Laguna Beach residents criticize San Onofre cleanup

Laguna Beach residents say it's taking the U.S. too long to remove spent fuel rods from the San Onofre plant.
Laguna Beach residents say it’s taking the U.S. too long to remove spent fuel rods from the San Onofre plant.
(Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times)

Saying that they don’t want to spend decades living near nuclear waste, a group of Laguna Beach residents want the federal government to speed up its plan to remove spent fuel rods from the closed San Onofre nuclear facility.

As it stands, it will be 35 years before the last remnants of the nuclear waste are removed from the former power plant, which was permanently closed last year after it was discovered that thousands of pipes carrying radioactive water might be at risk.

“I don’t think we in Laguna get the gravity of what is going on,” Rita Conn, who leads a group called Let Laguna Vote, told City Council members this month.

The group intends to ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to move the spent fuel to a U.S. Navy weapons station, such as China Lake in Kern County


The group is concerned that Southern California Edison, which owns 80% of the plant, is spending money on restoring the site instead of developing a plan to move the radioactive fuel.

Edison spokeswoman Maureen Brown said the utility is doing everything it can to ensure the fuel is safely stored but that it is up to the federal government to decide when and where to move it the nuclear waste.

“We have no control of when the Department of Energy does its job,” she said.

The Department of Energy, which would oversee the fuel’s removal, did not respond to a request for comment.


Edison faced a losing battle in 2003 when it tried to get permission to move a decommissioned reactor to a disposal site on the East Coast. Rail companies refused to haul to 950-ton reactor, the Panama Canal Authority said a boat carrying the reactor would be denied passage and rough waters made the voyage around Cape Horn too risky.

The situation in San Onofre is not unique. The Department of Energy has not identified a permanent site to store radioactive fuel from nuclear power plants following President Obama’s 2010 decision to scrap plans for a disposal site at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

In the meantime, Laguna resident Marni Magda said she is concerned about the effects of an earthquake, tsunami or even a terrorist attack at San Onofre, which sits on the Pacific Ocean about 20 miles south of Laguna.

“We are in a ring of fire, an earthquake zone,” Magda told the council. “We don’t know what it could do. Everyone said Fukushima was safe, but look what happened. We can’t afford the risk of a wrong model.”


Edison, Brown said, complies with all regulations for storing used fuel and has adequate security measures in place, Brown said.