If you have traveled on Interstate 5 between San Diego and Orange County, California you have undoubtedly seen the odd twin structures that sit next to the beach. Most people are surprised to find out that those structures are the remnants of a decommissioned nuclear power plant.
Exactly why someone decided to build a nuclear power plan next to where you frequently find 5-star hotels is beyond us.
A nuclear power plant … on the beach … what’s the worst that can happen you think.
A Brief History of The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station
The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) is located San Diego County, California just south of the famed Trestles surf break in San Clemente, California.
It has been closed since 2013. In 2012, Unit 2 was shut down due to a reactor vessel head that needed to be replaced and refueling. Unit 3’s containment shell started to develop a leak, which led to the reactor shutting down by the plant. Fortunately, blackouts never occurred when this event took place, but there was more pollution created to make up for the lack of power generated.
It sits between the Pacific Ocean and the Interstate 5 (I-5) freeway. Both Los Angeles and San Diego are located within 75 miles of the plant with 8.5 million people residing in the local area.
When it was running, the plant was capable of powering 1.4 million homes all at the same time. Today, the reactors are retired after one of the generators sprung a leak and additional issues continued to develop. This caused Southern California Edison to announce the retirement of both the units due to uncertainty about when SONGS would be capable of returning to service.
Although fresh fuel isn’t radioactive, it becomes more radioactive as it sits in a nuclear reactor. The chain reaction that generates heat also causes it to make other radioactive atoms like Cs-137, Sr-90, & Pu-239. Cs-137 and Sr-90 have a half-life of about 30 years. Pu-239 takes up to 24,110 years to reach its half-life.
The storage of radioactive material stretches beyond the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
Although there was always the promise that nuclear power would boom and power the world in the 1960s, there was never a plan on what to do with the waste.
For the last few decades, the plan has been to bury the waste in the ground. In 1998, the U.S. government was supposed to start accepting spent fuel in Nevada. As politicians in Nevada have pushed back, it’s caused the plan to be at a standstill resulting with the companies who own the nuclear power plants suing the government in many cases.
Who Owns San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant?
There are 3 owners of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant. Southern California Edison holds 78.2% ownership of the plant, San Diego Gas & Electric Company owns 20% and the City of Riverside Utilities Department own 1.8%.
Is San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant Safe?
The San Onofre nuclear power plant has reportedly stored more than 4,000 tons of radioactive waste on site. Although there still has to be something done about the radioactive material present, the site is expected to be demolished by 2026 as per the LA Times.
Although the domes are built to contain all of the waste, all types of plants still release some effluents (gaseous and liquid wastes). This varies by the site and configuration. According to Southern California Edison, the levels are safe for the marine life in the ocean, as well as people who spend time at the beach.
Why Was The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant Shut Down?
The San Onofre nuclear power plant was shut down after a leak developed in the shell of Unit 3. This led to a small increase in radioactivity that were within acceptable levels.
When the leak developed, plant operators also discovered a significant amount of excessive wear present on many of the steam generator tubes in Unit 2, which carry a lot of radioactive water.
The shutdown was to prevent a larger leak from developing in the future. Additionally, Unit 3 failed a pressure test on some of its tubes in 2012, which featured new equipment. The plant struggled to tackle multiple issues present on the site, which were increasing in cost due to all of the maintenance and repairs required to keep it operating.
Taxpayers were required to aid in the cost of the recent renovation at the plant, which was $670 million. It no longer made sense to continue operating the plant. Dismantling the entire plant in 2013 also came at a high cost of $4.4 billion and also accumulated to 1,700 tons of nuclear waste, which needed to be managed correctly.