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Getting nuclear waste off California's coast

The Surfrider Foundation is strongly opposed to permanent or long-term storage of radioactive waste at the deactivated San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station due to its proximity to the coastline, susceptibility to geological instability and location within a densely populated area. Surfrider recognizes the waste needs to be cooled onsite before it's moved and we demand that this is done as safely as possible while also advocating the waste is moved to a permanent location away from the coast. The Surfrider Foundation is calling for a federally-appointed storage site away from the beach, with environmental review and a strict timeline from the federal government to quickly and safely move nuclear waste away from the dynamic coastline. 

UPDATE 8.13.18:

We are very concerned about recent news, shared by a testimony from a Southern California Edison employee/ contractor and revealed at last week's Community Engagement Panel meeting, that a canister loaded with high level radioactive waste was almost dropped during the loading into the Holtec storage device. Surfrider Foundation staff have demanded additional information from Edison and await a response that we will publish. As ocean and coastal stakeholders, Surfrider continues to strongly advocate for improvements for onsite safety requirements and practices, in addition to a federal solution to move the spent nuclear fuel away from the dynamic shoreline.

Surfrider Foundation is demanding the following safety advancements at SONGS: 

  • Increased public transparency
  • At least one Holtec expert onsite to oversee contractors during each fuel transfer
  • More comprehensive training for personnel
  • Use of the recommended loading process identified in the NRC approved Final Safety Analysis Report for the canister storage system
  • Keeping one spent fuel pool onsite for the duration waste is stored
  • 24/7 radiation and temperature monitoring on each canister
  • A plan developed for dealing with hazards including canister corrosion, flooding, and direct saltwater exposure
  • Keeping the same evacuation and notification plans as operating plants
  • Development of a thorough canister monitoring and repair mechanism as soon as possible

Fortunately, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (the federal agency responsible for oversight of spent nuclear fuel) has announced that they will conduct a special inspection of this incident, and in the meantime, all loading of spent fuel containers will remain on hold. For more information on this incident, David Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists has provided this assessment. Learn about previous incidents at San Onofre here.

Background on nuclear waste storage

Nuclear waste storage is a nationwide issue with potentially severe ramifications to human and environmental health if managed improperly. As of April 2018, there are 32 dry spent fuel storage installations located at coastal nuclear plants across the U.S. Waste created from nuclear power plants doesn’t have anywhere to go, as the U.S. federal government has yet to find and certify a viable permanent nuclear waste repository (originally scheduled by the government to occur by 1998). As a result, waste generated at nuclear power plants remain at those locations, either in cooling pools or in dry storage. 

Some facilities, including the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, are within 100 feet of the beach. With increasing rates of coastal erosion, sea level rise, and ongoing impacts of climate change, the storage of nuclear waste along our nation’s coastlines is concerning. The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, located near the coast and a geologic fault line, is now stuck with 3.6 million pounds of radioactive waste after more than 40 years of generating nuclear energy. That means that the millions of people that live near the plant are also currently stuck with the waste. 

As ocean and coastal stakeholders, the Surfrider Foundation’s efforts have included: 

  • nationwide Action Alert
  • Working with a coalition of local environmental organizations
  • Meeting with Senator Kamala Harris’ staff in both California and Washington, D.C.
  • Meeting with Senator Feinstein and Representative Darrell Issa’s staff in Washington, D.C.
  • Meeting with multiple city officials and attorneys in South Orange County and San Diego County
  • Meeting with Community Engagement Panel leaders
  • Speaking at city council meetings about the need for local governments to unite on this critical issue
  • Submitting inquiries to the Community Engagement Panel and Southern California Edison's engineering staff
  • Submitting comments on proposed federal legislation regarding nuclear storage
  • Providing public comment during Community Engagement Panels
  • Meeting with Southern California Edison staff to encourage stronger onsite safety precautions

Surfrider is continuing to reach out to federal representatives, city officials, Southern California Edison and the public to get the issue of spent nuclear fuel siting on the federal agenda, to follow through with determining a consent-based, federally-appointed solution. We are also encouraging Southern California Edison to take increased precautions to keep the waste safe while stored onsite.

Next steps will include:

  • Hosting a panel with experts in the field of radiation science and nuclear policy during December’s national Restore America’s Estuaries Conference
  • Providing recommended language for a federal legislative solution on interim and permanent storage
  • Assisting Southern California Edison and local environmental organizations with hosting a special CEP meeting on coastal hazards
  • Providing comments on decommissioning plans to ensure safety protocols, including keeping a spent fuel pool onsite and public alert systems and evacuation plans in place
  • Supporting the use of onsite, real time, independent radiation monitoring 
  • Continuing to provide the public with updates on developments at SONGS through Surfrider Coastal Blog posts
  • Continuing to reach out to federal elected officials and city officials to encourage federal action

We need your help to get nuclear waste off California’s coast!