Inside the nation's biggest nuclear power plant tear-down

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1. Cool it

At the San Onofre nuclear power plant, employees switch 2,668 gasoline assemblies—holding 1,109 metric tons of radioactive uranium-235—to 17-foot-tall stainless-­metal containers. These sit inside a deep, steel-lined cooling pool for a number of years, chilling at temperatures round 68 levels Fahrenheit, till employees can transfer them to storage.

2. Entomb it

After the gasoline cools, employees match the canisters into 20-foot-deep concrete casks embedded in the floor. The concrete helps lure the gasoline’s radiation inside, whereas vents flow into air to maintain it cool. These casks, which can be monitored and guarded round the clock, are sturdy sufficient to resist earthquakes, tsunamis, even the affect of a jet crash.

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three. Rip it

Remotely managed instruments reduce up the extremely contaminated gear (lower than .04 % of the particles). Other robotic machines will take away the most tainted waste. Then employees—utilizing hydraulic hammers, saws, and bulldozers—rip aside the buildings. Mundane workplace supplies like shelving, furnishings, and insulation fill out the junk pile.

four. Ship it

Demolition produces greater than 25 million cubic toes of particles—rebar, concrete, and piping—sufficient to fill a decent-size college-­soccer stadium. The San Onofre web site hosts as much as 60 rail vehicles at a time, ready to cart off the low-level radiation particles. Trucks haul the nontainted stuff—75 % of the complete—to landfills in Texas and Arizona.

5. Bury it

Freight vehicles carry the low-level radioactive particles—now packed in drums, baggage, and huge containers—to a nuclear-­waste landfill in the Utah desert. Workers there verify and doc radiation ranges, then bury the stuff in “embankments,” from eight toes beneath grade to 38 toes above grade, in sedimentary rock and coated in clay and rock.


This article was initially printed in the January/February 2018 Power concern of Popular Science.

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