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Heavy NUKE Load
A Bridge Too Far

Don Mosier | Rimini Road

The 770-ton Unit 1 nuclear reactor core packaged for rail transportation. Picture courtesy of Southern California Edison.

Southern California Edison (SCE) has announced plans to move the reactor core from Unit 1, the nuclear generation reactor that operated from 1968 until 1992, from San Onofre to a low-level nuclear waste disposal site in Clive, Utah. In terms of the plans for decommissioning Units 2 and 3, which ceased operation in 2012, this move previews some of the coming challenges.
First, the Unit 1 core has been stored with a concrete overpack for 28 years while radiation levels declined to a level safe for transport. Techniques for dismantling Units 2 and 3 cores will be different, but the decay of radioactivity is a constant factor. When will they be safe to remove from the current site?

1977 Patent drawing of the Schnabel train car; U.S. Patent Office.

Second, the transport of this very heavy 770-ton load by rail is a challenge. I was intrigued by the use of a Schnabel car, a rail vehicle that I had never heard of. There is a picture of a Schnabel train above. It consists of what looks like two giant fork lifts facing each other with the heavy canister supported by both. An interesting historical twist is that the design originated in Germany during World War II and was used to transport heavy weapons. The train is limited to 25 mph and the load can be adjusted side-to-side to aid in maneuvering around obstacles on curves.

The load to be transported over our aging rail infrastructure will be equal to the weight of the Schnabel cars (370 tons) and the Unit 1 core reactor vessel (770 tons) for a total of 1100 tons distributed over the 36 axles. The rail spur servicing SONGS has been reinforced to handle this load, but what about the rail bridges between Southern California and central Utah? For local reference, the 104-year old rail bridge over the San Dieguito River in Del Mar has had multiple reinforcements over the last decade to handle freight trains without excess deflection.

Can you imagine the scenario if a 1100-ton load were to cross that bridge?



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