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).