San Diego

San Onofre Nuclear Waste to Be Moved to an Off-Site Storage Facility

The utilities and a community group reached an agreement Monday that will move the nuclear waste from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station off-site and out of San Diego

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a statement from the California Coastal Commission and to remove the reference that the agency agreed to the settlement. The Coastal Commission was not part of the settlement discussions.

A court settlement reached Monday by Southern California Edison and a consumer advocacy group means 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste will be moving away from the Pacific coastline.

In October 2015, the California Coastal Commission approved burying the radioactive waste at the 84-acre San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station site located in northeast San Diego County. The Station was permanently retired by its owners, Southern California Edison, SCE, and SDG&E in 2013.

The plan included moving the waste to bluffs just north of the dead reactors above San Onofre State Beach. Critics said the location was a poor choice due to weather and past erosion of the beaches and bluffs around the plant.

Click here to read NBC 7 Investigates prior coverage of the proposed storage location.

Representing Citizens Oversight, a San Diego-based community activist group, attorney’s Michael Aguirre and Maria Severson, sued the Coastal Commission over that proposed storage location. SCE and Citizen’s Oversight had until September 8 to come to an agreement on an alternative location. The group reached that agreement Monday.

“We were able to reach a consensus with Southern California Edison that it wasn’t in their best interests,” Aguirre told NBC 7 Investigates.

The utility agreed to certain conditions that would move the radioactive waste further inland. In announcements published online today, all sides were complimentary of the willingness by all involved to work toward a solution.

Click here to read the agreement.

Ron Nichols, president of SCE, said his company is proud to take a leadership role to “work with the federal government and other key stakeholders to achieve off-site storage.”

“The experts we brought in and through the cooperation of Southern California Edison’s attorneys, who did an excellent job, we were able to come to a shared commitment to move the waste,” Aguirre said.

According to the agreement, approved by San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes, “pending the development by DOE (Department of Energy) of a permanent nuclear-spent fuel repository facility that could store the SONGS Spent Fuel” SCE would use other off-site storage facilities (OSF).

Currently, the DOE has no place to bury radioactive materials so moving the nuclear waste to locations owned and operated by commercial companies, not the government, is the priority.

Nichols said, “we will be vigilant in our efforts to prompt the federal government to act.”

In the documents, three locations managed by private companies were proposed, but others could be considered. The proposed facilities included are located in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

In an email to NBC 7 Investigates, Noaki Schwartz the Public Information Officer for the California Coastal Commission said, "We aren’t a party to the settlement negotiations or the agreement and didn’t receive the settlement agreement until it was provided to the public at large. They’re paying the plaintiff $800,00 to drop the suit, and still going ahead with the original project. They've agreed to look for another site, and if they find one, they may move the waste again in the future."

According to the agreement, SCE is required to hire a team of consultants with expertise in moving nuclear materials. This includes experts in radiation detection and monitoring, spent fuel transportation and nuclear engineering. The utility has 90 days to have the consultants in place.

The oldest reactor, Unit 1, has most of its waste product buried on the San Onofre property. The fuel from Units 2 and 3 is stored in “wet” storage pools on the plant property. According to a statement by SCE, "in order to facilitate the safe decommissioning of the plant, SCE plans to move the fuel from the pools into dry storage by 2019, where it would remain until an off-site storage facility is available."

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