Saturday, July 9, 2016

Nuclear security, neutralizing nuclear waste, storing SanO's waste at Palo Verde NPP

Last week (June 30th, 2016) I gave a 75-minute presentation on "consent-based siting" of nuclear waste, covering the basics of nuclear reactors and the various problems of used reactor core assemblies. I've posted that presentation online here:

(Note one correction: The half-life of Uranium-235 is about 700,000,000 years.)

Below is a discussion of security at nuclear power plants, a plan for neutralizing the waste (also discussed in the presentation), and a look at the possibility of moving the spent fuel at San Onofre, a closed nuclear power plant, to Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, which is scheduled to remain open for another 20 years. Also included are comments on moving the waste to PVNPP from Tom Palmisano, Vice President of Decommissioning and Chief Nuclear Officer San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Items shown below:
(1) Security at nuclear facilities
(2) A plan for neutralizing the U-235 and Pu-239 in nuclear waste
(3) Moving nuclear waste to an "interim" storage facility at Palo Verde
(4) Contact information for Ace Hoffman

(1) Security at nuclear facilities:

We talked briefly about security at nuclear facilities and you said you thought they were "very secure" locations.

I beg to differ:

The shooter at the Orlando nightclub was a security guard for the firm that "protects" 90% of America's nuclear power plants.

At a nuclear reactor in India, the head of security there turned on his fellow guards a few years ago, killing three. Fortunately he was acting alone and did not continue the attack to the facility itself.

This week in Dallas, Texas, a single shooter was able to kill five police officers and wound seven more before being subdued. The attacker claimed to have planted bombs throughout that city. And it comes as no surprise, considering the "skill" of the attacker, that he has been identified as a trained U.S. military veteran with experience in Afghanistan, and in the reserves.

If there is any better proof that security at our nuclear facilities is inadequate (the exact number is "classified" but is well known to be between three and five guards at any one time), one need only look at Baghdad, where one car bomb killed over 200 people in an instant. Or Beirut in 1983, when one truck bomb killed 241 American servicemen and women, along with over 60 others (mostly French troops).

More than 20 suicidal terrorists were involved in the 9-11 tragedy.

Most of the "iron coffins" (lookout posts) at San Onofre are unmanned at any one time. Security guards patrolling the spent fuel carry only sidearms and generally walk alone, and only periodically cover any one area.

The same technique used by the Dallas police this morning to kill the last suspect -- a remote controlled robot carrying a bomb -- can be used by terrorists next time. Not to mention flying drone bombs which can be controlled from more than a mile away with live video on board the drone.

After 9-11 there was a call for permanent anti-aircraft installations around each nuclear facility, which would have numerous problems and was never implemented. "No-fly zones" were also suggested and in some cases may have been implemented, but only for a few weeks and only below 5,000 feet. Problems with adding anti-aircraft installations would include the horrific possibility of shooting down the wrong planes, or of failing to shoot down the attacking plane(s) in the mere seconds it (they) would be in range, as well as either inadequate fields of fire or fields of fire that actually include the facility itself, along with extremely high costs for installation and maintenance of the facility, and continuous training and retraining of the personnel.

According to a National Academy of Sciences study, spent fuel dry cask storage containers cannot survive more than about 20 minutes in a jet fuel fire (the exact length of time and other details are "classified"). Yet the current plan for an "island" of sunken dry cask pods at San Onofre does NOT include a system to allow run-off of jet fuel, which the study suggested is imperative to prevent such a condition. Diablo Canyon's dry cask pad is also not designed for such a catastrophe. In fact, no dry cask facility in America seems to have taken into account the dangers revealed in the NAS study.

There should be no question that the security forces at any U.S. nuclear facility -- including San Onofre -- can be quickly overwhelmed. An estimate by the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) of $8 million per year spent per reactor for security is clearly a grossly inadequate amount. The current designs for spent fuel storage are grossly inadequate from a security standpoint, and are not "hardened" in any significant way.

