Edison abandons plan to ship nuclear reactor vessel around Cape
Augusta Chronicle (2004-02-04) Associated Press
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SAN DIEGO -- Southern California Edison on Tuesday abandoned a plan to send a 600-ton decommissioned reactor vessel on what would have been the longest voyage ever for a piece of nuclear waste in U.S. history.
Edison blamed a series of delays that came as it finalized plans to send the vessel on a 15,500 mile trip around the icy tip of South America to a nuclear graveyard in Barnwell, S.C., spokesman Ray Golden said.
The vessel will remain safely in place, wrapped in tons of steel and concrete, at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station next to the ocean between Los Angeles and San Diego. Edison will explore other options to get the vessel to the East Coast, including a domestic route.
Edison has spent several million dollars getting the vessel ready for shipment and seeking approval from more than a dozen state and federal agencies since 1999.
Plans had called for a truck to carry the decommissioned reactor vessel down a 17-mile stretch of the California coast. A barge was to take the vessel on a nonstop 90-day voyage past Cape Horn to the East Coast. Finally, a train was to haul the vessel to Barnwell, S.C.
"It's good news from an environmental perspective because the reactor's much safer in our opinion ... on site," said Tom Clements, senior adviser to Greenpeace International's nuclear campaign. "Plus, it avoids a diplomatic confrontation with Chile and Argentina."
Critics said the company was risking disaster by sailing the vessel past Cape Horn, one of the world's most dangerous nautical passages. Daniel Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a Los Angeles-based nuclear watchdog group, called it "the worst possible route from a safety standpoint you can come up with."
Countries along the route had raised objections to the shipment, most notably Argentina, where a federal court last month banned the vessel from entering its 200-mile territorial waters.
Continued delays would mean the passage around Cape Horn would occur closer to South America's winter, when the weather often turns treacherous, Golden said. The utility also had to avoid the March breeding season of the western snowy plover, a threatened species that nests on the beaches where the reactor would have passed.
Edison's record-breaking route wasn't its first choice. A plan to get the vessel to South Carolina by rail and barge fell apart when Edison failed to reach terms with a railroad company. The Panama Canal refused to waive new weight limits for nuclear waste, forcing it to go around South America.
The Barnwell site, operated by Chem-Nuclear Systems LLC, was the only site available to Edison for disposal of the reactor vessel. Barnwell is scheduled to close its doors to California's nuclear waste in 2008, unless South Carolina agrees to extend the date.
"Disposal of nuclear materials is something that should be continued to be allowed," Golden said. "We hope that in the future there might come available to us facilities closer to us that would allow the disposal of materials."
The decommissioned reactor generated enough power for 450,000 homes from 1968 until it was shutdown in 1992. Modifications that could have kept it running were deemed too expensive.
On the Net:
Southern California Edison, http://www.edison.com/
Transportation Department, www.dot.gov
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, www.nrc.gov
Barnwell disposal site, http://www.chemnuclear.com/