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Plans to Ship Nuclear Reactor to
South Carolina Abandoned


Paraphrased by:
Steve Waldrop
February 4, 2004

Southern California Edison abandoned a plan to send 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, ending years of political and environmental wrangling over a hunk of low-level radioactive waste that generated an international controversy.

"We've experienced delays beyond our control in finalizing satisfactory arrangements for the shipment," Southern California Edison spokesman Ray Golden said in a statement Tuesday. "As a result, we have missed the last window of opportunity to leave in time to meet deadlines."

The cancellation means the reactor won't make an unprecedented 11,000-mile sea voyage to Charleston en route to a burial at state-owned Chem-Nuclear near Barnwell, which stood to make about $5 million by accepting the waste.

The utility's plan to ship the decommissioned reactor by barge from its home near San Diego around the tip of South America to Charleston recently prompted Argentina to ban the cargo from passing near its coastline.

But concern that a treacherous sea passage around Cape Horn could send the reactor toppling to the ocean floor was just the latest setback for the proposed shipment.

U.S. highway officials didn't want the reactor traveling across the country to South Carolina, and Panama Canal officials declined a weight waiver for the reactor. The Port of Charleston decided against handling the shipment.

Golden said the utility will store the reactor on-site at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Diego, "where it remains completely safe and poses absolutely no risk to the public or the environment."

The reactor housed uranium fuel when it was active at the Edison power plant from 1968 until 1992. It began a $500 million decommissioning process in 1999. The fuel was removed from the reactor almost a decade ago, and the shell was filled with and surrounded by concrete and encased in a steel canister.

The utility left open the possibility of revisiting efforts to move the reactor by land to Barnwell. But the utility would have to renegotiate a contract with the waste site and revisit the federal and state permitting maze it had already navigated.

There's also a deadline looming. In 2008, South Carolina's waste acceptance compact with Connecticut and New Jersey takes effect. Nuclear waste from California or any other state outside the compact will no longer be welcome.

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.