(2) A plan for neutralizing the U-235 and Pu-239 in nuclear waste:

Dr. Peter M. Livingston, who has ample experience both in attending U.S. nuclear bomb tests in Nevada and working with radiochemistry issues, is not the first or only scientist to suggest that spent fuel nuclear waste should be neutralized to whatever extent is possible. However, as far as I know he is the only one with a patent (pending) on the subject.

It is well established, through experimentation with linear accelerators, that photons in the 10 to 15 million electron volt (MeV) range are capable of splitting fissile materials: Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239, the "active" ingredients in nuclear fuel. (U-235 is the main fissile isotope in "fresh" fuel (with a small quantity of U-234, which is also fissile), but Pu-239 is produced from U-238 during criticality).

When fuel is removed from the reactor, it is because too many "poisons" have built up in the spent fuel ("poisons" (an industry technical term) are isotopes which are not fissile but which can absorb neutrons and block the chain reaction).

After use in the reactor, there is still "plenty" of fissile material in spent fuel. (Some propose that the fuel can be reprocessed to extract the fissile material, but this is a very dirty and expensive process which yields low-quality fuel that can only be reused approximately twice.)

Fissile isotopes have half-lives of 700 million years (U-235) and 24,100 years (Pu-239). The half-life of Pu-239, as well as its chemical ("heavy-metal") properties, make it extremely hazardous: A few millionths of a gram is sufficient to cause lung cancer in humans.

Both of these isotopes, however, can be broken down by photons in the 10 to 15 MeV range. It is reasonably certain that "table-top" lasers can be manufactured which will output such high-powered photons, making reduction/neutralization of these isotopes highly feasible. This process is described in Dr. Livingston's patent application (URL below).

Designing any type of repository for spent fuel that will last as long as plutonium's half-life, let alone ten to twenty half-lives (the standard measurement for the existence of a radioisotope is 10 to 20 times its half-life) is virtually impossible. The pyramids, for example, are only about 5,000 years old, 1/5 of one half-life of plutonium.

When neutralized, U-235 and Pu-239 produce additional fission products, which are already in abundance in spent fuel (and virtually non-existent in "fresh" nuclear fuel).

Fission products generally have half-lives around 30 years or less (with seven long-lived exceptions which are present in "trace" quantities in spent fuel).

Thus, protecting society from fission products is a much shorter proposition: The United States is just over 240 years old. In that amount of time, most of the fission products would reduce by radioactive decay to less than 1% of their total. Six centuries is enough time for the fission products to reduce to approximately <0.01% of their original total. While six centuries is still far longer than our nation has existed, it is a much more calculable, and manageable, problem.

Perhaps most importantly, U-235 and Pu-239 are both "bomb-making material." Therefore, neutralizing them completely removes the proliferation risk from the spent fuel, as well as the possibility of a criticality event during transport or storage.

Follow-up comment from Dr. Peter M. Livingston:

Actually low emittance cathodes have been explored fairly extensively.
Their major utility is providing the electron source for various accelerators, including the CERN device.

Here is an example reference.

I don't think that the low emittance cathode advances have been incorporated into the desktop FEL's design. Stanford had a good design going, but I think the team fell apart when the lead physicist died. It is that design which I recall.

Now I think coupling the idea of this emitter with a device to photofission spent nuclear waste is a matter of publicity to get momentum back behind the FEL design and testing.

As you know, Yucca mountain or its equivalent is 500,000 years. The probability that a cask will fail far sooner seems to be unity.

So I think that arousing public interest in de-activating spent rods by photofission is the way to go now.


(3) Moving nuclear waste to an "interim" storage facility at Palo Verde:

Palo Verde is located in a far safer location than San Onofre. It is not in an earthquake zone, a tsunami zone, or near even 1/10th of the population that San Onofre is located in the midst of. The nearest major city to Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant is Phoenix, approximately 60 miles away. Southern California Edison is a part-owner of Palo Verde and much of the profit that Arizona Public Service makes from that facility is due to selling power to California.

Transport of nuclear waste -- especially if it has been neutralized first by the Livingston process described above -- is far better than transporting the same waste to, for example Texas or even New Mexico, simply because the total distance is much less -- tens of thousands of miles less, when accounting for the ~150 trips that will have to be made. (Overall risk is a function of the number of trips times distance traveled times quantity (radioactivity) of each load times strength of each container times travel time per trip.)

