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RWQCB issues new discharge order for SONGS decommissioning

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

Southern California Edison, which is the majority owner of the former San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, plans to terminate discharges from SONGS into the Pacific Ocean by 2028 and the decommissioning is expected to be complete by 2051.

Although ocean water is no longer needed for power plant cooling purposes, the continued intake of ocean water is needed for the ongoing operation of saltwater pumps to discharge wastewater from the decommissioning activities through the Unit 2 ocean outfall.

On April 12, the Regional Water Quality Control Board unanimously voted to replace the previous waste discharge order with a new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

SONGS began operation in 1968. By April 1987, San Onofre was producing 17.4 terawatts of electricity. San Onofre ceased producing power in 2013 when Unit 2 and Unit 3 were shut down. Unit 1 had been shut down in 1992.

After San Onofre ceased producing power, SCE began preparations to decommission and dismantle the power plant. The RWQCB does not have the authority to regulate radioactive waste at SONGS. The regulation of radioactive waste, decommissioning of nuclear facilities, decontamination of nuclear material, and dismantlement of the power plant are under the purview of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

During the decommissioning process, SCE is discharging wastewater and seawater into the Pacific Ocean. SCE is no longer discharging wastewater from Unit 3 and is thus no longer discharging to the Unit 3 ocean outfall. Discharges from Unit 2 through the Unit 2 ocean outfall are still taking place, and SCE continues to receive ocean water from Unit 2 and Unit 3 intakes for the ongoing operation of saltwater pumps to discharge wastewater from the decommissioning activities through the Unit 2 ocean outfall.

Although the continued intake of ocean water is needed for the ongoing operation of saltwater pumps to discharge wastewater from the decommissioning activities, SCE has reduced intake flows by approximately 99%.

The new waste discharge order limits the intake of seawater to 30 million gallons per day (mgd) while limiting combined seawater and wastewater stream flows discharged back to the Pacific Ocean through the Unit 2 ocean outfall to 42.252 mgd, which is a reduction from the previous quantity of 56.3 mgd.

The draft revised waste discharge order was released for public review and comment Feb. 2. The public comment period closed March 6. SCE did not submit a comment letter, but eight comment letters were received and reviewed. Seven of those comment letters supported adoption of the tentative order while one requested changes to the Monitoring and Reporting Program. The change requests were incorporated into the final waste discharge order.

The monitoring frequency was changed from semi-annually to monthly to characterize the discharge and its impacts to the receiving water where there is heavy recreational use. Ocean sampling for fecal indicator bacteria to monitor for accumulation of toxicants in the marine environment, especially for nearshore areas with high recreational use at San Onofre State Beach, will be required.

Ocean sampling for toxicity and heavy metals to monitor for accumulation of toxicants in the marine environment, especially for nearshore areas with high recreational use at San Onofre State Beach, will also be required. Nearshore or onshore sediment sampling will be added for accumulated buildup of metals and toxicants of concern to ensure the safety of nearby recreational uses.

The new waste discharge order also adds effluent limitations for nickel and removes effluent limitations for arsenic, hexavalent chromium, and antimony. Monitoring will still be required for arsenic, hexavalent chromium, and antimony to determine if effluent limitations are required in the future.

 

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