7 things to know about the demolition of the San Onofre nuclear plant

 Ron Pontes of Southern California Edison walks toward Unit 2 of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

Ron Pontes of Southern California Edison walks toward Unit 2 of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which is in its second year of a demolition project that is expected to take about eight years to complete.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Completing such a complicated project requires a tremendous amount of labor, coordination and skill, and some critics have expressed skepticism that Edison can pull off such a mammoth undertaking without major mistakes.

After all, it was a leak in a steam generator tube in 2012 that led to the shuttering of SONGS.

And in 2018, a 50-ton canister filled with fuel assemblies being lowered into the new dry storage facility was left suspended on a metal flange about 18 feet from the floor of its storage cavity, unsupported by rigging and lifting equipment. The canister was eventually lowered safely but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission later fined Edison $116,000.

“Edison has only committed to doing what is ‘commercially reasonable’ to handle nuclear waste that has been stranded at San Onofre,” Gary Headrick, co-founder of the environmental group San Clemente Green, said when the dismantlement project started. “Their current wishful plan might just work, but what if it doesn’t, like so many other past examples you could point to?”

Pontes said Edison has “taken those lessons” from the past and put in oversight measures to make sure the contractor is “safely carrying out this work.”

“We recognize we have our reputation at stake here,” Pontes said. “I regularly attend meetings with the senior level management at Edison and they’re not pushing anything except making sure we do things safely and we do it right.”

The roughly $4.5 billion price tag to dismantle SONGS comes from existing decommissioning trust funds. The money has been collected from ratepayers and invested in dedicated trusts. According to Edison, customers have contributed about one-third of the trust funds while the remaining two-thirds have come from returns on investments made by the company.

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