Agreement to move nuclear waste from San Onofre

But potential for "mobile Chernobyl" may forestall Edison from acting

 William and Rosemarie Alley cowrote the book Too Hot to Touch. "The odds of the waste being moved out of Southern California within 20 years are virtually zero," says William.
  •  William and Rosemarie Alley cowrote the book Too Hot to Touch. "The odds of the waste being moved out of Southern California within 20 years are virtually zero," says William.

Southern California Edison today (August 28) agreed to move 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste that it had planned to bury 100 feet from the ocean at the now-shuttered San Onofre site in North County. The California Coastal Commission had approved the plan, even though there are eight million people living within 50 miles of the proposed burial site.

San Diego–based Citizens' Oversight filed suit against the coastal commission in San Diego Superior Court with Edison as the party in interest. Since April, Edison and Citizens' Oversight and its lawyers, Maria Severson and Mike Aguirre, have been negotiating to come up with an alternative. The plan was due September 8 but was announced today.

However, Ray Lutz, head of Citizens' Oversight, points out that a solution is a long way off. In 60 days from the effective date of the agreement, Edison shall issue written requests for a so-called "Experts Team," according to documents from superior court; within the following 90 days, Edison is to have the team in place.

When the deal was approved, Edison got a 20-year license to keep the waste close to the ocean. But in the agreement signed today, Edison agrees that it will take actions that are "commercially reasonable," or such that a "prudent utility" would make. This wording could mean that Edison could keep the deadly material near the ocean for a very long time.

San Diego residents William and Rosemarie Alley are extremely skeptical of the agreement because of just such wiggle words. They coauthored a 2013 book on nuclear waste, Too Hot to Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste, published by Cambridge University Press. The book points out how countries, particularly the United States, have delayed doing anything about nuclear waste; they call it "kicking the can down fantasy lane."

John Oliver nuclear waste bit

The Alleys were consultants for the hilarious performance by comedian John Oliver August 20, spoofing the nuclear waste long-running delay.

"This whole nuclear waste issue is full of talk and 'experts' and assurance to the public," says William Alley, a PhD who is director of science and technology for the National Ground Water Association. "The bottom line is how long they have in a legally binding agreement to get the waste out of San Onofre." And the "commercially reasonable" wording could potentially give the company 20 more years, the length of the license, he says.

Moreover, as Southern Californians know, "Edison is untrustworthy," says Rosemarie Alley.

Throughout the country, a vehicle moving nuclear waste is called a "mobile Chernobyl," says Lutz, agreeing with the Alleys that the transportation problem is a potential deal-killer.

Lutz also agrees that Edison could stall this 20 years. "I didn't get all I wanted," he says.

Today's agreement binds Edison to looking into these locations: Palo Verde, the huge Arizona nuclear plant; and "consolidated interim storage" sites in western Texas and eastern New Mexico. However, "Arizona is not going to take California's nuclear waste," says William. “New Mexico doesn't want to be the dumpster for nuclear waste.”

The problem is not NIMBY (not in my backyard) but NIMS (not in my state), says Rosemarie Alley. Transportation is an intractable problem, both of the Alleys say.

Other sites, such as Camp Pendleton, are possible, according to the agreement. The Alleys say that the only reasonable location is a high spot at Camp Pendleton. "But the Defense Department would have to approve it," says William. Because of the intractable problems, including government ineptitude, "The odds of the waste being moved out of Southern California within 20 years are virtually zero."

Aguirre says this crisis is worse than the one in North Korea. He, Severson, and Lutz will hold a press conference on the steps of the Hall of Justice, 330 W. Broadway, at 4:30 p.m. today (August 28).

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I am sure that Edison will use every trick it can to keep from moving the radioactive material. A source close to Edison tells me that it will take 25 years to dismantle SONGS. I suspect that when all is totaled the electricity that SONGS produced will have been very expensive.

AlexClarke: I suspect that, too. I have learned over a couple of decades that Edison cannot be trusted. Nobody knows that better than Aguirre and Severson, who have fought Edison over the "rape of the ratepayer," in which the company is trying to make ratepayers absorb most of the cost of San Onofre's failure, which was a management blunder, and should be absorbed by stockholders. Best, Don Bauder

AGUIRRE AND SEVERSON WERE NOT AT PRESS CONFERENCE. I said that Lutz, Aguirre and Severson would be at this afternoon's press conference. The item was written well before the press conference. Aguirre and Severson were not there. Lutz handled the press conference. My error. Best, Don Bauder

PHYSICIANS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY-LOS ANGELES GROUP OPPOSES EDISON DEAL. Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles came out today (August 28) opposing the agreement between Citizens' Oversight and Southern California Edison.

