Nuclear Safety Resources

The Issue

Southern California Edison is storing 3.6 million pounds of high-level radioactive material at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.  The utility is moving the material from cooling ponds into thin-walled steel canisters, which will be entombed in a concrete bunker two feet above the water table and about 100 feet from the ocean.  

It gets worse: The nuclear plant (it closed in 2013 because of equipment failures) is located on a seismic fault-line; a tsunami could reach San Onofre; rising sea levels could inundate the storage vault, and the storage system is largely unprotected and vulnerable to terrorist strikes.  

If the system were to fail our environment, our economy and our health could be imperiled. That’s not just Southern California, but all 8.4 million people.  

The nuclear power plant at San Onofre operated fro 1968 to 2013 at its oceanfront location in northernmost San Diego County.  The plant’s twin, dome-shaped reactors remain as a highly-visible landmark from Interstate 5 and the coastal railway.  Located just south of the Orange County line, the plant is 46 miles south of Long Beach and 50 miles north of downtown San Diego. 

Potential Impact: A Waste Storage Accident Could Cost $13 Trillion

During the second week of May 2019 experts and advocates for nuclear safety traveled to Washington DC for a Congressional Briefing titled, “Decommissioning: A New Era in the U.S. Nuclear Power Industry; a Critical Need for Congressional Oversight”.  They shared their insights, concerns, and solutions for improving the current nuclear safety system in the U.S.

Participants and hosts included: Environmental and Energy Study Institute, The Honorable Greg Jaczko, Rear Admiral Len Hering, Sr. USN (Ret.), Leona Morgan, Bemnet Alemayehu, Marvin Resnikoff, Kevin Kamps, and Mary Olson.

Potential Impact: A Waste Storage Accident Could Cost $13 Trillion

On January 8, 2019 the Samuel Lawrence Foundation and partners released two reports on the technical and potential economic impacts of the serious San Onofre Nuclear Waste Storage Problems which we face.

The reports were assembled by a team of physicists, former military personnel and engineers with nuclear experience. The potential impact of a nuclear waste accident at San Onofre could reach $13.4 trillion.

Download the 2019 Expert Assessment Reports (pdf)

Containment Challenges

January 2, 2019: This KPBS TV interview describes the problems with the storage of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) site using thin-walled canisters.

Nuclear waste is accumulating across the country and the federal government has provided nowhere to get rid of it.  Southern California Edison’s storage solution, however, is unacceptable. 

The steel canisters are prone to corrosion and cracking.  They can’t be monitored, much less fixed. If the salty air, tidal or geologic conditions or a hydrogen explosion were to damage the canisters, moving them to a permanent disposal site would become impossible.

An inspection by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of Southern California Edison and its contractor, Holtec International was recently conducted. It stemmed from the August incident in which a fully-loaded canister came within a quarter-inch of falling 18 feet. Regulators have since ordered a halt to the loading of spent fuel into the seaside storage vault.

At SLF, we support independent science. Our current pursuit is to gather as much quantitative research about nuclear waste storage. Globally dry cask storage is experimental.  The technology is so new and has not been tested with radiological material over a long-term scientific study.

Edison on nuclear waste: Just trust us

April 14, 2019

Just trust us.

That’s the gist of Southern California Edison’s message regarding its handling of 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

As reported March 19 by Jordan Ingram, (Edison: ‘We could have done a better job’ handling canister incident), the utility is committed to regaining the public’s trust after a near-accident in August. Edison officials said they would keep a closer eye on the contractors transferring the highly-radioactive material from cooling pools to a dry-storage vault 100 feet from the ocean.

That sounds a lot like a repeat drunk driver telling the judge he won’t do it again.

Anyone living within a 50-mile radius of the waste – that’s 8.4 million of us – should demand more than promises. And that demand should come from elected representatives at all levels as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission renders its final enforcement decisions. The panel’s action could permit the waste transfer to resume.

Since the Aug. 3 near-miss, Edison officials have shown no substantive changes to the transfer process, such as requiring that handlers receive certifications or a willingness to allow oversight by a third party. As far as we know, none of the utility’s or contractor’s leadership has been fired, even though a 50-ton canister of nuclear waste came within a quarter-inch of crashing 18 feet into a storage cavity. The incident came to light only after a whistle-blower reported it.

Beyond all this are fatal flaws with the storage system itself, which regulators acknowledge but seem unwilling to do anything about.

The behemoth transport rig that moves the canisters to the vault is anything but precise. In fact, when the lumbering machine lowers the canisters, they bang and scratch against steel rings inside the storage cavity. The canisters are gouged deeply enough for corrosion and cracks to spread. And once the 5/8-inch-thick canisters are entombed, they can’t be monitored or inspected. Damaged or leaking canisters can’t be unloaded and repacked.

That begs questions about Canister No. 29, the one that almost fell: How badly was it gouged? How can it be safe to leave it in the vault?

And the other 28 already stored — how badly damaged are they?

Why in the world would we allow Edison to load the remaining 44?

What needs to happen for our government to keep us safe? Our Federal Aviation Administration was slow to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8. Now, the FBI has launched a criminal investigation into the FAA’s certification of the airplane. Similarly, nuclear industry experts have shown evidence that the Holtec waste storage system is seriously flawed. When will the same scrutiny be applied to possible collusion among the NRC, Edison and Holtec?

Big changes need to happen to protect the public from the most-hazardous waste on the planet. Regulators, Edison and Holtec have shown no reason why we should just trust them.

Bart Ziegler, PhD, President of The Samuel Lawrence Foundation.

Nuclear Waste
by the Numbers

3.6 million – Pounds of nuclear waste stored at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

13 – Average sized locomotives needed to reach an equivalent weight

8.4 million – People living within 50 miles of the plant 

108 – Feet separating the dry storage facility from the ocean 

2 – Feet separating the dry storage facility from the water table 

37 – Fuel assemblies to be packed into each steel canister 

100,000 – Years that Uranium, Plutonium, Cesium waste remains unsafe 

Source:  Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune


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