OC Coalition In Stealthy Campaign To Bury San Onofre Nuclear Waste In East Mojave

Forces in Orange County are quietly militating toward a plan to bury over 200 tons of radioactive debris, including uranium and plutonium, from the now decommissioned San Onofre nuclear plant in the East Mojave Desert.
Construction at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station began in 1964. Unit 1, a Westinghouse pressurized water reactor operated from January 1, 1968, until November 30, 1992. It was decommissioned and dismantled. Units 2 and 3, built in the 1970s, respectively went online August 8, 1983 and April 1, 1984. Units 2 and 3 were initially licensed until 2022.
The contractor on the project, the Bechtel Corporation, was embarrassed in 1977, when it installed a 420-ton nuclear-reactor vessel backwards. In 2010 and 2011, Edison, at a cost of $671 million, replaced the steam generators in both reactors with improved Mitsubishi steam generators. In 2012 it was discovered those generators were defective when on January 31, 2012, Unit 3 suffered a small radioactive leak largely inside the containment shell. Upon investigation, the two replacement steam generators were found to show premature wear on over 3,000 tubes, in 15,000 places. Plant officials pledged not to restart until the causes of the tube leak and tube degradation were understood. Neither unit was ever restarted and the entire plant is now to be completely decommissioned.
Within San Clemente wealthy members of that community as well as outlying areas in Orange and San Diego counties are exerting tremendous pressure on the city council to ensure that the units are entirely dismantled and all of the remnants of the plant, including its remaining and spent nuclear fuel, is removed. A plan along these lines that has been hatched is one by an El Cajon-based group, Citizens’ Oversight, to bury the nuclear waste near Fishel, located in the East Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County.
That plan is being pursued with cunning and stealth. Its proponents hope to advance it to the status of a fait accompli without alarming desert residents or San Bernardino County officials, thereby avoiding any meaningful opposition. At the May 2 San Clemente City Council meeting, the plan was mentioned. Once it was recognized that residents from San Bernardino County were in attendance, following a signal by San Clemente Mayor Pro Tem Tim Brown, references to sending the waste to San Bernardino County became cryptic and were made in code, such as referring to San Bernardino County as “Arizona” or “the desert.”
Despite that effort at secrecy, the Sentinel has obtained a document generated by Citizens Oversight which states, “Moving the spent nuclear fuel away from San Onofre is essential to minimize our overall risk. But where to put it? Keeping it in California can minimize hoops to jump through. Our proposal: near Fishel, CA 92277 (San Bernardino County).”
Under “Key features” the document states with regard to the Fishel site, “Population: 0. Nearest improved property: More than 13 miles away (water pumping plant). Nearest private improved property: Cadiz about 20 miles away. Nearest larger cities: More than 50 miles away (Lake Havasu, Colorado River. Twentynine Palms is about 47 miles away from the site, three mountain ranges away. Twentynine Palms/Yucca Valley and Needles are the minor civil divisions. They border on the Arizona and California railroad line.”
The document further touts Fishel as an ideal burial spot because it is “on the Arizona and California railroad line about 21 miles from Cadiz where it connects to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad” and that the “total distance from the Barstow Burlington Northern Santa Fe switchyard is 100 miles to Cadiz, then 21 miles to Fishel.” Moreover, Fishel is, according to the document, “near a road” and “not close to any fault lines,” as well as “away from salty air [making] chloride induced stress corrosion cracking less likely.”
Putting the nuclear waste out into San Bernardino County’s desert makes sense the Citizens’ Oversight document maintains, because Fishel is “away from densely populated areas [while there are] “more than 8.4 million near San Onofre” and in the desert there is “no tsunami risk.” Furthermore, according to the document, there is “No mega freeway nearby as we have at San Onofre.” In Fishel, the document states, the eastern Mojave is “very hot and dry with very little degradation over time due to the environment.”
The document also notes that the area falls within the 8th Congressional District, represented by “Paul Cook, a Republican from Yucca Valley.” The document implies having Cook accept San Bernardino County’s role as a repository for the nuclear waste will not represent a challenge.
Of issue with those in San Clemente is that Southern California Edison, the plant’s operator, is purposed to the remove the nuclear fuel from the water filled vats it is now contained in and store it in air-cooled canisters that allow cool air to flow in and the air to then flow out after it has become heated by the fuel, thus diffusing the heat in such a way as to prevent the fuel from melting or otherwise compromising the integrity of the canisters, referred to as “dry casks.” The canisters can be transported, and it is the hope of the locals in Orange County that moving the canisters out of the area will occur on a fairly rapid timetable. In the meantime they want to stave off the possibility that the canisters will be entombed in a concrete facility to be created at the San Onofre site, which will allow adequate air circulation to diffuse the heat but will raise the likelihood that the nuclear fuel will remain housed there into perpetuity.
Cheryl Hyneka was one of the San Clemente residents who adopted the code language of Citizens’ Oversight, suggesting the San Onofre debris “should be moved off to ‘Arizona.’”
Judy Jones suggested that Orange County bring its financial and political power to bear to move the nuclear waste from San Onofre to a place like San Bernardino County. “This is political,” she said.
Bret Danson echoed Jones, saying Orange County could use its political might to saddle San Bernardino County with its problem, saying Orange County decision makers merely needed to have the “political will” to do so and that Orange County has the might to do what it wants. “I work for the federal government,” Danson said. “When they decide to move, they are going to move and they are going to make it happen.”
San Clemente Mayor Kathy Ward likewise suggested putting the nuclear waste in San Beranrdino County is better than having it in Orange County. She said Orange County locals could use the court system to send the waste to the San Bernardino County desert.
“Use the courts,” she said. “Remove it as soon as possible. San Clemente is not appropriate for a storage place.”
Ward said that San Clemente residents and those sharing their goal of removing the nuclear waste from the San Onofre site should not be specific about identifying where the final destination of the unwanted power plant debris would be.
Mayor Pro Tem Tim Brown slyly avoided direct mention of San Bernardino County in his remarks, saying, “We don’t want to take any option off the table” and referencing “the goal of moving nuclear waste to safe and remote regions [and] consolidated storage where there is consent.”
He also suggested that the hicks out in San Bernardino County could be tricked into giving their consent.
“What does consent mean?” he asked, saying the “idea” comes down to “the federal government and how they define it.”
Brown though, indicated he was not 100 percent wedded to sending the San Onofre nuclear waste to the East Mojave. “We should look at the utility of Yucca Mountain,” a reference to the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, a proposed-but-not-yet-constructed deep geological repository storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and other at a site located on federal land adjacent to the Nevada Test Site in Nye County, Nevada, about 80 miles northwest of the Las Vegas Valley. “Yucca Mountain is better than on our beaches,” Brown said.
Reported by Ruth Musser-Lopez from San Clemente. Written by Mark Gutglueck in San Bernardino.

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