By Steve Chappell
Southern California Edison is keeping 3.6 million pounds of lethal radioactive waste at the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant in San Clemente.
The waste poses a significant threat to the health, safety and economic vitality of the region’s more than 8 million residents. But Edison’s plan for storing it is unnerving at best.
The idea is to bury the spent fuel on site, about 100 feet from the ocean and just a few feetabove the water table. Edison has already begun transferring the waste from cooling pools into specially designed steel canisters. The containers are prone to corrosion and cracking, and cannot be monitored or repaired. Work crews even discovered a loose bolt inside one of the canisters earlier this year.
But flawed storage containers are just one of many worrisome aspects of the scheme. San Onofre sits on an active earthquake fault, in an area where there is a record of past tsunamis. It is close to Interstate 5, the railroad line that Amtrak runs on, and the Marines’ Camp Pendleton.
The ocean is expected to keep rising over the next few decades, bringing seawater closer to the canisters. If hairline cracks or pinholes in the containers were to let in even a little bit of air, it could make the waste explosive.
And although San Onofre is in a no-fly zone, it is not being guarded with radar and surface-to-air-missiles, as nuclear aircraft carriers are. It is protected by a handful of guards carrying pistols.
This leaves the site susceptible to terrorist attacks. San Juan Capistrano Councilwoman Pam Patterson warned President Trump of this vulnerability at a roundtable meeting in May. She reminded him that, in 2001, terrorists were targeting nuclear power plants in addition to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Unlike the case of Fukushima, there are no federal or state evacuation plans for a disaster at San Onofre. Local first responders would be tasked with an impossible mission.
Experts say there are safer storage configurations that Southern California Edison could implement. It could avoid storing the waste in thinly walled canisters, for instance, keeping it in cooling pools until casks with thicker walls are available. It could relocate the waste to a site known as “the mesa,” which is on the other side of the the freeway and roughly 80 feet higher than the beach site — away from rising seas, potential tsunamis and periodic storm surges. It could also maintain a cooling pool on site for emergency transfer efforts in the event of a cracked canister or terrorist attack.
But these are all short-term solutions. The only real long-term solution is for Edison to develop adequate storage technology — a system that is not prone to severe leaks and therefore does not compromise the health of future generations.[…]