SONGS Canister 31

Workers at the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station load Canister 31 containing spent nuclear fuel into the dry-fuel storage system at the site. The number of workers present during downloading increased in response to a near-miss incident in August 2018 that caused an 11-month suspension of canister loading. 

Southern California Edison said it expects the transfer of spent nuclear fuel into dry-cask storage at the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station to be complete by mid-2020.

But the transfer process is only one incremental element of fully decommissioning the plant, company officials told the audience at an Aug. 22 community engagement panel meeting in Laguna Hills.

SCE officials don't expect the spent fuel to be moved off-site until at least the mid-2030s. The tentative schedule for a fully restored site is currently 2051, according to a presentation SCE Chief Nuclear Officer and Vice President of Decommissioning Douglas Bauder gave at the meeting.

Crews have, without serious incident, loaded two canisters containing spent nuclear fuel since cask-loading operations resumed July 15. The transfer of spent fuel rods from cooling pools to dry-cask storage at the plant south of San Clemente, California, was paused in August 2018 when a canister got stuck on a flange during loading.

Both the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and SCE, SONGS' operator, conducted thorough investigations over the course of the 11-month canister-loading hiatus. During this time, the organizations worked out new loading and inspection protocols. The NRC in March fined SCE $116,000 in response to the incident and the company's failure to immediately report it to the federal agency.

"Workers are elevating issues to the right levels. And we are capturing these events so the operating experience can be passed on to the next shift during pre-job briefs," SCE said in an update posted on the SONGS Community website. Crews addressed minor issues with equipment and procedure that emerged during recent loading of the two canisters, reflecting the new approach, according to SCE. Staff at the plant paused for a two-week break to assess and refine the new procedures after loading the first two canisters. Crews also removed rainwater found in empty canisters on the first of multiple inspections, SCE said.

Each canister takes about a week to load, seal, dry, transport to the pad and download, SCE spokesman John Dobken said in an email. "But we are being very deliberate as we begin transfers again, so I wouldn't be surprised if one might take longer, and that's OK," he added. The company anticipates loading the remaining 42 canisters by mid-2020, Dobken said.

SCE also sought at the meeting to allay concerns regarding seismic safety, both at the plant and as it relates to the design of the interim spent-fuel storage installation in use there. The installation, designed and manufactured by Holtec International of Camden, New Jersey, should be able to withstand peak ground acceleration greater than that which occurred during a magnitude 7.1 Southern California earthquake on July 5, SCE's Bauder told those present.

Bipartisan legislators in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have included or plan to include funding for consolidated interim storage of spent nuclear fuel in 2019 appropriations bills. CIS facilities would store spent fuel from multiple plants at approved locations until a final resting place for the nation's spent nuclear fuel is established, an issue that remains highly controversial.

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