The Waikiki of California & the nuclear plant. Edison produced electricity and many tons of radioactive waste here over 40 years. But the waves have been here forever. Dakota Faircloth steering blind through a fun-loving crowd. Photo: Andy Langeland

Thursday, 13 April 2017

On one side, surfers cruise along rolling waves at one of the most iconic surf breaks in the world: San Onofre, a longboard haven often called the Waikiki of Southern California.

On the inland side up on the bluff, near two massive domes that mark shuttered nuclear reactors, work is underway to encase millions of pounds of radioactive waste in thick concrete.

"My gut instinct is that this is a situation that needed more evaluation," said Tom Gudauskas, 63, who has surfed the area since he was 12. "It worries me, absolutely. The conclusions that have been made to bury it here are short-sighted, in my mind."

Those like Gudauskas may be closer to getting their wish – though experts would counsel him not to hold his breath. Last week, a court battle that was set to start Friday over the legality of this "beachfront nuclear waste dump," as opponents call it, was postponed so the warring sides could sit down for settlement talks.

The likelihood that the talks result in the immediate removal of the 3.6 million pounds of waste from San Onofre's bluff are slim, observers say. Construction of the "concrete monolith" dry-cask storage system is well under way, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Shortly after the California Coastal Commission gave Southern California Edison the green light to build it in 2015, the nonprofit group Citizens Oversight filed suit to stop it, claiming the commission, which must approve all seaside projects before they can proceed, failed to adequately evaluate other storage spots or the Holtec system that will entomb the waste; and Southern California Edison, San Onofre's operator, presented the spot just a few hundred feet from the beach as the only option.

In court filings, the Coastal Commission said it followed state law and Edison argued that the new dry storage system is an expansion of an already-existing "safe, secure facility to temporarily store the spent nuclear fuel." The highly radioactive fuel will be much safer in the steel-and-concrete bunker than in the pools where they currently cool, Edison said. All waste is slated to be in dry storage by 2019.

Edison has little choice here, it argued. The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over the transport, monitoring and storage of spent nuclear fuel and also has the legal obligation to permanently dispose of it – not just from San Onofre, but from every commercial reactor in the nation.

Meanwhile, big concrete caskets sit near the entrance of San Onofre's surf beach, in view of the spot where a long line of cars often form for an hour's wait just to be let into the dirt parking lot between the bluff and the surf beach.

Nearby, steel canisters that will house the nuclear waste also are awaiting use. Those canisters will be inserted into the concrete caskets – the two parts fitting like Lego pieces – at  San Onofre State Beach, wedged between San Clemente and San Diego on Camp Pendleton land.

Edison produced electricity here for 40 years, creating millions of pounds of radioactive waste. The reactors were shut down in 2012 after brand-new steam generators malfunctioned, and never restarted.




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