Friday, September 27, 2013


Public meeting Thursday focused on safety during decommissioning of nuclear plant

 — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will consider a request to form a citizens oversight panel to help make sure the San Onofre nuclear power plant is dismantled safely and cost-effectively, a commission official said at a public meeting in Carlsbad on Thursday evening.
The request came from Gene Stone, a San Clemente resident who represented a coalition of citizen and environmental groups who want to monitor the nuclear plant’s decontamination and removal, an elaborate process called “decommissioning” that could take up to 60 years to complete and cost at least $4.1 billion.
Involving a citizens panel would require approval from the federal agency’s appointed commissioners, but staff members would “take it under consideration,” said Larry W. Camper, director of the agency’s division of waste management and environmental protection.
Utility officials decided in June to keep San Onofre shut down permanently, after a leak of radioactive steam last year exposed problems with generators that were upgraded in 2010 and 2011.
At Thursday’s briefing, NRC officials walked through their oversight procedures and took questions from the public.
Safety occupied much of the discussion. Officials said that used nuclear fuel will be stored in a refrigerated pool for five to seven years until it has cooled sufficiently.
Then radioactive material will be moved to steel-reinforced, concrete casks with 5-foot-thick roof caps and 4-foot walls that are designed to withstand an earthquake or other disasters. Such casks have been in use at San Onofre since 2003.
Officials also said the casks can be immersed without problems in up to 50 feet of water during a flood. They estimated the biggest potential tsunami wave at 27 feet, and there’s a 28-foot-high sea wall between the Pacific Ocean and the fuel storage area, which is situated about 20 feet above sea level.
Flooding from a 2011 tsunami caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan, when pumps failed to keep cooling water flowing.
Local residents and activists have been skeptical of such safety assurances regarding San Onofre.
Stone said the plant’s decommissioning was an important milestone for the “old and dangerous nuclear fleet” in the U.S.
“We’d like to be an active part of the safety of this process,” he said.
In response to a question posed by the coalition, NRC officials said that San Onofre has used a highly radioactive fuel known as “high burn-up” that will take longer to cool before removal to dry casks. Officials also acknowledged that there is no way to monitor the behavior of spent fuel inside the casks, but the agency is studying the issue.
Tearing down the plant and restoring the site will be supervised by Southern California Edison, the plant’s operator and 80 percent owner. San Diego Gas & Electric owns 20 percent.
Edison’s lease with the Navy calls for San Onofre’s site along Interstate 5 in Camp Pendleton to be restored to pristine, “green-field” condition.
Costs are estimated at roughly $4.1 billion. As of Dec. 31, 2012, the utilities had collected $3.85 billion in a trust account from a charge on customer bills, officials said at the meeting.
Edison has until June 2015 to present an initial decommissioning plan to the NRC.


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