California activists want to send nuclear waste to Palo Verde

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

San Onofre State Beach is a kind of hidden gem among surfers.

“I first surfed here when I was about 5 years old," said Larry Daum, who was getting ready to head into the ocean on his new paddle board. He describes San Onofre as a nice break that both beginners and veterans can enjoy.

But there is something about the view here that looks just a little out of place. It’s a nuclear power plant, right on the beach.

"You've got to put them somewhere. But it's kind of a funny place to it right here next to a classic surf area," said Daum.

[RELATED: NRC starts special inspection at Palo Verde nuclear plant]

It's not just a beach-side curiosity. The power plant houses 3.6 million pounds of radioactive waste. The reactor shut down in 2013 after a radioactive leak. Southern California Edison, which owns the plant, wants to keep the facility's radioactive waste on site, but not everyone likes that idea.

"It's probably the worst place you could find," said Ray Lutz who is the founder of Citizen's Oversight.

[SPECIAL SECTION: CBS 5 Investigates]

Lutz sued Southern California Edison over its plan to house the nuclear waste. As a result, the power company agreed to hire a panel of experts to explore alternative locations farther from the ocean and the millions of nearby residents. One of those alternative sites is Palo Verde.

"It is a requirement that they go to APS, Arizona Public Service that runs the plant, and ask them to take the waste. I think it's a good place," said Lutz.

The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station is the largest nuclear power plant in the United States, located 40 miles west of Phoenix, and Southern California Edison is a part owner.

[RELATED: Power towers taken down near nuclear plant site]

"The problem is if this stuff comes here, it may never leave. And the next thing you know, Arizona becomes the nuclear dump," said Steve Brittle, an environmental activist who worries that "this" could set a precedent, because nuclear power plants across the country need someplace to permanently store their radioactive waste.

Palo Verde already has its own growing stockpile of nuclear waste and APS officials say they are not interested in taking any more.

"I don't see anything advantageous to APS," said Bob Bement, who is the executive vice president and chief nuclear officer at Palo Verde.

"Southern California Edison came and presented to the other owners and talked about, ‘Would you be willing to pursue taking the fuel?’ And the owners voted no," he said.

[RELATED: How the nation's largest nuclear power plant stays cool in Arizona's summer heat]

Bement says that vote took place just last month and although the companies can always reconsider, he believes the most likely solution is that the government or some other company will create a permanent storage facility somewhere else, where all of the country's spent nuclear fuel can go.

“That is the most likely scenario and I think San Onofre is going to help push that," said Bement.

But until that happens, 3.6 million pounds of radioactive waste sits on the beach in Southern California and activists like Ray Lutz say they will continue to try to force the plant owner to send it somewhere else.

"Let's talk about what could be a good business deal for APS. Can we pay you something to take this on? You could make money. But let's just not say OK we don't want it," said Lutz.

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Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award, and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. In October 2016, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School at Purdue University Global. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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