Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dricks' tricks won't fix SONGS' wrongs

October 25th, 2007

Dear Readers,

It's been four days since the fires started. Almost 750 square miles have burned this week in Southern California.

Almost all major roads are open today -- perhaps I should leave. But even in Phoenix, Arizona, nearly 400 miles away, the air quality is only "Moderate" right now.

The television news reporters can't remember what day it is any better than I can. And I learned something I didn't know about San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station: It's already completely shut down for extended repairs.

My house is still closed up and the air cleaners are still running. The air is toxic throughout SoCal -- it's officially "unhealthy." There have been warnings on many different news stations to try to stay indoors.

The air in Los Angeles, 100 miles to the North, is even worse. Despite warnings, for the first time in four days I'm hearing, as I write this, children playing outside in the late afternoon sun. It must be so hard for them to have to stay in!

But the air is particularly toxic for children, because of the biological half-life of some of the chemicals everyone is breathing. HEPA filters remove approximately 99.97% of particles 0.3 microns or larger -- but there are TRILLIONS of particles in each cubic liter of air space. Even though HEPA technology was specifically designed (in the 1950s) for removing radioactive particles from nuclear research labs, HEPA filters are only partially effective. Particles smaller than about 0.3 microns go right through. That's one reason why things like radioactive Argon, Krypton, and Xenon are so dangerous -- because these are in the environment as individual atoms -- not as a large particle of dust, or even as molecules. You can't filter them out. If an accident occurs at a nuclear power plant, face masks and HEPA house filters will be virtually useless.

We opened a window for a few minutes today. I was planning to bring in a new house-full of air by putting the air cleaner right up to the window and drawing all the air directly through the filter, but it smelled just terrible out there. I'll bet a lot of the people who are outside in this can't tell when the smoke is gone, because when it goes down by half, they already think it's practically gone. And I'm sure I'm the only one in my apartment complex, out of 40 apartments, who has blocked off the doors with wet towels.

My inside air is polluted, of course, with plastics, artificial fabrics, electronic equipment and dust. I make sure to turn off the computer when I'm not using it. I leave at least one television on. I put new filters in two of the air cleaners on Tuesday, and plan to replace all the filters again next week. Most of the filters have color codes to compare a dirty one to a clean one, but I can't trust the codes because they assume dust will be one color and size and mixture, and it tends to be much lighter in color (and, I suspect, smaller) here. That means the filters get clogged before they match the color chart. I wonder if the same thing is happening at San Onofre? They might be venting radioactive waste during these wildfires! Yes, even while closed for repairs. Some of their fuel is extremely "hot" and if a fuel-movement operation is done poorly, we could have a radiological catastrophe piled on top of our wildfire-smoke catastrophe. Plus, some of their filters might be clogged with soot and ash right now, and are being bypassed or are simply ineffective. They wouldn't necessarily know, they wouldn't necessarily care, and they certainly wouldn't tell us.

We haven't lost power, but power lines, and a helicopter that was inspecting power lines, have both gone down. Nobody was hurt when the chopper went down, so it presumably was able to autorotate after an engine failure. The downing of power lines is still considered the cause of the first fire (the Witch Fire). Power lines can be placed underground, but then they are more likely to break in earthquakes and harder to repair if they do. Shorter runs between towers are less likely to snap, so the more frequent the towers, the better their resistance to earthquakes OR high winds. The taller the towers, the better their fire resistance, if the base is protected by a proper firebreak.

Almost half of the nearly 80 people reported injured so far are firefighters. A couple was found burned in their home, and four people were found burned to death in a camp that houses immigrant workers. That brings the official death toll in SoCal directly caused by the wildfires to seven.

This WILL happen again. Arsonists have promised it. High-wire transmission cables running through dry scrub brush and chaparral that isn't going to get any water any time soon have promised it. Global Warming (known as "Global Climate Change" to those who think it's just a reversible trend) IS happening. The brush and chaparral will grow like crazy during the "good" years. After growing wildly during a wet year, then, during the dry years, it drys out. Then, after a few dry years, during a Santa Ana, the arsonists will come out, and the power lines will come down.

According to Fox News, the ongoing wildfires have already released 90,000,000 tons of greenhouse gases into the earth's atmosphere, equivalent, they say, to three months of emissions from California's vehicles. Satellite images show the smoke going more than 800 miles out to sea. Then the smoke will be blown back towards us over and over for days.

