San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station's Permanent Closure

Lauren Ketterer
May 18, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

Fig. 1: The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) overlooks the Pacific Ocean. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The now permanently closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), located between interstate 5 and the Pacific Ocean (see Fig. 1) contains 3.55 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste. One third of this waste resides in dry cask storage while the other two thirds in wet storage. [1] Wet storage allows spent radioactive fuel rods to cool by submerging them into a deep pool of water. At SONGS, highly radioactive fuel must be cooled for at least 5 years before it can be transferred to a dry storage facility, referred to as an Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFI). [2] Southern California Edison (plants majority operator) estimates a target completion date of mid-2019 or earlier.


There exists widespread opposition to the permanent or long-term storage of radioactive waste at SONGS. Those advocating for the removal of the nuclear waste from its current location contend that the facilitys proximity to the ocean and location within a densely populated region of approximately 8.4 million people render it inapt. SONGS is also susceptible to earthquakes and coastal erosion. [3] To avoid a permanent evacuation of a major region in California, the successful transfer of SONGS nuclear waste to the dry cask storage system is of paramount importance. The canisters are designed to endure severe weather as well as natural disaster. However, Southern California Edison is only considering thin-walled, 5/8 inch canisters. Proponents argue that thin is superior to thick because they are more easily maneuverable and therefore safer to transport. On the other hand, some view these canisters as unsafe and prone to leakage. [4] This system was approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


Given the inability of the federal government to devise a permanent solution, all nuclear waste will remain on site. Interim nuclear waste storage bills, including H.R. 3053 The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, fail to resolve the problem at hand. [5] A centralized nuclear waste repository is critical to the safe storage of this hazardous radioactive material.

© Lauren Ketterer. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] R. Nikolewski, "First Transfer of Nuclear Waste Made at San Onofre," San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 Feb 18.

[2] R. Alvarez, "Storage of Nuclear Waste from Spent Fuel at San Onofre," Friends of the Earth, 26 Jun 13.

[3] G. F. Athey, S. A. McGuire, and J. V. Ramsdell, Jr., "RASCAL 3.0.5. Workbook," U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NUREG-1889, September 2007.

[4] S. Mosko, "Opinion: The Ticking Time Bomb at The San Onofre Nuclear Plant," Times of San Diego, 6 Jan 18.

[5] J. Conca, "Small Legislative Steps For Nuclear Energy," Forbes, 19 Jun 17.