individuals and organizations advocated for the preservation of existing cooling pools plus the construction of a sealed ‘hot’ or ‘dry cell’ building.  This would allow damaged canisters or those containing damaged fuel to be robotically repaired or repackaged into sturdier thick casks that can be monitored and repaired as needed and meet transportation safety requirements. 

All current thin welded-shut Holtec canisters at San Onofre are gouged along their entire 18 ft. length as they are lowered into the vaults, initiating stress corrosion and galvanic corrosion that’s increased in the salty ocean climate.  The chance is high that these damaged canisters will need to be repackaged.  Also called for was the creation of a building where the casks would be protected from the elements and terrorists.  Many cited the model of the Swiss Zwilag facility that includes all these common sense precautions. 

Southern California Edison Plan
None of these provisions are included in the Southern California Edison plan for decommissioning, which calls for:

  • Transferring the remaining highly radioactive fuel assemblies out of the cooling pool and into thin stainless steal canisters to be lowered into concrete silos in an Independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) just above a popular surfing beach;
  • Demolishing the pools;
  • Rubblization of the remaining radioactive reactor domes and other structures to be shipped for ‘disposal’ – possibly in ordinary landfill sites as currently proposed by the NRC – in California or other states;
  • Returning the site to so-called ‘Green Field’ status to be used for public recreation or,
  • Reusing the cleared site to relocate the dry cask ISFSI to higher ground further from the rising surf, if no off-site alternative has been found.

Citizen Concerns
Citizen opponents to the plan question the durability and safety of the thin Holtec stainless steel canisters being used by Edison to store the radioactive fuel rods. They point out that these types of canisters are known to be susceptible to through-wall cracking caused by the stress of the corrosive salt sea air. They warn that through-wall cracks can occur in as little as 17 years even without being gouged first, as is the case at San Onofre.
Remember, each of these 72 canisters contains more radioactivity than was released from the Chernobyl disaster. [ A 73rd canister contains greater than Class C waste. ]

The California Coastal Commission requires that the canisters be preserved well enough to
be able to be moved by the year 2035.  However, there is no proven way to check the condition of the fuel inside the welded canisters without opening them and inspecting the enclosed fuel rods.  This would only be possible with a hot cell facility that allows robots in an inert gas filled environment to handle the intense radioactivity safely without exposure to oxygen or people. 

The Holtec Hi-Storm Umax dry storage system for spent fuel at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. (Courtesy Southern California Edison)

Too Hot to Move Until the Year 2100
Additionally, the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board’s 2019 report, Preparing for Nuclear Waste Transport  clearly states that huge canisters like those at San Onofre that contain 37 fuel assemblies each of extra thermally hot and more radioactive high burnup fuel must be repackaged into smaller casks.  If not repackaged, the extra heat and radioactivity will prevent them from being transported until the year 2100.  This is the case even though the designs of the canisters have been licensed by the NRC. (pg. 76)

So even if by some miracle, the 5/8 inch thin canisters that are already gouged significantly survive to the year 2035, they will be too hot to transport.  However, predictions are that within only 20 years sea level rise and increased storm surge from climate change will affect the San Onofre dumpsite 108 ft from the shore.  Again, repackaging is only possible in a hot cell facility and that was blocked by Southern California Edison and the NRC representative who said it wouldn’t be needed.

From the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board’s 2019 report pg. 77:  “DOE has examined the trend in SNF dry storage at nuclear power plant sites (Williams 2013). On average, during 2004–2013, the nuclear utilities discharged SNF that has higher burnups (approximately 45 GWd/MTU) than previously discharged SNF and, therefore, is thermally hotter and more radioactive. In addition, the nuclear utilities are loading SNF into larger dry-storage casks and canisters to improve operational efficiency and reduce cost. The largest of these canisters now holds as many as 37 PWR assemblies or 89 BWR assemblies. As a result, these larger casks and canisters are hotter than earlier dry-storage casks and canisters; therefore, they will take longer to cool sufficiently to meet transportation requirements.DOE estimated that if SNF was repackaged from large casks and canisters into smaller standardized canisters (and using standard assumptions about the operating lifetime of the U.S. fleet of nuclear reactors), DOE could remove SNF from all nuclear power plant sites by approximately 2070. However, if no repackaging occurs, some of the largest SNF canisters storing the hottest SNF would not be cool enough to meet the transportation requirements until approximately 2100 (Williams 2013).

