News, Nuclear, Waste Management & Decommissioning

Nuclear fuel canisters all stored at decommissioned San Onofre nuclear station in California

A key late stage in the life of the retired San Onofre nuclear plant was completed this weekend, although the next move is uncertain.

Crews safely stored the last of 73 spent nuclear fuel canisters in the Holtec dry storage system. Holtec International is contractor in the decommissioning efforts at San Onofre, which was closed by owner Southern California Edison in 2013 after some safety issues with its steam generators.

The latest milestone brings the spent fuel roads one step closer to relocation at an off-site facility. Currently, however, no such federally licensed facility exists.

“Our commitment remains ensuring spent nuclear fuel is safely stored and that it can be transported to an off-site facility in the future,” said Doug Bauder, SCE vice president and chief nuclear officer. “We are developing a strategic plan to help us explore opportunities for advancing various alternatives to get the spent fuel off-site, as well as make sure that our fuel is ready for pickup when the opportunity presents itself.”

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SCE expects to release the strategic plan early next year, which will consider alternatives for relocating the spent fuel to an off-site facility. The options will include permanent disposal or temporary storage at a site.

All of the spent fuel is now contained in 123 canisters in dry storage. This allows SCE to focus on deconstruction efforts at the San Onofre plant.

The utility issued its deconstruction notice in January and began work to dismantle San Onofre one month later. The first projects completed include asbestos removal from inside the containment domes and shipping the Unit 1 reactor pressure vessel to a disposal facility in Utah.

“For the next stages at San Onofre, we’ve developed a streamlined organization that is focused on providing oversight of our decommissioning contractor and safely managing the spent fuel,” Bauder said. “Much of the work coming up will be inside the containment domes and preparing for the removal of lots of steel and concrete.”

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San Onofre’s two reactor units which were still active earlier this decade produced a combined 2,250 MW at capacity. Located south of San Clemente on the California coast, it began operations with Unit 1 in the late 1960s, while Unit 2 and 3 were commissioned in the 1980s.

Unit 1 was decommissioned in 1992