Agreement will move nuclear waste out of San Onofre

SAN DIEGO -- Citizens' Oversight announced Monday it has reached a deal with Southern California Edison that requires the utility to use its efforts to relocate the approximate 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste away from the San Onofre State Beach.

The commitment by Edison settled a lawsuit filed by an anti-nuclear group nearly two years ago, which opposed the California Coastal Commission's approval of expanded nuclear waste storage at the seaside plant.

In 2015, the California Coastal Commission voted to approve a permit to install and use a new storage installation only 100 feet from the seawall. The nonprofit filed a lawsuit to revoke the permit and the two sides came to an agreement.

The agreement forces Edison to an overarching plan that must be finished in the next six months, including spending millions to hire top experts in spent nuclear fuel transportation.

“Leaving the spent fuel only 100 feet from the ocean with no other options being developed is simply unacceptable. This is a practical solution that respects safety concerns,” Citizens Oversight founder Ray Lutz and an engineer said.

"A cooperative effort between the public, independent experts and Southern California Edison has begun and will continue until the nuclear waste is removed from San Diego," said Michael Aguirre, who represented plaintiffs Citizens Oversight Inc. and Patricia Borchmann.

The plaintiffs moved to dismiss the lawsuit in light of Edison's commitments.

Even though San Onofre is no longer producing power, the decommissioning process will take years, necessitating the need for further storage.

Anti-nuclear groups contended it would be too dangerous to increase the amount of nuclear waste kept along the shoreline near an active earthquake fault. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors and Rep. Darrell Issa, R- Vista, have also spoken out in favor of moving the spent fuel.

"SCE is proud to take a leadership role in what we expect will become an industry-wide effort over many years to work with the federal government and other key stakeholders to achieve off-site storage," said Ron Nichols, Edison's president. "We will be vigilant in our efforts to prompt the federal government to act, and until we can secure off-site storage, will continue our 30-year track record of safely storing used fuel at San Onofre."

According to the utility, one-third of San Onofre's used fuel is currently in dry cask storage and the remaining two-thirds is stored in steel- lined concrete pools. In the decommissioning process, 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.

The agreement calls for Edison to make "commercially reasonable" efforts to relocate spent fuel to an off-site location until the U.S. Department of Energy creates a permanent facility, while taking into account technical feasibility, costs and ratepayer interests. The utility will spend up to $4 million to retain experts on nuclear waste relocation and develop a transportation plan.

Edison will also provide regular progress reports.

Right now, the top locations are plants near Phoenix, Western Texas, near camp Pendleton and a rail line along Yucca Mountain.