Below is Tom Palmisano's letter from approximately one year ago to Marni Magda regarding moving the waste to Palo Verde, which was sent to me by Donna Gilmore. Here are my responses to each of his points:

1) ANY solution involving moving the waste will require a new license from the NRC so this point is not significant.

2) ANY solution, according to the Department of Energy (DOE) and before that the Blue Ribbon Commission, will require "incentives." Undoubtedly a for-profit nuclear facility and a community which already has a nuclear waste dump in its midst would be much more willing to accept "incentives" than a community which does not already have nuclear waste and an operating nuclear power plant. It might make the difference between a "profitable" nuclear power facility and one like the dozen or so that have announced closure dates due to unprofitable conditions, or have already closed.

As for the waste being a "significant liability" (Tom Palmisano's words) that is true here too -- but much more so because of the added threats of earthquakes, tsunamis, and the larger population surrounding the waste. Therefore SCE would be significantly reducing its own liability by moving the waste and should be willing to pay handsomely to reduce that liability.

3) The problem of license transfer is no different than it would be for an interim or consolidated storage facility, so this is a straw-man argument when it comes from someone who endorses either of those solutions.

4) Transport issues can be significantly reduced by the Livingston method described above, as well as by building up the rail and/or road infrastructure between San Onofre and Palo Verde. The distance needing structural improvement is far less than for the proposed sites in Texas and New Mexico (neither of which are likely to come to fruition anyway).

5) Who will hold "title" of the fuel is obviously SCE's main concern: They will oppose ANY plan which does not include transfer of title. But to claim that they are more capable than APS in protecting the fuel is another straw-man argument, considering that SCE sub-contracts security, as well as subcontracting the manufacture of the dry storage casks and the spent fuel island itself.

Tom's summary) Tom Palmisano's belief that there is widespread support for an interim or consolidated nuclear waste storage facility anywhere is not supported by facts. If it were, then surely the DOE would have scheduled one of their meetings on the subject in those communities. They did not do so. It must be noted that none of Tom's arguments against storing the waste are based on increased safety of the large population that surrounds San Onofre. Rather, he describes the risk as a "significant liability" to Palo Verde, essentially ignoring the fact that it is an even greater risk where it is.


The main disadvantage to moving the waste to Palo Verde, or to any interim or consolidated storage facility, is that such an action is an "enabler" for other reactors to stay open, since they can then assume that the waste they generate can be moved somewhere eventually. This is a foolhardy, serious and significant problem since each reactor produces approximately 250 pounds of waste per day (according to the nuclear industry's own estimates).

There are currently approximately 2,500 dry cask storage containers around the country, at approximately 70 sites, with more than 11,000 containers worth of spent fuel in total in existence today, mostly still in spent fuel pools and in the reactors themselves. A new dry cask is needed somewhere in the USA approximately every one to three days.

Pretending that ANY solution other than "stop making more waste" will save America from a catastrophic spent fuel accident or terrorist attack is simply irrational -- even with Dr. Livingston's proposal, and even with interim, consolidated, or permanent storage solutions. This fact should be recognized and verbalized by the Citizen's Engagement Panel of San Onofre.

Yucca Mountain was not just a political boondoggle, it had serious and unresolved technical issues. The Yucca Mountain team of thousands of scientists was free to propose an alternative type of solution but could not find one. (They were not permitted to propose a geologic repository in another location, because all such locations had already been rejected.)

Lastly, it should be noted that, prior to the permanent shut-down of San Onofre, virtually no one here was paying attention to the problem of spent fuel. Now, although that situation has changed significantly, simply moving the waste to make it anyone else's problem, and attempting to transfer "ownership" of the waste to anyone else, including the Federal government, is NOT actually solving the problem. It's just passing the buck. We as a "united nation" MUST do better than that and as de facto owners of one of the largest piles of nuclear waste in the country, it is soCal's duty to attempt to truly solve the problem, not just pass it on to someone else. Anything less does a grave disservice to our children, their children, their children's children, etc. for the foreseeable future.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

URL for Dr. Peter M. Livingston's patent application for reducing the storage time of spent nuclear fuel: (goes to the USPTO).