Flooding Dangers
The location of the waste storage facility yards from the surf, inches above the water table  in an earthquake and tsunami zone is given added significance by a report by Public Watch Dogs.  Consulting expert Paul Blanch revealed that Edison’s own data show that  the current site and its immediate surroundings are vulnerable to severe flooding damage in the event of an earthquake and tsunami.  Blanch’s report suggests that, in such an event, all 74 of the site’s waste storage silos could be catastrophically damaged.

Edison’s own assessment of tsunami and flooding risks at its ISFSI-by-the-Sea, Graphic courtesy SCE via PublicWatchdogs

Here are video clips from the meeting excerpted as a public service by EON, the Ecological Options Network – EON3.org and links to recent news coverage.

[The full meeting video is here.]

Video Excerpts


Public Comments by San Onofre Safety founder Donna Gilmore


Public Comments by San Clemente Green co-founder Gary Headrick, U.S. Representative Mike Levin (D-CA), Adm. Len Hering.


Public Comments by Public Watchdogs spokespeople Charles Langley, Paul Blanch, Nina Babiarz.


Public Comments by San Diego Sierra Club spokesperson Cody Petterson.

Coalition for Nuclear Safety
Public Comments by Coalition for Nuclear Safety spokespeople Dave Rice, Bart Ziegler, Cathy Iwane.

Alice McNally – Coalition for Nuclear Safety
Public comments by Alice McNally of the Coalition for Nuclear Safety  

Michael Aguirre – Aguirre & Stevenson
Comments by Michael Aguirre of Aguirre & Severson LLP.

Surfrider Foundation – Surfrider.org

Public Comments by Surfrider Foundation spokeswomen Rose Acheson. Katie Day, Mandy Sackett

Commissioner Wilson Questions CCC Staff & SCE

Commissioner Mike Wilson questions Coastal Commission staff members Alison Dettmer and John Webber and Edison spokesperson Tom Palmisano.

Commission Comments and Final Vote

Commissioners Dayna Bochco, Roberto Uranga, Sara Amenzader and Chair Stephen Padilla comment and vote in the July 16, 2020 California Coastal Commission meeting on radioactive waste storage at the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant.

News Links

Orange County Register

By Teri Sforza

Inspection plan for San Onofre’s nuclear waste gets green light from Coastal Commission
‘It’s never easy to really approve of this kind of a situation,’ one commissioner said, ‘but it’s the only recourse at the moment’

About a dozen of the 73 nuclear waste canisters at San Onofre are slated for robotic inspection over the next 15 years, to the dismay of some critics who lobbied for more, according to the maintenance plan for its dry storage system approved by the California Coastal Commission.

“I have a little bit of a gnawing feeling,” Commissioner Mark Gold said at the end of the 4 1/2-hour online meeting Thursday, July 16. “I know this is based on extensive data and what has occurred in the industry, but, when you look at 1 in 10, it’s hard to guarantee that’s representative of the whole.”

Two commissioners actually prefaced their “yes” votes with a “boo.”

“From the perspective of the commission and Southern California Edison, we all need to advocate for getting this (waste storage system) in a different location than it currently is,” said booer Mike Wilson.

Read more

Times of San Diego

Coastal Panel Votes 10-0 to Allow Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel at San Onofre
Posted by Chris Jennewein

The California Coastal Commission voted 10-0 in a special meeting Thursday to approve an inspection and maintenance program allowing Southern California Edison to store spent nuclear fuel in a storage site at the decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The program outlines actions SCE will take to inspect the canisters that contain spent nuclear fuel, as well as how potential issues with the canisters will be remedied. Read more

Donna Gilmore of SanOnofreSafety.org comments on the above article:

The Commission staff report was severely flawed. The Coastal Commissioners asked great questions, but were given lies or misleading answers from SCE, LPI, NRC, and Coastal Commission management. New leadership is needed at the Coastal Commission and the NRC. They are not protecting the public or the environment.

