SCE plans relocation of  San Onofre used fuel

17 March 2021

Southern California Edison (SCE) has released a three-part strategic plan for the relocation of used nuclear fuel from the shut-down San Onofre plant. The company has also launched a stakeholder coalition with two local counties to advocate for and encourage federal government action to deal with used fuel currently stored at San Onofre and other US nuclear sites.

Fuel transfer operations at San Onofre were completed last year (Image: SCE)

Units 2 and 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station - also known as SONGS - were permanently retired in June 2013 due to regulatory delay and uncertainty after problems were found in replacement steam generators. All of the plant's used fuel has now been transferred to a total of 123 dry storage canisters, which remain at the site.

SCE in June 2019 contracted consultants North Wind Inc to draw up the plan, which identifies and analyses a range of alternatives for used fuel removal and assesses the relative merits, challenges, costs and timelines of them. North Wind team identified and evaluated seven potential alternatives for relocating the SONGS used fuel, ranging from those that assume the federal government meets statutory and contractual obligations to remove the fuel, to those that might be considered if the federal government continues to fail to meet these obligations.

"The central driver for this effort is the recognition, first, that no offsite storage or disposal facility currently exists that could accept the SONGS spent fuel, and second, that this fact is the result of a fundamental and now decade-long breakdown of the national nuclear waste management programme," North Wind said. "For a host of reasons … resolving the current impasse and restarting progress at the federal level is the critical key to moving forward with a solution - not only for SONGS but for the increasing number of shutdown nuclear plants around the country where there is no option other than to continue storing these materials on site."

The plan is comprised of three volumes: Action Plan, which lays out near-term measures SCE and San Onofre's co-owners will take to advance offsite relocation of the fuel, and to be prepared to move the fuel should an opportunity arise; Strategic Plan, which identifies and analyses a range of alternatives for used fuel removal; and Conceptual Transportation Plan, which focuses on specific steps and strategic considerations in planning for and executing the shipment of the used fuel to an offsite location. The Action Plan also sets out the measures needed to ensure the fuel continues to be stored safely and securely for as long as it remains onsite

Catalyst for change

The US federal government, under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, was obliged to begin removing used fuel from nuclear facilities by 1998 for disposal in a federal facility but as yet no such facility is available. SCE said the newly launched coalition, Action for Spent Fuel Solutions Now, will enable stakeholders, including local governments, business and labour leaders, Native American leaders, environmental groups, and community members, to join forces and make offsite used fuel storage and/or disposal a priority.

The coalition has been co-founded by SCE and the counties of Orange and San Diego, the city of Riverside, and San Diego Gas & Electric. It will advocate for federal legislation, funding, administration policies and programmes that can advance both permanent disposal and offsite interim storage, SCE said.

"It is clear that to make tangible progress on this issue, the federal government must act. Rather than wait for this to happen, we are going to be a catalyst for change," SCE President and CEO Kevin Payne said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News