Tom Palmisano's letter to Marni Magda:

Dear Marni,

Thanks for your email. This is a good question and I appreciate your raising it to me. Let me give you some initial thoughts.

1. SCE is a 15.8% owner of Palo Verde. There are six other owners with varying percentages. Arizona Public Service is the majority owner and operator. They hold the NRC operating license, not SCE.

2. I don't know if the other six owners would be agreeable to storing San Onofre used fuel at the Palo Verde site. Since we are not the sole owner, it would need to be a decision all the owners agreed with. This would represent a significant liability for these other six owners and I doubt that they would be in favor of that.

3. Even if the other owners agreed, we would have to explore who would own and be responsible for the fuel, and who's NRC part 50 license the fuel would be stored under. Palo Verde is licensed to possess and store their nuclear fuel. They are not licensed to possess and store San Onofre's used fuel. Assuming we could transport and store fuel there, we might have to license and build a 50.72 ISFSI to store San Onofre's used fuel.

4. As you are aware, there are a number of transportation issues that need to be resolved no matter where we ship fuel to.

5. From an SCE perspective, our thought with offsite Consolidated Interim Storage is we would want the private party or DOE to take title to the fuel when it leaves SONGS. We would be concerned about maintaining title to the fuel and liability for an offsite location not under our direct control. With the proposed commercial facilities in West Texas and New Mexico, there initial thoughts are they or DOE would take title to the fuel.

My bottom line is I think it is very unlikely we could ever reach an agreement to store used fuel at Palo Verde. I think are best chance of success in the relatively short term is to advocate strongly for the private Consolidated Interim Storage Facilities in West Texas or New Mexico. The respective companies are interested, the local communities are supportive and there appears to be some reasonable level of state and federal support.

I'd be happy to talk to you further about this. Let me know if you'd like to set up a phone call or meeting.

Best Regards,

Tom [Palmisano, VP of Decommissioning and CNO at SCE]

(4) Contact information for Ace Hoffman:

Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download:

Please conserve resources: Do not print this email unless absolutely necessary.

Note: This communication may have been intercepted in secret, without permission, and in violation of our right to privacy by the National Security Agency or some other agency or private contractor.

Addendum (added 7/9/2016:16:53):

Comment on liability from Donna Gilmore:

"[R]egarding liability.  Edison already has a certain percent of liability at Palo Verde and they are trusting APS to manage that facility, so that should be considered an endorsement or trust in APS.
"The way the liability would work is the percent of ownership and liability would go up for Edison, SDG&E and the other owners of San Onofre waste. Anaheim is one of those cities.  They may probably trust APS more than Edison to manage the waste, as may other California cities.

"If we could store the waste in safer containers first, they may be more inclined to take it.  The cost savings would be significant. The transport is the scariest part."


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

California State Lands Commission screws the public, kisses up to PG&E.

Dear Readers,

Let's do some math. Please don't panic.

According to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant (DCNPP) supplies enough power for approximately 2,000,000 homes. Yesterday (June 28, 2016) the California State Lands Commission (CSLC) gave PG&E permission to continue operating DCNPP for another 10 years without an Environmental Impact Review (EIR). However, if the rules of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) were properly followed by the CSLC, an EIR would be required.

Allowing DCNPP to operate for ten more years (until their current Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license runs out) will allow DCNPP to create nearly 2,000,000 pounds of spent nuclear fuel waste -- about one pound for each home it services. They'll be allowed to do this despite there being nowhere to put the waste, except in flimsy (1/2 inch thick) casks -- about 50 more of them will be required -- on California's earthquake-prone coast.

One conflagration of one dry cask could cost California hundreds of billions of dollars in lost real estate values, lost lives, lost tourism, lost agriculture, lost manufacturing, and lost clean water (the famous California Aqueduct could be contaminated permanently).

And of course, if one of the earthquake faults near (or even not so near) DCNPP shakes the plant while it's running, an even more catastrophic meltdown could occur, costing California trillions of dollars and even forcing the permanent evacuation of Los Angeles!

