Last week brought some good news in the fight over removing nuclear waste from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, commonly referred to as SONGS. SoCal Edison settled out-of-court to appoint an expert panel and spend $4 million on plans to remove the waste from the coastline facility.
The plant, which is also well-known for its distinctive design, has been the source of worry for paddlers, surfers, and the 8.4 million Southern Californians living within a 50-mile radius of its bulbous facilities, after premature wear on over 3,000 tubes forced the site’s closure back in 2012.
With 3.55 million pounds of nuclear waste currently stored at the site—located just a few hundred yards south from the SUP-friendly confines of San Onofre State Beach—activists, locals, and environmental groups have pushed to remove the waste as quickly as possible. While Edison officials claim there’s nothing to worry about, the thought of a major earthquake, tsunami or even human error is enough to send a shudder down the surrounding community’s spine.
While the scenario may be unlikely, the fallout from a leak or explosion would be catastrophic. The only way to ensure safety from the radioactive material is to have it permanently removed. Of course, moving nuclear waste is no easy task and the process can take years, if not decades.
After the California Coastal Commission approved a 20-year permit to store the waste at the SONGS site in 2015, it appeared as though the removal process would take decades. But a pair of lawsuits challenged the permit and the two parties settled out of court with this recent decision.
While this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go. SoCal Edison still needs to find a temporary and then permanent repository—energy storage centers in New Mexico and Texas may be willing to take it—and then find a way to transport it there.
Best-case scenario? The waste will be removed in five years. Worst-case scenario? They are unable to find a location and the radioactive slime remains at SONGS indefinitely.
Thus, the saga continues. But here’s to hoping the days of paddling in the shadow of a nuclear waste depository will soon be numbered.