All these parties know or have evidence these thin-wall canisters cannot be inspected for cracks nor adequately repaired. They know cracks are likely already growing through these thin-wall canisters that are only 5/8″ thick. Some canisters are already 17 years old.

SCE has no real plan to prevent or stop cracks, leaks or hydrogen gas explosions in these canisters. Instead of a plan, they hope nothing goes wrong until they can dump this mess onto some other community or at least turn over title to the federal government (at the existing site).

With each canister holding roughly a Chernobyl nuclear disaster full of radionuclides (as admitted to by SCE), none of us will be safe until these thin-wall canisters are replaced with thick-wall casks (10″ to 19.75″ thick), the standard in most of the world.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to reveal just how disfunctional our country is compared to our European and other friends around the world. It’s time to learn lessons from them. This includes nuclear storage lessons.

I urge everyone to look at the Swiss Solution for storing highly radioactive nuclear fuel waste.


If we don’t learn these lesson now, the resulting “nuclear pandemic” will make the coronavirus pandemic look like the good old days.

A recent Sandia National Lab report for the Dept. of Energy (Dec 2019 Technology Gap Report) states risks of short-term through wall cracks in these thin-wall canisters is a priority #1 problem that needs solving. They also said a dry fuel handling system [e.g., hot cell facility] is needed for replacing canisters. And they also said they need to study what the consequences will be from through-wall cracks. Why did the Coastal Commission managers not tell the Coastal Commissioners this? Why did they defer to the LPI consultants (who were paid by SCE)?

Why when one of the Coastal Commissioners asked LPI (after looking at the safety checklist comparing thin canisters to thick casks) if there were better systems than what SCE is using, LPI responded “it’s political”?


PublicWatchDogs.org Press Release – “Fear and loathing…”

California Coastal Commission sings sad “SONGS” about Southern California Edison’s Inspection and Maintenance Program (IMP) for nuclear waste

Unanimous vote gets “boos” from two Commissioners!
In a vote tinged with boos, and what one Commissioner described as “fear and loathing” the California Coastal Commission voted “yes” today to a Southern California Edison plan for the beachfront nuclear waste dump at San Onofre State Beach Park. the site of the failed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). Read more

New York Times

A Big California Quake Just Got ‘a Little Likelier’
A new analysis puts the likelihood of an earthquake slightly higher than earlier forecasts, but researchers said there’s no reason to panic.

By Henry Fountain

An analysis of recent changes along earthquake faults in Southern California suggests there is an increased possibility of a major quake on the San Andreas Fault, researchers said Monday.

The changes in fault stresses, resulting from a pair of strong earthquakes last July, increase the likelihood of a quake on a stretch of the San Andreas in the next 12 months to about 1 percent, or three to five times the probability of earlier forecasts, the researchers said.

A major quake on that section of the fault, called the Mojave, could devastate Los Angeles and its surrounding communities, which are home to 18 million people.

“We are still saying this is unlikely,” said one of the researchers, Ross S. Stein, a former United States Geological Survey geophysicist who now runs a consulting company. “It’s just a little likelier.”

The findings were published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

Read more

A 770-ton nuclear reactor pressure vessel from the old Unit 1 facility at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has completed its journey through three states to a disposal site in Clive, Utah. (Nevada Department of Transportation)

Los Angeles Times

770-ton load from San Onofre nuclear plant arrives at Utah disposal site

By Rob Nikolewski

The seven-week journey of an old but vital piece of the San Onofre nuclear power plant, a shipment weighing in at 770 tons, has been completed.

The reactor pressure vessel that helped generate electricity at Unit 1 of the plant arrived last week at a licensed disposal site about 75 miles west of Salt Lake City after being shipped by rail and then over highways in Nevada and Utah.

The removal of the vessel “is an important milestone” in the larger efforts to decommission the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, or SONGS, said Doug Bauder, vice president at Southern California Edison and chief nuclear officer at the facility.

Read more

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