But perhaps what's really sad is that the Lands Commission -- headed by a man who would like to be California's next governor, Gavin Newsom -- had a chance to add a conservatively estimated $30 Billion dollars in property values to California homes, and to get tens of thousands of Californians who are currently unemployed on the payroll, and to force PG&E to shut Diablo Canyon, while providing good jobs for all 1,500 current employees of the plant.

All of this could occur by going solar, which PG&E claims they are now committed to doing anyway -- eventually.

A team of just three rooftop solar installers can put up a solar unit on a house in one day. That unit would provide a net positive energy payback for the state of California -- it would feed more power to the grid than it takes off the grid on cloudy days or at night. So the 1,500 employees at Diablo Canyon could, instead, install 2,500 solar rooftops per week, or 125,000 per year. If a statewide initiative were designed to rapidly replace power for the 2,000,000 households served by DCNPP with solar power, they could all be converted to solar power within a year or two.

This would increase the value of each home by approximately $15,000, yielding an increase in home values of roughly $30 billion dollars for homeowners in California.

But no. Instead, Gavin Newsom and the two other commissioners unanimously voted yesterday to risk a meltdown at Diablo Canyon, and to create 2,000,000 pounds of additional spent nuclear fuel which will have to be carefully monitored for thousands of years, and which will always be at risk from terrorism, from the large unstoppable forces of mother nature, from manufacturing errors of the casks, as well as -- perhaps most importantly, from the equally unstoppable small forces of mother nature: Rust. The dry casks are susceptible to stress corrosion cracking as soon as their outer temperature drops to the point where salts can (and will) form within microscopic cracks that invariably cover the surfaces of the casks. Some of the casks that are currently at the site have already reached that temperature point.

Trusting in the Department of Energy (DOE) to move the casks to either an "interim storage site" (which doesn't exist) or to a permanent repository (which also doesn't exist) is foolhardy planning for a state commission tasked with protecting the public interest -- especially since the DOE has stated that they expect it to take "decades" before such a place can accept spent fuel nuclear waste -- and even that timeframe is probably wishful thinking. Additional decades may be required before DCNPP's waste could be moved, because fuel from older, closed nuclear power plants is expected to be moved first.

Making matters worse, the deal PG&E signed last week with Friends of the Earth (FoE), the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility (A4NR) and other groups (including their own workers, who are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)) is contingent on numerous what-ifs, such as approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). PG&E can cancel the agreement at any time and instead seek a license renewal from the NRC (a lap-dog regulatory agency which has NEVER denied a license extension to any reactor anywhere), and keep operating the plant for 20, 40 or even 60 more years or longer, which would create millions of pounds more nuclear waste, and risk a catastrophe which will knock California back into the stone age.

Thanks to Gavin Newsom and the other commissioners, California will remain at risk of becoming the next Fukushima or Chernobyl as long as Diablo Canyon stays open, and do so without the environmental review that should have been done before the plant opened.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Lies, damned lies and the nuclear industry!

Three important nuclear power events occurred in the past seven days -- one in Nebraska and two in California -- which together show just how doomed and unworkable nuclear power really is.

In Nebraska, the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) Board of Directors unanimously decided to shut down Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power plant because its cost of operation could not be justified against the current and expected future price of natural gas, solar and wind power (but mainly natural gas). Certainly natural gas prices are at an unnatural low compared to the price of oil and nuclear power, and that might change over the coming years, but natural gas prices cannot go up too much if they are to stay competitive with renewable energy prices -- which are going to continue to plummet over the next few decades.

Solar panels thinner than a human hair have been developed in the labs. They don't use many natural resources to make. Solar panels as flexible as a human hair have also been developed. They can be placed virtually anywhere. Wind turbine output keeps going up for the exact same land requirements, which of course, are already minimal to begin with. Power requirements of all the major household appliances keep coming down as better motors, coolers and pumps are developed. The future is bright for renewables, and getting brighter.

All this spelled doom for Fort Calhoun, a "small" (478 megawatts, the smallest operating reactor in the United States) lone reactor that cost about $178 million dollars to build when construction began in 1966, and now costs over $250 million annually to operate. It was "simply an economic decision" to close the facility according to the operators.

