SONGS "Watchdogs" Keep a Close Eye on the Environment

The coastline bordered by San Onofre State Beach to the north and south and owned by the U.S. Navy as part of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, has been home to the San Onofre nuclear plant for more than 50 years. The area is one of the treasures of Southern California as evidenced by the number of people who annually visit the adjacent state park to surf or camp.

Southern California Edison has made a commitment throughout those past 50 years that continues today during decommissioning: to limit the impact of the plant on the surrounding environment. One of the ways SCE fulfills this commitment is through an ongoing, well-regulated environmental monitoring program. SCE has been carefully monitoring the environment surrounding the plant for decades, making it one of the most continuously studied coastal areas in the U.S.

Brian Metz, Environmental Manager, SCE

“The Radiological Effluent Monitoring Program, or REMP for short, is a comprehensive program that involves many types of samples,” said Brian Metz, SCE environmental manager. “The program verifies the releases of radioactive materials in effluents, both water and air, have minimal radiological impact on the surrounding environment. What we have learned is that those decades of analyses show no adverse impacts.”

The REMP was established by federal regulations and must adhere to Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Environmental Protection Agency requirements. It contains procedures to implement the program, as well as to determine the extent and nature of the radiological changes in the ecosystem that may result from plant operation. It ensures compliance with regulatory commitments.

The REMP samples are sent offsite for analysis. Effluent sample analysis is performed onsite by trained professionals, with monthly radiological composites sent offsite for analysis. The onsite lab is certified by the Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program for all National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System parameters and is inspected by the State of California.

Metz has been involved with the program since 1984, when he spent the summer as an intern working in the SONGS environmental department. Three years later, he joined SCE on a full-time basis. He began the hazardous waste program at San Onofre, developed hazmat emergency responses, and ultimately managed the mixed waste program (which includes radioactive and hazardous wastes). Through that experience he developed two U.S. patents for a process that removes radioactivity from oil. He was inspired by the arrival of his first child (and the changing of diapers) to develop a method to decrease landfill space through solidification by using a superabsorbent.

“I started in the Environmental group’s radiological environmental monitoring program. I loved the fact that we were the ‘watchdogs’ of the environment,” Metz recalls. “As manager of the Environmental group, our job remained always protecting the environment and striving for 100% compliance with the regulations.” 

Environmental Sampling Program

REMP sampling includes an array of 49 TLDs, or Thermoluminescent Dosimeters. Some are located around the site to review and record radiation dose. Others are located off-site, including six throughout San Clemente and around Camp Pendleton. There are also TLDs around the dry fuel storage systems. Although not part of the REMP, they are still documented within the annual report. These TLDs are maintained around the plant 365 days a year and are changed out quarterly. They show the dose from the plant site is less than 1 millirem a year. The Environmental Protection Agency limit is 25 millirem a year for a member of the public.  

Many of the sampling locations are cross-checked by the California Department of Public Health, which has its own independent TLD program. CDPH collects their TLDs and sends them to their own labs for analysis.

Air particulate samples are collected on a weekly basis from eight different locations around the plant site. These air samplers are running 365 days a year. CDPH also has their own air sampler located next to an SCE sampler and takes independent air particulate samples, sending the filter to its own lab. An air sampler is even located at City Hall in San Clemente.

Air Monitoring Station
An air monitoring and TLD station located near the San Onofre nuclear plant site.

Marine Sampling

Additionally, SCE collected ocean water from four locations on a monthly basis and recently added three additional monthly ocean water samples per our lease agreement with the California State Lands Commission. The following samples are collected on a semiannual and/or annual basis:

  • Shoreline sediment (6 locations)
  • Ocean bottom sediments (5 locations)
  • Kelp (4 locations)
  • Marine species (two non-migratory adult fish, one crustacea, one mollusk)
  • Soil samples (5 locations)
  • Local crops (2 locations)

Many of these sample materials are also provided to the CDPH as a split sample and sent to their labs for cross comparison or cross-checking. All of the REMP samples are also sent to a Contracted Environmental Analysis Laboratory (CEAL) for verification.

“We post the reports to our website, and you can even see the sampling locations via an interactive map. It shows which samples are taken where,” said Metz.

The interactive map and most recent environmental monitoring reports can be found here on the SONGS Community website.

(Posted Dec. 14, 2020)