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Workers Pull Retired Reactor From Its Dome at San Onofre

Unit 1 once provided enough power for 500,000 homes and businesses. It will go to by sea to a disposal site in South Carolina.

October 13, 2002|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writers

Using a massive crane, workers at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station slowly -- and carefully -- removed a 600-ton nuclear reactor from one of the power plant's three distinctive domes Saturday morning.

It took about 100 workers and engineers less than 90 minutes to remove the reactor from Unit 1, the plant's oldest, which produced power for Southern California Edison from 1968 to 1992, when it was shut down.

Removing the reactor was a key step in a nine-year, $500-million decommission project that began in 1999. Drivers along Interstate 5 could see the 380-foot crane easing the delicate payload out of its concrete dome.

But unless they pulled over and stopped, they probably didn't see it move. The reactor was lifted out at one foot per minute. Its fuel was removed in 1993.

"It wasn't dangerous from a radiation standpoint," said Edison spokesman Ray Golden. "But it was a very heavy lift."

The crane, owned by a Washington state company, is one of the world's most powerful. It was brought to San Onofre by 75 tractor trailers and took five weeks to assemble.

To get to the reactor, workers removed the top of the 30-inch thick, steel-reinforced concrete dome. Then they cut a 25-foot hole from the top of a steel containment building that housed the reactor.

Concrete was poured into the reactor to "keep everything in place," Golden said. Once the reactor was removed, it was lowered into a steel canister and more concrete was poured around it. Workers will later weld a steel top to the canister to make it airtight.

Sometime next year, the reactor will be loaded onto a vehicle that has about 30 axles and 200 tires. It will be driven at 1 mph on Highway 101, through San Onofre State Park and to a basin on Camp Pendleton where it will be loaded onto a barge, which will float the reactor to a radioactive disposal site in South Carolina -- the only facility in the nation that will take it.

Unit 1 once provided enough energy for 500,000 homes and businesses. Edison decommissioned the reactor because it needed about $100 million in upgrades. They also wanted some of the engineers who helped build it a generation ago to help dismantle it before they retired.

"The job has come full circle for some of these individuals," Golden said.

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