Being so old and run-down, it went offline yesterday suddenly, for a turbine issue, (its speed controller failed). But no matter how often a nuclear power plant goes offline without warning, regulators and operators still assure the public they are necessary for "baseload capacity."

Lies, damned lies and the nuclear industry strikes out again.

In California, an apparently momentous decision was made regarding Diablo Canyon's pair of massive nuclear reactors (~1,100 megawatts each), which first went online in the mid 1980s and were originally scheduled to close by this year, but were granted a 10-year extension a few years ago for no apparent reason at all. After years of threatening to try to extend their license another 20 years to 60 years and beyond, its operator, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced that they would only run out their current license (good to 2024 and 2025 for units 1 and 2, respectively) and then be shut down permanently. The decision was made in cooperation with several environmental organizations (FoE, NRDC and A4NR) in some sort of secret backroom arrangement -- an arrangement which has some good points, but has some very bad points, too.

First and foremost among the good points is, of course, that the plant will shut down. And second is that it will be replaced with renewable energy and increased energy conservation.

But first and foremost among the bad points is not only that it will take 10 more years, and not only that the decision is potentially reversible, but also that the aforementioned environmental groups apparently have lost interest in shutting the plant down earlier. That means another two million pounds of high-level nuclear waste will be generated in the meantime, with their approval. And worst of all, it means that if the San Andreas earthquake fault does what it's been threatening to do for decades, and is actually considered late in doing, southern California will be ruined financially and environmentally. Not to mention the dozens of other faults that could shake the plant to smithereens any day of the week.

Additionally, while Fort Calhoun's operators have promised to help the employees of that plant find other work (probably installing solar panels on rooftops, making new interconnections to the power grid, building wind turbines and so forth), Diablo Canyon has promised to take more than a third of a billion dollars of ratepayer money to do the same. As if it was the ratepayers who chose to make the workers work in a dying industry with high-paying jobs. As if there aren't other nuclear power plants around the country that are having trouble finding workers, for those who want to stay in a dying industry. And as if there won't be plenty of renewable energy jobs they can find for themselves.

In short, the deal stinks so bad, one activist in the Diablo Canyon area described it as being "sold down the river."

In both cases, a major part of the decision was based on the fact that the electricity generated by Fort Calhoun and Diablo Canyon (and virtually every other nuclear power plant in the country) can be replaced immediately with other power sources, without the lights going out or reliability of the grid falling below setpoint levels. This is as it must be: Nuclear power plants require the rest of the grid to be operating or they themselves must shut down. That's why, when a massive power outage struck the northeastern United States in 2003, all the nuclear power plants in the area automatically shut down and could not help keep the grid up. They require about 30 megawatts of continuous power to operate, and as much as 100 megawatts during restart once they shut down for any reason. It took many days for the nuclear power plants to come back online even after the rest of the grid was restored. So much for the reliability of the "baseload" power system!

Diablo Canyon can and should close today. Even its owners have now admitted that its electricity output can be replaced entirely by renewables (although that might take a couple of years to accomplish, it would free up about 1500 workers (1200 PG&E employees, 200 subcontractors, and miscellaneous high-paid executives) to start installing solar panels and wind turbines. Its total output could be replaced in a matter of months.

Meanwhile, the nuclear waste at San Onofre is no longer being generated (SanO closed permanently in 2013 after a leaky steam generator could not be repaired). But the lies and damned lies continue spewing forth unabated from that complex as well. Last night, the quarterly Citizen's Engagement Panel met once again, supposedly to engage with citizens but in fact, to push the utility's agenda of cheap, ineffective, dangerous solutions to its nuclear waste problem -- which it will have for 500,000 years unless something is done about it. The meeting was attended by some high-powered outsiders from the Department of Energy and a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman, Dr. Allison Macfarlane. Earlier in the day several localized meetings were held with these outsiders for additional discussions. It all looks very cooperative on paper, but in reality it's nothing but the regular dog-and-pony shows the nuclear industry and the NRC have been putting on for decades.

