Keep on Truckin’?
By Alex Distefano
Southern California Edison recently confirmed that several truckloads of nuclear waste emitting low levels of radioactivity have traveled through parts of the IE, including portions of Temecula and Riverside. According to Southern California Edison public information officer Scott Andresen, the material is part of several deteriorated generators from the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station, and is being transported by truck to a facility in Utah where the components will be safely disassembled and stored.
The 800-mile trip, which began just over a week ago, will take place only at night, according to Andresen, for security reasons and to minimize the impact on local motorists.
“We are traveling on public roads and freeways, but we’re only going to be driving at night so as not to impact traffic,” Andresen tells the Weekly. “We will also not be traveling faster than 20 miles per hour, due to the nature of the cargo.”
But, is trucking nuclear waste 800 miles the safest mode to transport this material?
“We want to assure the public [that] we have taken every precaution and security measure for this,” Andresen says. “Aside from only traveling at night, we also have a convoy of CHP officers as well as four hired security guards who take rotating shifts with us. [W]e worked with cities, CalTrans and other agencies to provide places for the truck to park during the day.”
The material, which is contained inside several giant retired steam generators from San Onofre, is being held in truck containers that are longer than a football field. The truck has 192 wheels and the estimated weight of the entire shipment is 380 tons. This is just one shipment of four steam generators that were removed from the nuclear plant during a $680 million, two-year upgrade. The generators have been stored in San Onofre’s massive concrete containment domes for decades. The generators were used to convert the energy and heat from the nuclear reactions inside the plant into steam that was used to spin the plant’s electricity-generating turbines. Over the past two years, Edison replaced the large metal capsules with new, nearly identical units after engineers spotted microscopic cracks in some of the generator’s internal plumbing.
Andresen says that aside from a delay in the Oceanside area last week, there have been no other major problems, and the truck should reach Utah within three weeks. The truck had to take surface streets through North County en route to Interstate 15 in Oceanside because the shipment was too heavy for some overpasses on Highway 78. This caused a three-hour gridlock during late night traffic for travelers near the 15.
For security (and obvious) reasons, the public is being kept in the dark about the exact details of where the truck is at any given time.
“We want to minimize our interaction with the public by driving at night, but also want to make sure people realize this is not a huge safety threat,” Andresen says. “If one were to be exposed to this, it would be approximately the same as a dose from your local dental X-ray.”
This is the first shipment, but according to Andresen, there are already plans to move radioactive material connected to the three other San Onofre generators.