Spent nuclear fuel rods that will remain highly radioactive for tens of thousands of generations are now stored on site at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, supposedly “temporarily” but with no clear plan for removal in the foreseeable future.

On December 16, 2014, the City Council passed a resolution urging the federal government to provide a permanent storage repository for spent nuclear fuel rods currently still stored at the closed San Onofre site, and in the interim, to take immediate steps to create a secure temporary location for them elsewhere and move them as soon as possible.

Our letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking for the removal of this hazard, phrased to allow Lagunans to sign it individually and eventually signed by some 900 people, is as follows:

 Laguna Beach is located within the 20-square-mile area subject to permanent relocation in the event of a radiation accident at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which has been closed because of safety concerns. The plant is situated in a recognized tsunami, earthquake, and firestorm zone and is vulnerable to climate change and terrorist attack. The 1,632 tons of spent fuel now stored on the site will remain highly radioactive for tens of thousands of generations.

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We were promised when the plant was constructed that the spent fuel rods would be removed from the site, but the current plan permits them to be stored on the site for 60 years or indefinitely until a federal repository for them has been created. At the same time, the roads and railroad spurs and the equipment necessary for the transfer of the fuel rods to a safe repository are scheduled to be removed by 2032, and there is no funding for storage after 2052. 

A better idea would be to move the spent fuel rods to a secure interim location, perhaps a military base or some other sparsely populated area, before the decommissioning of the plant is considered complete and to hold Southern California Edison responsible for their safety and security as long as they remain at San Onofre.

Letters urging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to work with the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to do this may be sent to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Attn:  Cindy Bladey, Office of Administration, NRC, Mail Stop:  3WFN-06-A44M, Washington, DC 20555-0001.

 A further letter on the topic of spent nuclear fuel has since been sent to the local papers:

A 2014 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office asserts that spent nuclear fuel is ‘an extremely harmful substance if not managed properly’ and that ‘if its intense radioactivity . . . were released by a natural disaster or an act of terrorism, it could contaminate the environment with radiation.’

Our City Council has taken an important step by asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to see that the spent fuel at the closed power plant at San Onofre is moved to a safer location as soon as possible. Village Laguna is committed to helping raise awareness of this threat to our homes and lives in the hope of spurring federal action.

The nation’s spent nuclear fuel is stored at 75 sites in 33 states and amounts to 72,000 metric tons. Disposal of it was made a federal responsibility in 1982, and a repository was to be in operation by 1998. The site considered, at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, was declared unworkable in 2009. In 2012 a blue ribbon commission recommended that Congress create a new organization dedicated to managing spent nuclear fuel and that the approach to sitting storage facilities be ‘consent-based.’ This is where things stand today.

The speakers at a panel discussion held in San Juan Capistrano last month made it clear that efforts to deal with the problem at the federal level are at an impasse. Brought together by a Washington think tank called the Bipartisan Policy Center at the request of Southern California Edison’s San Onofre Community Engagement Panel, they included a UC professor of nuclear engineering, an attorney from the Natural Resources Defense Council, and a former utility commissioner. They agreed that there was little hope of congressional action on the spent-fuel problem and a lack of political will to face up to it.

The consensus of the panel was that the way ahead is to work toward state and regional solutions and the changes in the law that would permit them. The GAO report called attention to the need to inform the public about spent-fuel management issues.

We can no longer bury our heads in the sand and pretend this threat does not exist. We encourage Lagunans to write their representatives at the local, state, and federal levels (find your representatives) asking for action on the management problem and to urge their friends to do the same. A groundswell of public opinion may be needed to force Congress to act, and it can start here.

Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna


Village Laguna President, Johanna Felder, read this letter to the California Coastal Commission at their August 13, 2015 meeting (Subject Item 15a).

It’s very seductive to think we can cool more than 1600 tons of nuclear waste without using ocean water. Unfortunately this proposal is just too risky. Nearly everyone thinks it’s a good idea to move this waste away from 10 million people, a fault and tsunami zone and our precious coast. For the first time, the NRC and the DOE are seriously looking for a way to accomplish just that but it won’t happen anytime soon. The most optimistic estimate is 20 years.

Our responsibility, yours and ours, is to ensure that the waste is secure and transportable in the meantime.

This cooling system that SCE intends to install is relying on air chillers instead of ocean water to cool the rods. The system we are using now has been tested over many years. The proposed system uses the same technology that is used to cool fish aquariums.  Air chillers have never been used as the primary cooling system for cooling spent fuel rods. SCE provided names of nuclear plants that use Spent Fuel Islands, but none besides Rancho Seco that used air chillers.

If the spent fuel rods are not cooled adequately, even a partial boil off of the water below the assemblies can cause a critical failure of the system. The only example SCE has provided of other nuclear plants that use chillers as the primary spent fuel system is Rancho Seco in Sacramento County. Rancho Seco’s system is not comparable and no longer exists. The system was used for only three years and their fuel was not as hot as San Onofre. It was not located in a corrosive marine environment which can more quickly degrade chiller equipment and related systems.

You should not accept SCE’s estimate of the length of time the system will be needed. SCE’s assumption of only a 5 year use is predicated on being able to unload all the fuel by December 2020 and then destroy the pools. There are a number of problems with this assumption.

  • The system SCE proposed to buy to store the spent fuel assemblies in has not been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission;
  • The system has not been permitted to be installed by the Coastal Commission;
  •  If SCE destroys the pools there will be no method to unload fuel from a failed canister;
  • SCE has a contract with the DOE that requires they load fuel assemblies into a DOE approved cask. If the pools are destroyed, they will not be able to comply with their DOE contract;
  • The NRC has acknowledged fuel may need to stay at each nuclear plant for over 100 years, requiring canister replacements. Without a pool, this is not possible;
  • The NRC states the thin steel canisters are subject to stress corrosion cracking. The Koeberg Plant in South Africa had a similar component leak from cracks in 17 years. SCE has no plan to deal with the failed canisters, if the pools are removed.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not plan to inspect the system until after it is installed. Therefore, there will be no review other than yours. We count on you to protect the coast and appreciate the countless hours you spend on our behalf.

Before you make your decision, please consider the catastrophic results that could result from a mistake where SONGS is concerned. The cost to life, health, property, our financial wellbeing and our precious Southern California Coast. Let’s work together to move these materials to a more secure and not so densely populated area. We must protect the nuclear waste and make sure it’s transportable.

Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

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