Paul Coughlin began his journey as a marine engineer, guiding scientists on research vessels on the open sea. He navigated his way to nuclear energy through opportunities on the East Coast before joining Southern California Edison (SCE) in 1983, just as the San Onofre nuclear plant’s Unit 2 was beginning its maiden voyage.

Along the way, the SCE supply manager learned that good leaders have a clear vision and know how to start slow and finish fast to make sure a job is done properly. He brought these traits to his job directing the sale and auction of surplus inventory after SCE decided in June 2013 to permanently retire the San Onofre nuclear plant.

Coughlin’s knowledge paid dividends in March when San Onofre auctioned thousands of items to more than 300 bidders who acquired surplus parts, machinery and sheet metal fabricators at discount prices.

“I’m most proud of the fact that the first auction was conducted safely,” Coughlin said, noting there were no injuries associated with all the moving and heavy lifting of equipment that weighed several tons.  “Secondly, I’m pleased that we are providing an environmental benefit by putting this surplus metal and machinery to good use rather than selling it for scrap or disposing of it in a landfill.”

Coughlin’s 12-member asset recovery team is gearing up for another auction at the San Onofre nuclear plant June 11 and 12 that will offer hundreds of pieces of equipment, circuitry items and surplus parts. No items for sale are associated with the radiological operations of the plant.

“We have tried to be very meticulous in cataloging and organizing all the surplus inventory and we focused from the outset on getting an experienced auctioneer,” Coughlin said. SCE retained MRI Auctions Inc., an industrial machinery auctioneer in Simi Valley, Calif., largely because of its prior experience with a New York nuclear plant auction.

Bidders may register on the MRI website, as well as view pictures of the items for sale. Following the June auction at San Onofre, Coughlin said MRI will hold periodic online auctions throughout the summer to continue to pare inventory at the nuclear plant, just south of San Clemente.

Coughlin said his team made a conscious decision to also look for ways to convert the untimely shutdown of San Onofre into a community benefit. He said SCE has donated hundreds of items — furniture, ladders, fencing — to local schools, hospitals, churches, businesses and labor unions.

Once the inventory is cleared, SCE will vacate what is known as the Mesa area of the San Onofre nuclear plant — warehouses and offices east of Interstate 5.

“Our goal is to get the Mesa area ready to return to the Navy,” Coughlin said, noting that SCE has lease and easement agreements with the federal government for the land occupied by San Onofre. “We understand the Navy may like to keep some buildings so we will preserve those and remove what they don’t need.”

The process of dismantling the actual nuclear plant facility will not begin until at least early 2016, after federal regulators review the detailed decommissioning plan SCE plans to submit later this year.

“It’s important to begin with the end in mind — to visualize where you want to be,” Coughlin said.

Couglin’s team embraced SCE’s decommissioning principles — safety, stewardship and engagement — when developing the asset sale strategy to optimize environmental, financial and community benefits.

“We knew we had valuable items that could be put to good use elsewhere and we knew we had an opportunity to give back to the community,” he said. “I think the entire team is proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

San Onofre Surplus Inventory Auction

Preview: June 9 & 10, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. PDT or online
When:    June 11 & 12, beginning at 9 a.m. PDT
Where:   San Onofre Nuclear Plant, near San Clemente, CA  
         
     Online: www.mriauctions.com
Details:   Registration and cash deposit required