Protecting San Onofre’s Cultural Heritage during Decommissioning

The California State Lands Commission environmental impact report for the dismantlement of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) contains a series of mitigation measures that serve to protect natural and cultural resources.

Southern California Edison (SCE) will continue to comply with these measures as it develops its dismantlement plans and executes demolition work over the next seven years.

Equally important is the coordination that is taking place with key stakeholders.

In the area of cultural, Tribal cultural, and paleontological resources, SCE and its decommissioning contractor, SONGS DecommissioningSolutions (SDS), have contracted with qualified and approved professionals to provide monitoring, reporting and treatment of any unanticipated discoveries.

“These resource specialists are critical team members to ensure that any finds are properly identified and protected,” said Heather Neely, environmental science advisor for SCE. “They will help us to be as transparent as possible as we move through the dismantlement phase of the project.”

Environmental Awareness Training is in place to guide workers on what to do before disturbing the ground, and how to report discovery of cultural artifacts or fossils.

The SDS team has built and maintains a schedule that allows for proper notice for when monitors are needed, such as when ground disturbance is happening. Additionally, all employees on site are provided Worker Environmental Awareness Program training. The training outlines worker responsibilities to make certain monitors are present, when necessary, as well as what to do if an artifact or fossil is discovered.

Given that SONGS is an industrial site that has previously undergone ground disturbance and excavation, it’s unlikely such resources would be found. When Units 2 and 3 were constructed, the depth of excavation (and bluff removal) was significantly below the level that would contain any historic or even pre-historic materials. Nevertheless, it is important that decommissioning activities are monitored in the event of unanticipated discoveries.

A second mitigation measure covers this scenario:

If potentially significant archaeological or Tribal cultural resources are discovered during demolition activities, work within 100 feet of the find shall be temporarily suspended or redirected away from the discovery...”

“We worked with participating Tribes, and in compliance with this measure, to prepare a Treatment Plan to address any unanticipated discoveries. The plan outlines the process to be followed to protect any materials should they be unearthed,” said Corinne Lytle-Bonine, SDS Environmental Permitting.

Tribal Outreach

Ongoing engagement with local Tribes is essential to the program’s success. This ensures that the Tribes are given meaningful and sufficient information to determine the appropriate levels of ongoing participation as the site moves through decommissioning.

Recently, several Tribal members participated in a July 1 tour that provided an overview of the decommissioning process. The tour highlighted building demolition work, which provided context for SCE and SDS’s ongoing Tribal engagement. Tribal leaders from the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians, and Community Engagement Panel member Capt. Mel Vernon of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians were in attendance.

Capt. Mel Vernon
Mel Vernon of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians (left) participates in a recent tour of SONGS to learn more about the work taking place to identify and protect any cultural resources found on site.

“What I learned and witnessed from our field trip to SONGS is that all aspects of taking the plant apart, piece by piece, doing it safely, while addressing the environmental issues in real-time are taken seriously,” Vernon said. “We want to have the communication lines in place between the Native Monitors, Archaeologists, and construction supervisors. Having a good working relationship early on helps to avoid unforeseen problems that might happen in the future.”

California has a rich cultural history and the mitigation measures with which SONGS decommissioning complies support protection of all cultural and environmental resources.

(Posted July 23, 2021)