With the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station as a backdrop Huy Pham of San Juan Capistrano walks south along the beach at San Onofre State Beach. Mark Rightmire, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
This Google Earth image shows where dry cask storage is under construction at San Onofre.
San Clemente student Jill Greene, 14, marches with dozens of others against the plan to bury toxic waste from the now defunct San Onofre Nuclear plant on the beach. Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
A protester in Laguna Beach wore a yellow hazmat suit with matching surfboard to take a stand against nuclear waste burial at San Onofre. Photo courtesy of Darin McClure
This photo taken from a high elevation inside the dome of Unit 3 gives a birdseye view of the containment pool in 1995. Photo by Leonard Ortiz / Orange County Register
In a move that activists fervently hoped to thwart, Southern California Edison “safely and successfully” loaded the first multi-purpose spent fuel canister into its new home inside a concrete monolith at San Onofre on Wednesday, officials said.
The fuel transfer from wet to dry storage came quickly on the heels of a revamped agreement between consumer advocates and the utility, divvying up the premature shutdown costs of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
That new agreement, announced Tuesday, will shift $775 million more to the utility, and away from ratepayers.
Dry storage is much safer than the pools where most of San Onofre’s spent fuel still resides, according to nuclear experts. But activists had hoped to block Edison from using the “concrete monolith” dry storage system just yards from the beach completely.
All the spent fuel from the shuttered nuclear reactors is slated to be transferred to the new dry storage bunker by the middle of 2019, Edison said. Opponents fear it will remain there for decades and pose grave danger to people and the environment.
“This ‘new’ settlement is basically the same sack of detestable excrement in a new bag,” said Charles Langley, executive director of Public Watchdogs in San Diego County. “It doesn’t pass the smell test….In my opinion, the bad guys won, and the good guys sold out for big money.”
San Onofre’s early shut-down – due to faulty new steam generators that cost nearly $700 million and were supposed to buy the reactors another 40 years of life – totaled $4.7 billion, for replacement fuel and the like.
Ratepayers were originally slated to bear the overwhelming majority of that – $3.3 billion. But then came the infamous Warsaw memo – when, at an international energy conference in 2013, former California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey and then-Edison Executive Vice President Stephen Pickett had a tête-à-tête and scribbled the framework of “a possible resolution” to the San Onofre shutdown debacle that was quite similar to the first one adopted.
Regulators and utilities are not allowed to chat secretly about matters that so greatly impact the public. After the memo surfaced, critics cried foul and bailed out of first settlement agreement. Edison was fined $16.7 million for failing to report the Warsaw meeting to the PUC, and the settlement was re-opened, resulting in Tuesday’s new deal.
Under it, the burden for ratepayers goes from $3.3 billion to about $2.5 billion. That translates into an extra $68 or so for each ratepayer over the next four years, according to Edison.
The Office of Ratepayer Advocates, the independent voice representing the little guy within the California Public Utilities Commission, praised the new agreement.
“This deal saves SCE and SDG&E customers hundreds of millions of dollars over the next several years,” said director Elizabeth Echols in a statement. “Now, customers won’t end up unfairly paying for many of the costs associated with the SONGS premature failure.”
Attorney Mike Aguirre, who has challenged Edison on many fronts, called it a victory, though only a partial one. “Five years of constant effort shows this is the best we can achieve given a CPUC hostile to the public interest,” Aguirre said by email.
Southern California Edison President Ron Nichols said he’s pleased to be able to bring closure to the issue, and looks forward to the PUC’s approval.
No such thing?
The $775 million ratepayers will save is “peanuts compared with the losses we will have from cracking ‘Chernobyl’ cans,” said activist Donna Gilmore of San Clemente, who wanted Edison to use thicker canisters to store San Onofre’s waste. “If safer containers aren’t used, nothing else matters.”
Many people tried to warn federal regulators and elected officials
about concerns about Edison’s process before the new steam generators leaked radiation and were ignored, Gilmore said. And now, Edison is allowed to manage the waste how it likes.
“This will be a trillion-dollar boondoggle, rather than the steam generator billion-dollar boondoggle,” Gilmore said. “Where is Governor Brown?”
Gary Headrick of San Clemente Green agrees.
“By making this settlement, Edison has dodged the investigation into what actually caused the shutdown,” he said by email. “This paltry amount of money saved by ratepayers should have been much larger and could have gone towards an independent study to actually solve the nuclear waste problem our country faces. Instead, Edison’s has simply settled on an amount to make their problem go away while avoiding scrutiny for their dangerous act of negligence.”
Edison is preparing a $4 million study on options for the 3.6 million pounds of spent waste at San Onofre. But the waste will be buried on site, 108 feet from the ocean, before the study is completed, he said.
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