Because the smoke particles are so small, many of them will spread globally. The 1600 homes and 1000 other buildings destroyed were filled with plastics and heavy metals (computers, for example, use a lot of these) so the global assault is much more toxic than "just" firewood, although there is a lot of that, too, being deposited in the air.

The reason both reactors at San Onofre are down right now is that they are undergoing costly and long-term remodeling so they can operate for two more decades. The big repair operation has started, but most of the money has yet to be spent.


It could save trillions of dollars later. That's Trillions, with a T.

Shutting San Onofre will hardly cost California a thing. Since the project was a crime to begin with, the builders and operators should pay. The federal, state, and local officials who approved these things should be brought to trial for crimes against humanity -- like a Nuremberg Trial. How much did they know and how much did they just let slip by, without thinking?

The nuclear workers should be re-employed as renewable energy designers and builders, and they should NOT be allowed to make any more nuclear waste ever again.

Billions would be saved by an IMMEDIATE stoppage of all "repair" work at San Onofre. They call it "enhancements," "improvements," even "uprating" and "extending," but 99% of the work is the repair and replacement of worn-out parts. Tons -- literally TONS -- of pages of their manuals have to be replaced, each one by hand. (I wonder what the error rate is, and how long before the average missing or misplaced page is needed.) They are replacing steam generators, motors, pipes, pumps, valves, controls for valves, cables for the controls for the valves, holding tanks, surge protectors, and even a few light-switches.

I received an email from Australia regarding yesterday's newsletter. One of my subscribers there found the essay on a local (Australia) news media web site. I also heard from India, asking if we had a word like "Genpatsu-Shinsai" (the Japanese word which describes a meltdown during an earthquake) for a meltdown during ANY ongoing disaster: Wildfires like today, tsunamis, earthquakes, asteroids from space, terrorism, human stupidity, human error, poor design, poor construction -- whatever.

Yes, we have such a word. It's: "INEVITABLE." A meltdown is INEVITABLE if we keep running along the edge of disaster. It will happen, one way or another, sooner or later.

If we keep San Onofre open, a meltdown becomes inevitable over time. If we close San Onofre, a catastrophic accident is STILL possible, but MUCH less likely.

The cut in the number of employees would guarantee that fewer NUT-CASES will find their way into the plant. The employees would have vastly less ACCESS to "things which can cause the plant to fail" such as Control Rooms or red-hot reactors with half a million gallons of water racing through their primary and secondary coolant loops each minute, and 20 billion gallons per day going through the open-loop tertiary system. A failure at ANY of these phases can quickly lead to a nuclear disaster -- without time to evacuate. By shutting the plant down, the three main coolant loops, and thousands of other "choke-points," will be rendered irrelevant, and even when there is an accident, it is more likely to develop slowly so, people have time to escape.

San Onofre's owners have committed fraud for year after year. Yesterday they got the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to claim that San Onofre was safe during the Horno fire -- which continues to burn, but fortunately, winds have tended to be light and AWAY from the plant. As of a few hours ago, the Horno fire was about 40% "contained" and had burned 17,000 acres, and according to the Reuters article shown below was always "miles" from the nuclear reactor facility. They include administrative buildings on the East side of I-5 in the report shown below, to make it sound like the reactor has a lot of developed land between it and the flaming embers. But those embers can get picked up tornado-fashion and then be deposited in a "rain of fire" (the phrase was used by a witness to a sudden flair-up recently) on San Onofre. Thousands of clumps of red-hot embers could engulf the reactor grounds IN SECONDS, and the reactor ONLY has the STANDARD fire crew on-hand -- everyone else is "on call" but the plant would need WALL TO WALL FIRE TRUCKS to protect against a fire-storm's assault. And don't forget that fire trucks catch fire sometimes, too, and if one is burning, the one next to it can catch fire too, especially when the fuel tanks explode.

So really, despite any claim to the contrary by Mr. Dricks (who is a paid proponent of nuclear power, not a fire expert), San Onofre was -- and still is -- in grave danger.


We don't need it. We're not even using it in our hour of need -- because just when it's supposedly needed -- during some other disaster -- they had yet another "planned" shutdown! This fire season was as predictable as dirt.