Time was, speakers at an NRC hearing were sworn in, swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That ended about 20 years ago, and now we have a non-governmental body making nonsense plans and decisions which will affect the local population for decades to come, will solve nothing, will obstruct real solutions (more on that in a moment), and will push the utilities' agenda down everybody's throats (literally, when the waste escapes its escarpments).

For example, at the earlier meeting, I was able to ask a question: Why can't the waste at San Onofre be moved to Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona, which has three operating nuclear reactors which are licensed to continue operating for many years to come, which is about 60 miles from the nearest population center, which has plenty of room for another 150 dry casks, and which is partly owned by Southern California Edison anyway, who currently own the fuel at San Onofre?

The chairperson of the CEP -- all of whom were hand-picked by Southern California Edison -- chose to respond, derogatorily, saying with a laugh, "just because SCE owns a part of the plant doesn't mean they can dictate what happens" and "there's no way to transport the waste there" and "laws would have to be changed, which isn't going to happen."

Later, a representative of a radioactive transportation company which has been moving spent fuel for more than 50 years stated that yes, the fuel can be transported "today, if you give me a place for it to go to."

Also at the CEP general meeting last night, practically the entire discussion was about changing the laws of the country so that an interim storage location can be established, and local communities and the state it would be in would no longer be able to object, nor would the communities along the transportation routes, nor would anyone else. Specifically, small greedy land owners or tiny impoverished American Indian tribes would be bribed to take the waste, and new laws to be passed by Congress would forbid objection by other parties.

That is called a "consent-based storage solution."

Lies, damned lies and the nuclear industry!

Allison Macfarlane, a former NRC commissioner and a member of Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on Nuclear Waste (BRC, which met a few dozen times between 2010 and 2012) pushed the local citizens around San Onofre to push our elected officials to enact some sort of new regulation to permit an interim storage site. Among other laws that the "experts" say would need to be changed is the use of the funds that have been collected for permanent nuclear waste storage through the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), to deviate either the interest on those funds (which currently covers inflation somewhat) or even some of the funds themselves to pay for interim storage sites, including bribes (they call it "financial incentives") and construction of the sites. If this happens, it eventually will bleed the funds for permanent storage dry as a bone.

John Kotek, Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, U.S. DOE concurred whole-heartedly with Macfarlane's suggestion, but said he would lose his job if he actually verbalized endorsing the citizens to push Congress. He should lose his job anyway for the lies and damned lies he spewed last night. He admitted to being new to thinking about spent fuel issues until he was made "staff director" of the BRC.

Among his many lies was that the "technical challenges" to long-term nuclear waste storage (as in a few decades, not the 500,000 years actually necessary) have been solved. In reality we're not even close! As Donna Gilmore ( has pointed out, and pointed out again last night -- stainless steel -- the metal of choice because it's cheaper than other options -- is susceptible to "stress corrosion cracking" which start as microscopic fissures, usually caused by salts (these casks will be stored barely 100 feet from the ocean) but the fissures can also be started by insects, birds, and even human fingernail scratches, machinery scraping against the casks during fabrication, transport to the reactor site, loading and placement. Her research has further discovered that the conditions necessary for such cracks to grow are already present after just a few years (when the cask surfaces are too hot, the salts don't precipitate on the surfaces). She also found at least one instance were the same type of stainless steel had developed a crack large enough to go completely through a dry cask in just 17 years! And lastly, she has found that there is no way to inspect the casks. And even if there were a way to inspect most of the surfaces, the most critical areas -- the pressure points -- would still be hard or impossible to inspect, especially without moving the casks, which presents additional dangers.

This is hardly even a temporary solution, let alone a long-term one. But it's what's going to happen.

Kotek stated that the DOE is only funding their "consent-based" group the he heads up one year at a time -- but they were given tens of millions of dollars to spend this year, and expect similar funding next year. Nevertheless, they are only visiting 8 locations that want their fuel moved (San Onofre is not one they are visiting, DOE only sent Kotek and some members of his staff to attend the meetings yesterday). They have no plans to meet with any "host communities" for two reasons: First, there are no such places. Kotek claimed that Texas and New Mexico both have interested parties, which may be true, but the states as a whole are utterly against becoming the nation's spent fuel repositories, and clearly DOE recognizes that going to those sites to present a "balanced overview" so that an "informed public" could make a "rational decision" was only going to make things worse.

