Used fuel transfer plan to be developed for San Onofre

18 June 2019

US utility Southern California Edison (SCE) has awarded a 20-month contract to consultancy company North Wind to develop a strategic plan to assess the feasibility of relocating used nuclear fuel from the San Onofre nuclear plant to a commercially reasonable, off-site facility.

SCE said it recognised that efforts to relocate the used fuel off-site “must proceed in a thoughtful, forward-thinking and responsible way, ensuring that relevant interests are recognised and heard.”

North Wind will engage with a broad range of stakeholders to learn their preferences and attitudes about used nuclear fuel and its eventual disposition.

“SCE looks forward to the development of a strategic plan that brings us closer to long-term solutions for moving spent nuclear fuel off-site,” said Kevin Walker, SCE senior vice president for Customer and Operational Services. SCE said former US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz would lend his considerable expertise to developing the plan.

SCE launched this effort following a 2017 settlement agreement related to permitting on-site expanded used fuel storage installation. SCE said it is optimistic that the strategic plan “will set forth practical steps that SCE can and will take to support efforts to relocate San Onofre spent fuel to an off-site, licensed facility”.

There is currently no federally licensed facility to receive used nuclear fuel from a commercial nuclear energy site.

In May, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the restart of work to transfer used fuel from wet to dry storage at the plant following a 10-month delay after an incident in August 2018. SCE and its contractor, Holtec International, suspended transfer operations after a canister carrying used fuel that was being lowered into a vertical receptacle became stuck on a guiding ring. The plant personnel believed the canister had been fully inserted, because the rigging that supported the canister had gone slack until a radiation protection technician registered radiation readings higher than expected for a properly loaded cask. The misalignment was corrected and the canister properly stored, but the incident was not notified to NRC within 24 hours as required, resulting in a fine of $116,000.  

Since then SCE has conducted a “comprehensive review” of its transfer operations and has made adjustments to its programme “through better procedures, better training, and more intrusive oversight”. 

Units 2 and 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station were permanently retired in June 2013 and are now undergoing decommissioning.

Photo: San Onfre 2&3 were premanently shut down in 2013

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