Dictator Bush came to San Diego for a photo-op today. The press announces that absolutely no fire aircraft will by rerouted or inconvenienced by the visit. But it turns out not to be true. One intrepid reporter points out that fire crews had to drag "a thousand feet of hose" straight up the side of a rugged mountain (which means: No escape if the winds suddenly change) specifically because water drop helicopters could not encroach on the President's personal air space (aka "exclusion zone").

When the dictator's 747 took off, it raised a huge cloud of toxic particulate matter. The stuff we're all supposed to mist down and scrape up.

Next week, a hundred thousand yard workers will raise an even bigger cloud with leaf-blowers, brooms, etc., despite repeated admonitions not to disrupt the dust that way.

One wonders how many Curies of radioactive particles San Onofre has deposited on the hills of San Diego during the 35 years it's been operating -- millions and millions.

What was not deposited in people's lungs the first time it drifted away from the plant has been given a second chance to get into our bodies.

Like the debris from a nuclear power plant, debris from nuclear bombs can ALSO get through ANY filter -- such as the bombs King George is threatening Iran with (and Iran is frantically trying to build, so they can threaten us back). Dust from Depleted Uranium weapons gets past HEPA filters too, and even though the particles are "heavy metals" they are light enough to get lofted miles into the air, and then be transported all over the planet.

Because uranium, plutonium, thorium, and most other radioactive elements are extremely reactive (corrosive), radioactive particles contribute to global warming in numerous ways, in addition to the fossil fuels used in the "nuclear fuel cycle" to fabricate parts, extract the uranium, transport materials, and so on.

It's time for a change. Our lives are at stake.


Ace Hoffman
Breathing particulate matter in:
Carlsbad, CA

Dricks' tricks won't fix SONGS' wrongs:

SUBJECT: California nuclear reactors not in fire danger:

Wed Oct 24, 2007 7:19pm EDT

By Bernie Woodall

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Southern California wildfires moved closer on Wednesday to two nuclear reactors at the giant San Onofre electrical plant in San Diego County, but were not seen threatening operations, officials said.

"The fire does not pose a threat to the plant itself," said Gil Alexander, spokesman for Southern California Edison. Separately, officials from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission confirmed Alexander's assessment.

The fires raging in northern San Diego County on a U.S. Marine base were about a mile from the inland edge of the San Onofre complex but were still several miles from the reactors.

But even if flames approach the reactors, there is little danger a blaze will reach them because they are surrounded by acres of concrete, officials said.

"There might be a little brush but there is not much fuel for a fire," said NRC spokesman Victor Dricks. "There aren't many trees in the area."

SCE's San Onofre fire department, as well as the fire department from the Camp Pendleton Marine base, "conducted a controlled burn Wednesday to reduce fuel on the inland side of Interstate 5, should the fire reach that point. It is still a mile or more on the other side of a hill," said Alexander.

The San Onofre nuclear reactors are situated between Interstate 5 and the Pacific Ocean.

Wildfires have burned more than 1,000 homes in San Diego County, prompting the largest evacuations in state history and causing damages that are expected to surpass $1 billion.

Neither San Onofre reactor is currently operating due to maintenance work that began before the fires sparked on Sunday. Maintenance continued Wednesday and would not change the plant's schedule for returning to production, Alexander said.


The fire is less a threat to the plant than it is to massive power transmission lines that run to and from it, said the NRC's Dricks.

Nuclear power plants need electricity from outside to run essential safety systems and operate huge pumps that move hundreds of thousands of gallons of water used to cool the reactor even when its not operating, said Dricks.

If power lines to San Onofre cease operation -- an event that was not expected on Wednesday -- backup generators are on site that can run the cooling water pumps.

Transmission lines to San Diego Gas & Electric's service area, which lies mainly to the south of the plant, were out of service Wednesday. Lines to the north and into SCE service area are working and not in danger from fires, Alexander said.

The two reactors at San Onofre can generate about 2,250 megawatts of power, enough to serve about 1.4 million homes.

San Diego Gas & Electric, which owns 20 percent of San Onofre and therefore owns 20 percent of the power generated there, had not returned phone calls Wednesday to determine whether the lines from San Onofre to its service area to the south of the plant were working.

SDG&E is owned by San Diego-based Sempra Energy. Southern California Edison is owned by Edison International, based in Rosemead in suburban Los Angeles.

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