Get Nuclear Waste Off California’s Coast!

Active | November 18 2015

Coastal Preservation

Ensuring that the 3.6 million pounds of spent nuclear waste fuel rods at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) are safely relocated.

Surfrider is opposed to permanent or long-term storage of radioactive waste at the deactivated San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) due to its proximity to the coastline, susceptibility to geological instability and location within a densely populated area. Nearly 8 million people reside in the vicinity, and it is directly adjacent to one of the United States’ busiest highways. Surfrider is actively engaged in advocating to remove the waste as quickly as possible to a federally approved, geologically secure, consent based permanent repository within a specific timeline.


SONGS is located on a coastal bluff in between two sections of San Onofre State Beach, just south of San Clemente. SONGS has always been exposed to the risks of earthquakes (the Newport-Inglewood-Rose Canyon fault zone lies just offshore), bluff erosion, storm surge and wave events. Likewise, its location in highly populated Southern California has not changed since the first unit began operation in 1968.

Locating a nuclear power plant at this site was a bad idea from the start. Although the plant was permanently retired in 2013, it is still home to the radioactive material (spent fuel rods) that helped feed Southern California’s energy demand for the last 45-plus years.

Why hasn’t the material been moved?

There are two very significant reasons why the material is still being stored onsite at San Onofre. First, nuclear material requires time to cool to decrease its radioactivity and increase its stability, allowing for transfer to more secure storage and eventually transport to an offsite storage location. It is not yet feasible nor safe to move the spent rods, which require a minimum cooling period of about five years. Second, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must designate a secure offsite location for safe long-term storage of nuclear material, and no such site presently exists in the United States.

San Onofre is not the only nuclear facility going through the decommissioning process. There are several decommissioned nuclear facilities waiting for approved final resting places for their spent nuclear fuel.

In October 2016, the California Coastal Commission approved an application by Southern California Edison (SCE) to store radioactive waste at SONGS in onsite independent spent fuel storage installations (ISFSI). This facility is currently under construction at SONGS and waste is scheduled to begin to be transferred to ISFSI in early 2018. This will allow transfer of spent fuel assemblies from the cooling pools where they now reside into dry storage casks, which are steel cylinders filled with inert gas and surrounded by concrete. For more on this see:

Federal Legislation

On the federal level, there are at least two bills currently proposed that attempt to address the backlog of nuclear material awaiting permanent relocation:

Representative Darrell Issa, introduced the Interim Consolidated Storage Act of 2017 (“Issa’s Bill”), H.R. 474 in January 2017. The bill would amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to authorize the “Secretary of Energy to enter into contracts for the storage of high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel spent nuclear fuel, take title to certain high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, and make certain expenditures from the Nuclear Waste Fund.” It also assigns priority to storage of waste and spent fuel on sites without an active operating nuclear reactor.

In June 2017, Representative John Shimkus introduced the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act (“Shimkus’s Bill”), H.R. 3053. The bill has received bipartisan support and is reportedly backed by the White House.  Shimkus’s Bill, in effect, would weaken government regulation over choosing and maintaining depository sites, and weaken the link between interim storage and establishing a final depository. Shimkus’s Bill is overwhelmingly similar to Issa’s Bill, but does include a few important differences: Shimkus’s Bill includes less safeguards than Issa’s Bill regarding licensing and reviews of interim storage sites, as well as regulations on where an interim site can be located; although Shimkus’s Bill proposes timelines, these timelines are expedited at the expense of environmental review processes; there is no commitment to consent-based siting for a publicly accepted final resting place for the spent nuclear fuel.

State Legislation

Assembly Bill No. 1207 (AB-1207) was introduced to the California Legislature in February 2017 by Assembly Member Bill Brough (R-Dana Point). The proposed bill aims to supplement existing State legislation on the transportation of hazardous radioactive material (§ 114820). Specifically, the proposed bill would require the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission to conduct a study to assess the efficacy of current regulations in minimizing the risks to public health and safety resulting from the transportation of hazardous radioactive materials.

Citizens Oversight Lawsuit

In November 2015, Citizens Oversight filed a lawsuit against SCE, challenging their 2015 Coastal Commission permit that allows them to store spent fuel on site. The Plaintiff’s goal was to get the waste stored offsite. On August 29, the lawsuit settled and SCE agreed to several terms. As part of the agreement, SCE committed to spending $4 million to carry out their commitments under the agreement, including to hire an expert panel for transport and relocation of the waste, and for development of a contingency plan for cracked or damaged canisters. SCE will take “commercially reasonable” efforts to relocate to either a CISF, such as Holtec or Eddy Lea Energy’s proposed CIS in New Mexico and Waste Control Specialists’ proposed CISF in Texas, or an expanded ISFSI at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station – although Palo Verde has rejected that idea multiple times. SCE will have to provide Citizens Oversight with monthly progress reports on its efforts. However, the agreement did not stipulate a deadline for when the waste must be removed from San Onofre.

Moving Forward

Since it appears that technical and political considerations make siting, approval and construction of a long-term nuclear waste storage facility very unlikely in the foreseeable future, the focus has turned to establishing a process to select a location, approve and build one or more “interim consolidated storage facilities” where the nuclear waste from nuclear power plants across the United States can be safely stored for a few decades. Surfrider Foundation believes this search should be coupled with the development of a plan for long-term storage.

Surfrider Foundation will continue to advocate for the removal of the nuclear material away from the bluffs of San Onofre as soon as feasibly possible. There is no question that there are better and safer locations for this material than along the densely populated coastline of earthquake-riddled southern California.

  • Congress must take action to secure a location for a geologic repository deep underground that isolates this radioactive storage from the biosphere. We need legislation that not only authorizes new contracts for interim consolidated storage facilities, but also requires a final resting place to be sited and a mandatory timeline for solid waste transport and permanent storage. A panel of experts on nuclear waste hazards, transport and storage should be utilized to address the issue as well.
  • We call upon Congress to initiate a consent-based siting process with a mandatory timeline and resolution date for when this nuclear waste will be permanently removed from San Onofre beach.
  • Take action by signing Surfrider’s action alert: Tell Congress to Get Nuclear Waste Off the Beach at San Onofre.
  • For the latest update, visit the SONGS Community Engagement website and view the most recent Community Engagement Panel Meeting.

Coastal Preservation

Beaches are a unique and dynamic landscape that should be protected for the future. The Surfrider Foundation is leading efforts at the state and local levels to protect our shorelines on every coast. Our efforts are focused on establishing appropriate setbacks for development, opposing shoreline structures, and placing coastal lands in public trust.

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