Last San Onofre Nuke Steam Generator Hits the Road

The reactor at San Onofre | Photo: Timothy Tolle/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The last of the aging steam generators from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station will be starting a three-week road trip Wednesday night aboard a specially designed 400-foot truck, which will deliver the 350-ton generator to a nuclear waste dump west of Salt Lake City.

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The generator's route through Southern California is being kept mum for security reasons, though a November trip with another San Onofre generator heading for the EnergySolutions dump in Clive, Utah passed through Temecula, Riverside and Moreno Valley. SCE says the generator will travel at night, and does say that its route passes through Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

The EnergySolutions site accepts "low-level" radioactive waste. Despite the seemingly reassuring label, low-level waste isn't necessarily innocuous: it's an administrative category to cover materials that didn't start out radioactive but have become so on exposure to nuclear material or neutron irradiation. Much low-level waste is only marginally radioactive, but some highly radioactive material, such as reactor vessel parts, can be classified as "low level waste"

That said, reactor operator Southern California Edison assures the public that the generator poses little danger to communities through which it's being transported, saying that exposure you'd get from standing a few feet away from the generator for an hour is roughly equivalent to a dental x-ray. The generator is considered "Class A" waste, the least hazardous category of low level waste defined by law. As Class A waste, the generator should be non-radioactive by 2112.

The generators were replaced two years ago with newer generators built by Mitsubishi. Those new generators were cited by the antinuclear group Friends Of The Earth when it requested a formal relicensing process for the nuclear power plant, which has been shut down for some months following a steam leak in one of the new generators' steam conduits. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) denied that request in early November.

An October SCE proposal to restart Unit 2 is currently working its way through the regulatory process. A public hearing Friday near the plant attracted vocal opposition from environmentalists.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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