Time and again it was mentioned that the waste needs to be protected for a long time -- tens of thousands of years. Actually, because of the plutonium, which has a half-life of 25,000 years, the real length of time -- unless you somehow remove the plutonium (more on that idea in a moment) -- is more like half a million years (20X the half-life is a standard rule of thumb for how long a radioactive substance remains hazardous above "background levels"). But even more realistic are two factors:

First, the fission products, most of which have half-lives under about three decades, are by far the greatest threat to humanity if they get out, at least in the short term, but are completely gone within about six centuries (with seven exceptions, all of which have extremely long half-lives but are present in very low quantities, which this author refers to as "the ignoble seven").

Second, Plutonium (and Uranium-235, the other most hazardous fissile isotope) CAN be "neutralized" to become fission product components. This was completely ignored by the staff of the DOE, by Macfarlane, and by the CEP. It involves irradiating the spent fuel with a gamma ray free electron laser (FEL) which would produce collimated gamma ray photons having energy levels of about 10 MeV to about 15 MeV -- just the energy levels needed to split fissile Plutonium and Uranium atoms.

Free electron lasers already exist, although not yet tuned to produce those specific energy levels. (Linear accelerators can already produce photons with those energy levels, but take an enormous amount of room and money, and are not as collimated as an FEL could produce.) Given the budget of the DOE however, the research necessary to create such a device is well within reach. And the time to get started is yesterday.

In the meantime, using spent nuclear fuel rods in place of some of the control rods in a nuclear reactor could also reduce the plutonium to fission products, thus reducing the length of time the waste is hazardous from hundreds of thousands of years to hundreds of years, although of course, since that would involve running a nuclear reactor, there is some level of "taking from Peter to pay Paul" and equally troubling would be that there are no reactors designed to do such a thing. A collimated photon beam from a laser seems to be a much better solution. It reduces the length of time the waste is hazardous and eliminates the "proliferation risk" as well (Plutonium-239 and U-235 can both be used to make nuclear weapons).

Why isn't that being considered? I have no idea -- go ask the DOE. But all you'll get is lies and damned lies, if last night's CEP meeting is anything to go on. In the meantime, spent fuel nuclear waste -- now estimated to be nearly 80,000 tons of commercial waste and about a third as much of military waste -- continues to pile up around the country. Sites that are recently closed or closing (more than a dozen reactors around the country have closed in the last few years, or have announced plans to close permanently) want that waste removed. According to Kotek however, there is little interest in moving the fuel from sites where the waste has already been sitting for several decades, practically unguarded and unprotected (a few security guards, usually from the company that hired the Orlando night club shooter, are all that stand between a terrorist and a catastrophic release of spent fuel). People forget about it, but rust never sleeps, the hazards last for many millennia, and the costs of moving the waste will only go up and up and up. The containers the waste is in become brittle and untransportable without a heavy secondary overpack, the normal weight limits on the bridges the waste must cross over get severely exceeded, and sooner or later, all hell breaks loose.

Thank you, Department of Energy, for decades of pushing nuclear power without thinking about what to do about the waste! It's time for a change. A change of leadership, a change of heart, a change of plans, a change of direction.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

URL for Dr. Peter M. Livingston's patent application for reducing the storage time of spent nuclear fuel: (goes to the USPTO).

To view last night's CEP meeting, go to (not .org because the CEP is a commercial venture owned and operated (or controlled) by Southern California Edison), although the video is usually not put online for several days and sometimes portions are cut out that SCE doesn't want you to see.

There is one member of the CEP who deserves special mention: The honorable Pam Patterson, Mayor Pro Tem, San Juan Capistrano, who had many useful comments last night, among them asking why citizens don't have tables outside the room. "It's like a SoCalEd trade show" she said. I will plan to set up a table at the next meeting, per her suggestion.

A short and scary video regarding plant staffing for the next decade at Diablo Canyon (from A4NR) titled "Diablo Canyon Closing ­ Concerns of Dr. Robert Budnitz" is available here: