Public Safety at Stake in Debate Over Nuclear Waste Storage at San Onofre

November 18, 2020

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared: Voice of OC, 18-Nov, 2020

Thousands of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste will be stored onsite at San Onofre indefinitely

SoCal Edison’s spokesperson, John Dobken, authored an Oct. 20 editorial touting the dry nuclear waste storage system Edison chose when a radiation leak from steam generator malfunction forced permanent closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in 2013. Ignoring for the moment the numerous obfuscations and omissions of critical facts, the essence of Dobken’s article is this: Edison wants to divert public attention away from the inadequacies of its dry canister storage system while promising that a deep geological national repository, as mandated in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, will magically materialize before their storage canisters fail.

There’s plenty Dobken did not say that the public needs to know.

First off, we are nearly four decades past passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and there is no tangible progress toward creation of a national repository operated by the Department of Energy. The cold hard reality is that no state wants it and, worse still, there is no feasible technology currently available to make a geological repository workable, according to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. Plans for a geological repository at Yucca Mountain were rejected by Nevada, and subsequent proposals for “interim” storage sites in Texas and New Mexico are opposed by those states too.

Thus, the dream of a national repository remains in limbo for the foreseeable future, and it’s misleading to suggest otherwise. Also misleading is Dobken’s suggestion that, if needed, a failing canister could be transported to “a centralized Department of Energy facility” for repackaging in the future, as no such facility exists anywhere in the United States for this purpose.

Consequently, the plan throughout the country is to leave highly radioactive nuclear waste onsite indefinitely. The relevant 2014 report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) openly states that a repository might never become available. Like all other nuclear plant operators in the United States, Edison is saddled with a storage task never originally intended.

For dry storage, Edison chose thin-walled (just 5/8 inch thick), welded-shut stainless steel canisters which contrast sharply with the 10-19 inch thick-walled and bolted-shut casks many nuclear waste safety advocates in Orange, San Diego, and Los Angeles Counties are advocating for. Unlike the thick casks, SONGS’s canisters are vulnerable to stress corrosion cracking from numerous conditions, such as a salty marine environment like San Onofre. A 2019 Department of Energy report assigned “#1 Priority” to the risk of through-wall cracking in welded, stainless steel canisters in a moist salty environment.

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Dust-Ups Continue over Radioactive Waste Storage at San Onofre

August 31, 2020

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared:
Fullerton Observer, 02-Sept, 2020
E-Magazine, 04-Sept, 2020
Times of San Diego, 07-Sept, 2020
Irvine Community News & Views, 07-Sept, 2020
Surf City Voice, 08-Sept, 2020
Voice of OC, 10-Sept, 2020
Escondido Grapevine, 12-Nov, 2020

In-ground storage pad at San Onofre holds thin-walled canisters at the heart of ongoing controversy over beachfront storage of radioactive nuclear waste

The decommissioning of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) has been riddled with controversies since it was shuttered in 2013, undermining public confidence in Southern California Edison’s management of highly radioactive nuclear waste which will be stored on-site for the foreseeable future.

In 2018 for example, a whistleblower exposed how a 54-ton canister loaded with radioactive waste nearly plummeted 18 feet because of a design flaw and human error, prompting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to cite Edison with the most serious violation ever imposed on a spent fuel licensee.

The most recent dispute centers on the green light the California Coastal Commission gave Edison on July 16 to remove the cooling pools where spent fuel rods were submerged for several years to begin cooling down. Edison argued the pools aren’t needed anymore because the rods have all been transferred into dry storage canisters.

Each of SONGS’s 123 canisters holds roughly the same amount of Cesium-137 as released during the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

At issue is this: If a canister were to begin degrading, creating risk of radiation release, returning it to the cooling pools is the only means whereby the contents could be repackaged into a new canister. Nonetheless, Edison convinced the Coastal Commission that an untested, unapproved nickel “cold spray” overlay technology could be applied to patch degrading canisters, making the cooling pools unnecessary.

NRC spokesperson David McIntyre confirmed that NRC has neither evaluated nor approved any method for fixing a canister. The only sure solution is to replace the canister.

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Public at Risk: Scandals at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

August 1, 2019

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Versions appeared:
Escondido Grapevine, 08-Aug, 2019
Fullerton Observer, 08-Aug, 2019
Times of San Diego, 12-Aug, 2019
Voice of OC, 01-Oct, 2019

Beachfront in-ground nuclear waste storage silos at San Onofre

Two recent scandals force the question: Is public safety the top priority of either the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or SoCal Edison as they lurch forward in removing spent nuclear waste from cooling pools and loading into dry storage at the now shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS)?

In August 2018, a conscience-driven whistle blower exposed how, because of a system design flaw and human error, a 54-ton canister loaded with radioactive spent fuel nearly crashed down 18 feet during a procedure to load it into an in-ground dry storage silo. He also detailed a general atmosphere of neglect for public safety by both the NRC and Edison.

A subsequent Special Inspection led the NRC to conclude that the incident was caused by “inadequate training, inadequate procedures, poor utilization of the corrective action program, and insufficient oversight.” Torgen Johnson, project director at the Samuel Lawrence Foundation who was instrumental in getting SONGS shut down, finds this deceptive because it places all the blame on personnel while ignoring the “defective engineering, design defects, and sloppy fabrication” of the storage system at SONGS.

NRC imposed an $116,000 civil penalty on Edison and cited the incident as a Severity Level II violation, the second most serious possible violation. NRC spokesperson David McIntyre confirmed that no spent fuel licensee has ever received a Level I violation and that Edison is the first to receive a Level II, making it the single most serious violation in the country.

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Ticking Time Bomb at San Onofre Nuclear Plant

December 29, 2017

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Voice of OC, 01-Jan, 2018
Fullerton Observer, Jan, 2018
San Diego Free Press, 03-Jan, 2018
E-Magazine, 05-Jan, 2018
Times of San Diego, 06-Jan, 2018
Escondido Grapevine, 21-Jan, 2018

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) abuts I-5 Fwy and ocean. Photo: Jelson25, Wikimedia Commons.

The seaside nuclear reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente were permanently shut down in 2013 following steam generator malfunction. What to do with the 3.6 million pounds of highly radioactive waste remains an epic problem, however, pitting concerned citizens against Southern California Edison, the California Coastal Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Edison operates San Onofre, the Coastal Commission is charged with protecting the coastline, and the NRC is responsible for long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel and protecting the public.

The Problem
A reactor’s spent nuclear fuel must be stored safely for 250,000 years to allow the radioactivity to dissipate. San Onofre’s nuclear waste has been stored in containers 20 feet under water in cooling pools for at least five years, the standard procedure for on-site temporary storage. Long-term storage necessitates transfer to fortified dry-storage canisters for eventual transportation to a permanent national storage site which, under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the federal government is under obligation to construct.

However, the plan to build an underground repository at Yucca Mountain in the Nevadan desert was ditched in 2011 out of concern that deep groundwater could destabilize the canisters, leaving the United States with literally no plan on the horizon for permanent storage of nuclear waste from San Onofre or any other of the country’s nuclear power plants. In fact, under the NRC’s newest plan – the so-called Generic Environmental Impact Statement – nuclear power plant waste might be stored on-site forever.

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