"Moving the fuel from San Diego would entail transporting it through highly populated areas of Orange County or San Diego, where an accident or terrorist event would be devastating," says Denise Duffield, associate director of the physicians group. The physicians believe that burying the waste on the beach near the ocean is a bad idea, given the risk of sea level rise and the problem of protecting it from terrorists at that location.

Agreeing with the Alleys, the physicians group feels that moving the waste to a high level at Camp Pendleton is the one appropriate option. Moving highly irradiated spent nuclear fuel "may dramatically increase health and securities risks for communities in Southern California and the South Western United States," says the physicians group.

There may be a lot of controversy over this plan. Best, Don Bauder

Ray Lutz: In the paragraph in which "mobile Chernobyl" appears, I did not say that you agree with the sentiment. I said that you are aware that people around the country are using the words "mobile Chernobyl." So I didn't put the words in your mouth, and your claiming that I did is just plain wrong.

In your news release, you stated, "But even with this agreement, moving the nuclear waste to a better location waste is not a done deal." In at least three interviews with me, you were clearly aware of the controversy this deal will engender. You are in favor of the settlement. No argument there. But you and Aguirre -- who chewed me out for at least 10 minutes -- have to realize that moving the waste will stir up plenty of controversy. You, Aguirre, and Severson should be prepared for resistance, particularly over the transportation question. Best, Don Bauder

Charles Langley: In a news release, your group, Public Watchdogs, says many things that should be discussed openly:"It is unlikely the waste will be moved by the year 2035," "there is no approved alternative location," and "Edison is unlikely to honor its questionable "commitments." There definitely is no approved alternative location; Edison will assemble a team of so-called "experts" to handle that. And, definitely, anyone who expects Edison to honor its commitments has not been following the history of that company going back decades. Best, Don Bauder

Donna Gilmore: Your points should be studied by everyone affected by this. I considered pointing out the $800,000 legal fees that the lawyers are receiving, but in the end did not do so. I don't have a problem with this. Aguirre and Severson have fought valiantly against Edison and the CPUC on several fronts, and have not received the compensation they deserve. They worked very hard on this matter, as well as the others. Aguirre has called me twice, complaining bitterly, and at length, about the opinions of the Alleys and me. He has to understand that there will be much controversy about this deal.

Everybody has to understand that since the 1980s, the finding of a nuclear waste solution has been delayed and delayed and delayed. Utilities, the federal government (NRC and DOE), state governments, and others have made promises and broken them. There is widespread cynicism and fear. Best, Don Bauder

Mike Murphy: Your skepticism is well justified. Best, Don Bauder

when it ( if) come time to move them, they will find out ( or part of the plan) they have deteriorated to the point they can't be extricated from the burial.

Murphyjunk: Edison is going on with its plans. You are correct to be concerned that removal could be very difficult if a new location is not found. The longer the purported search for a new site drags on, the more worrisome is that possibility. Is that why Edison is pushing ahead with its plans as it allegedly looks for new sites?

Everybody should look at the statement by the Coastal Commission. It is among these comments, under the heading, "COASTAL COMMISSION KNOCKS EDISON PRESS RELEASE, THEN ADDS INTERESTING INTERPRETATION OF THIS IMBROGLIO." Best, Don Bauder


Edison's press release stated that "The parties in a lawsuit challenging the permit which allows for temporary storage of used nuclear fuel at the San Onnofre nuclear plant have settled the case and will not proceed to hearing on Sept. 8 as scheduled." The Coastal Commission was the defendant in the suit and Edison was in effect a party in interest.

Noaki Schwartz, public information officer of the California Coastal Commission, today (August 29) issued the following statement: "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 $800,000 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 in the future."

Schwartz is correct that Edison is still going ahead with the project. Edison's PR person told me this morning that progress has not halted on the dry cask storage facility. "Progress continues and we plan to have the fuel placed in this facility by mid-2019. The agreement announced yesterday addresses longer term efforts to relocate the fuel off-site."

