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By Collin Breaux

Staff and consultants with the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) discussed how the station would handle canisters cracking or corroding, terrorist attacks and other emergency situations during a community engagement panel on Thursday, May 28.

Members of the public listened in and commented during the panel discussion.

SONGS is being decommissioned—a process that began in 2013—and plans are underway to dismantle the power plant. Local residents have questioned aspects of SONGS’ safety and transparency, including the effects of nuclear leakage on the community and in the ocean. SONGS staff and consultants have responded by saying they are taking every step to ensure safety for the community and employees, insisting people are not at risk.

Michael Corradini, a nuclear engineering professor at University of Wisconsin, said the dry used fuel storage systems at SONGS are stainless steel and specifically designed for coastal environments. Inspections are done regularly on canisters for corrosion, and remediation techniques are taken if any corrosion is detected.

As for the possibility of terrorist attacks, details discussed were scant due to security reasons, but a presentation slide did say the robust designs of dry storage systems help protect spent fuel from terrorist attacks due to massive physical shielding. There also are multiple barriers to radioactive material releases, though no dry storage system provides complete protection against all types of attacks.

Speaking generally on outlier events, Tom Isaacs—Southern California Edison Experts Team Chairman and an independent strategic advisor for nuclear waste—said a consistent way to deal with these scenarios is continuous improvement.

“Experience shows one of the biggest risks in any of these endeavors is complacency,” Isaacs said.

Petitioners who called for the community engagement panel wrote in a letter before the meeting that they had hoped to see public concerns addressed, saying they were previously disappointed that many of the worst-case scenarios were not addressed at past public meetings over the past six years.

“For us, the issue has shifted from the dangers presented by fuel pools and operating reactors to possible dangers in dry cask storage.  Although this is safer, it now appears that this waste will remain on site for the indefinite future.  Since it has nowhere to go, what could possibly go wrong in the next 30-50 years?” petitioners wrote in the letter. “While there have been discussions of various internal threats, the public is especially concerned about the seldom-discussed external threats or what the industry calls beyond design basis threats. We are not alone in this concern since 100 million Americans lived within 50 miles of a NPP and more and more waste is piling up on site all over the country.”

During the discussion on terrorist scenarios, petitioners also said they would like to hear explanations on how SONGS would handle “Oklahoma City-type truck bombs, aircraft crashes, bunker-busting RPGs fired from distances, and missiles possibly fired from cargo ships which pass the area every day.”

There had been no positive cases of COVID-19 at SONGS, as of the panel discussion.

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