Solana Beach council revises take on San Onofre nuclear waste

Solana Beach City Hall
(UT Community Press file photo)

Responding to pressure from residents, a majority of Solana Beach City Council members passed a resolution last week intended to make a stronger statement about the need to address nuclear waste stored at the now defunct San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The council voted 4-1 Wednesday, July 10, to revise its previously adopted resolution to include the following demands for dealing with radioactive waste stored on the shore about 40 miles north of Solana Beach by Interstate 5 and Camp Pendleton:

Incorporate the best, safest practices for storage, transport and other aspects of the current decommissioning stage;

Require trained safety managers on site around the clock;

Replace thin-walled canisters that are designated for dry storage of the nuclear waste with thick-walled containers;

Relocate the material as far away from the ocean and earthquake faults as possible.

Solana Beach Mayor David Zito cast the dissenting vote, saying he didn’t feel comfortable with the recommendations in the resolution, especially when it came to the viability of the thick-walled canisters compared to the thin-walled ones.

“We’re not hearing the expert testimony,” said Zito, who has an engineering background. “We don’t have the people here that know what they’re talking about at a technical level that can give us real answers.”

After a series of problems emerged at the plant operated by Southern California Edison, the power company took the facility offline in 2013 and began the process of decommissioning it.

The site, however, still stores about 3.6 million pounds of highly radioactive waste in cooling ponds built in the 1970s. The ponds were not intended for long-term storage, but what to do with the waste remains a question mark.

An accident in handling the waste or a leak could threaten the millions of people who live along the coast north and south of the plant in San Diego and Orange counties and beyond.

U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, has launched a task force to address the San Onofre issues and Zito said he is a member of the force’s policy committee. He urged the council Wednesday, July 10, to postpone a resolution while the task force’s work progresses.

The council adopted a resolution on June 12 calling for the state Legislature and governor to support federal action for interim measures and a permanent solution to safely storing the waste.

Residents active, however, appeared at the June 26 council meeting to urge stronger action, leading to last week’s consideration.

“Everybody agrees that we need to get this stuff out of the pools,” said Jim Jaffee, a Solana Beach resident and representative of the Surfrider Foundation. “The second thing everyone agrees on is get it away from the ocean.”

Illustrating the conflicting viewpoints on the dilemma, Solana Beach resident Tracy Richmond said, “We’re never going to get this fuel out of here. Let’s just accept that. No one will take it. ...

“It’s going to be here for our lifetime, and maybe permanently. We need to make it absolutely as safe as we can.”