This is a point that critics emphasize. Edison is going ahead with the project. Critics worry that this gives the company the opportunity to play the stall, stall, stall game that every responsible party -- DOE, NRC, utilities, states, etc. -- has been playing for decades. Best, Don Bauder

COASTAL COMMISSION CLARIFIES AND RE-EMPHASIZES STATEMENT ON THE SAN ONOFRE AGREEMENT. Noaki Schwartz of the Coastal Commission today (August 30) put out a second statement that clarified and re-stressed her statement of yesterday. "The Coastal Commission was not a party to the agreement," she says, noting that the settlement was between the plaintiffs (primarily Citizens' Oversight) and Edison. Those two are "parties" to the agreement. As a "third party beneficiary," the commission "has the authority to enforce some, but not all, of the terms of the agreement."

Re-emphasizing her statement of yesterday, she says, "The commission was neither present nor represented during the negotiations of the agreement, did not review or sign the agreement, and did not learn all of the terms of the agreement until after it was signed and publicly announced."

She says that Mike Aguirre, plaintiff attorney, "was informally in contact with some commission staff during the negotiations, but the commission did not participate in the negotiations. The commission consented to being identified as a third party beneficiary to facilitate closure of the litigation." Best, Don Bauder

Don Bauder: The main point of my post was to highlight the urgent problem of the existing canisters that can leak in a few short years with no plan in place to prevent or deal with leaks. Regarding the money issue, numerous people are asking me if there were monetary incentives to settle, since this was such a bad deal for the public. I thought it was time to address that elephant in the room. I appreciate how hard Mike, Ray and Mia work. Just wish they would focus on the issue that is going to destroy Southern California, rather than Edison's promises of future solutions they cannot deliver. Until we deal with these ticking time bomb Chernobyl cans, nothing else matters.

Donna Gilmore: You have been the leading force pointing out the problem with the existing canisters. Possible leakage is definitely a problem, especially because Edison has wiggle room to keep the waste there for a long time. Edison is committed to hiring so-called "experts" to figure how and where to move the waste. The company should be pinned down further.

The money issue does not bother me as much as it bothers others. Aguirre and Severson have worked very hard and deserve compensation, particularly since the CPUC corruptly denied them compensation for earlier work. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: Skeptics point to the miserable history of disposing of nuclear waste all over the U.S. There has been no meaningful action since plans were laid in the 1980s. A second reason for skepticism is that Edison, a utility with a poor reputation for honesty, is the company supposedly looking for a new location -- while it goes ahead with the project. Best, Don Bauder

Walter Hermann (1): You are wise to look back in history of this boondoggle. San Onofre never should have been put there in the first place. Planners should have realized that there would be tremendous population growth in San Diego North County and in Orange County.

Today, nuclear experts are trying to figure how to transport the nuclear waste without going through densely populated areas. But the waste is already located between two densely populated areas! Proponents of this plan say the military has transported waste into Idaho since the 1950s. But that's a lot different from trying to get it through two highly populated areas, and perhaps others such as Phoenix and Las Vegas. Best, Don Bauder

Walter Hermann (2): Understood. Best, Don Bauder

Steve Thigpen: At last, somebody is doing some thinking. I am surprised your idea has not been offered before. Best, Don Bauder

At some point, when the reality sinks in (e.g. thin containers in a corrosive environment that, difficult enough to move at present, will be impossible to move in any state of degradation--this is a chess move--in the near future, they will be de facto stored right where Edison wants them. Stupid (they will be affected and effected as well), but true . . .

Gilmore is a hero.

Flapper: Edison has agreed to look for other sites while it goes ahead with the project. This is not comforting. I wish they had been pinned down more, but maybe this is the best Aguirre and Severson could get. I don't blame anybody for being skeptical, given the sorry history of nuclear waste inaction, and the fact that Edison is the company involved. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: True, and in the history of nuclear waste, similar deceptions have been used before. Again, no one should be surprised that skepticism abounds. Best, Don Bauder

Mike Murphy: Musk seems to know everything about all subjects. Does he understand the sun? Best, Don Bauder

Mike Murphy: The conventional wisdom is that if it is stored deep underground, it won't be harmful. Trouble is, we can't find that space underground. Best, Don Bauder

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