By Shawn Raymundo

Operations to dismantle the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) will be scaled back amid the continuing public health crisis, Southern California Edison announced last week.

Per Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “safer at home” order meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and flatten the curve, SoCal Edison said it will temporarily curtail some of the deconstruction work that had begun in February.

“We have protocols we’ve implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These protocols are designed to keep our employees safe while allowing certain critical work to continue,” SCE Vice President Doug Bauder said in a press release. “This is an ever-changing situation, at the national, state and local levels, and we are staying flexible in our level of response.”

The years-long process of deconstructing the power plant officially got underway in late February. Some of the dismantlement plans include the removal of the containment domes, as well as above-grade structures related to Units 2 and 3.

In Edison’s March 25 press release, the company stated it had taken additional steps to limit what work can be done, adding that in the days ahead it would evaluate which deconstruction projects can move forward.

John Dobken, spokesperson for Edison, said on Tuesday, March 31, that some of the projects that will continue are the removal of asbestos in the containment domes and the removal of the Unit 1 reactor pressure vessel.

The pressure vessel, Dobken said, will be shipped offsite using the plant’s upgraded rail and is expected to occur within the next couple of months.

One of the more essential efforts of decommissioning SONGS, which officially went offline in 2013, has been the ongoing transfer of the plant’s spent nuclear fuel from the wet pools into the dry storage facility, or the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI).

SoCal Edison said it will continue its transfer operations while putting in place additional measures to protect employees. Dobken explained that one such measure includes practicing social distancing.

“Basically, it’s people who are able to space themselves six feet away while the download occurs,” he said. “Everyone has their own screens, as it were. So people don’t have to share screens as the downloading is going on and maintaining the spacing while it’s happening. Also, everyone utilizes headsets, so they maintain distancing while still having communication going on.”

The company, back in early February, was targeting a late summer time frame of being able to complete the fuel transfers. So far, Edison has downloaded 56 canisters containing nuclear waste into the ISFSI and has another 17 to go.

Asked whether the coronavirus pandemic has slowed Edison’s pace, Dobken noted that while the plant did suspend downloading early last week so employees can get trained on the new protocols, crews have still maintained their one-canister-download-per-week routine.

“So, with that, obviously it set us back a couple of days, but the last canister was downloaded Friday night,” Dobken said.

Other preventative measures Edison said it has adopted at the plant include canceling non-essential meetings—conducting other meetings via teleconference—suspending site tours and holding public meetings online, wiping down work stations before and after shift changes, and setting up health self-screening stations at site entrances.

“We are asking employees coming on site to self-screen at the start of each shift, to ask themselves some basic questions related to COVID-19 and their personal situations,” Bauder said in the release. “It starts with something as simple as ‘how do you feel?’ ”

Additional information about SONGS can be found at songscommunity.com.

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