May 7th, 2012
Today has been historic for California!
In Washington, at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Headquarters, Chairman Gregory Jaczko stated not only that the NRC isn't about to allow San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station to restart any time soon -- but in addition, he added that they haven't even been given the documentation from Southern California Edison (SCE) about what went wrong with the steam generators, which they'll want to "thoroughly" review first!
Not only has SCE been saying they've been supplying the NRC with all the information available, they BOTH have been saying the NRC has had people on site and involved the whole time.
So what's going on?
SCE has claimed to have specialists from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI made the faulty steam generators) and independent "experts" from all over the world looking into the problem. But in more than three months, not one "expert" has come forward to talk professionally about what they've found. The public has been left completely in the dark, and it appears that the NRC has been, too.
And I'd be willing to bet those "independent experts" aren't so independent, either!
The fact is, we don't need San Onofre. Nobody in charge of electricity usage in California wants to actually say it, perhaps because traditionally, doing so is a "career-killer", but we don't need San Onofre.
And the fact is, it's all wrecked up right now anyway, because they goofed up the design something fierce, and it will cost HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to "repair". (Actually, when replacement energy costs are included, it will probably cost more than a billion dollars.)
Why bother? That money could be used to build solar rooftops, or offshore wind turbines.
We don't know how to safely store the waste San Onofre generates. We can get the electricity it generates in far cleaner ways, so let's do that instead. Let's send San Onofre to the scrap heap.
No, wait a moment on that. You can't just "scrap" it, you can't recycle its metals. They have become radioactive.
In fact, there's no place on earth to put it! No place under the earth, no place under the sea.... no way to get it into space because you can't be sure it won't hit some piece of space debris on the way up, and/or have a rocket failure and fall back to earth in the worst possible way -- vaporized in a burning reentry!!!
Too expensive, too.
But you CAN keep San Onofre turned off, which is a great idea since whenever you run each reactor, you create, in one day, about 250 pounds of deadly poisonous "spent fuel", including more than a pound of plutonium, which is about 200,000 times more deadly than the uranium atom it came from!
That one pound of plutonium is enough poison to kill about a billion people if it were to get out of the reactor and into the people -- thank goodness for dilution, but prevention is better! Don't make it in the first place.
About every 10 days, each reactor creates enough plutonium for a nuclear bomb. Sure, it has to be "processed" before you can use it as a bomb, but you've made the material. It never existed before.
For a bit of electricity which is easily obtained safer ways, you also created a whole lot of other poisons -- poisons which CANNOT be created any other way except in a nuclear reactor!
Poisons which cannot be safely contained, because they can destroy any container you put them in (it's the definition of "ionizing radiation" that it has the energy to do this).
Poisons which cannot be safely transported, because they're flammable, vaporizable, targetable, and very difficult to handle since you can't get near "spent fuel" without tons and tons of special shielding.
Poisons that are very difficult indeed to isolate from humans, but which must be, safely and affordably, for hundreds of thousands of years. It can't be done.
Radioactive elements are lethal in quantities of mere millionths of a gram. One byproduct, tritium (3H), is so deadly that a normally operating reactor can only release a fraction of a teaspoon in a whole year. (And they do.) That amount has to be diluted in billions of gallons of water to be below legal limits for "safe" drinking water.
The radiation levels INSIDE the broken reactors in Japan would kill a person in seconds, so no one can go in there to clean up the mess, and stop the ongoing meltdowns. Robots can't last in that lethal environment either. There are no "experts" who know what to do there!
By restarting San Onofre, we are making an unsolvable problem worse. But it turns out there's no need to run the reactors anymore. No need to fix them. No need to risk Fukushima in Southern California.
In a hearing at the Capital this afternoon, the California Energy Commission, the California Public Utilities Commission, as well as the California Independent System Operators (CAISO, aka ISO) all agreed that even with San Onofre out of commission for the entire summer -- as it probably will be -- SoCal residents should NOT experience rolling blackouts unless a number of extraordinary things happen. (One of those events is a "ten year peak" in energy use on especially hot days... and considering the number of record highs that have been set across the country in 2012, that doesn't seem so unlikely! But even that is not "catastrophic" like a meltdown at San Onofre would be!)
So why not shut San Onofre forever? Then it won't be nearly as risky in the event of an earthquake (the longer the fuel is out of the reactor, the safer it becomes). And then it can't poison San Diego and Orange counties for thousands of years nearly as easily.
Today, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko stated, regarding San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station, that: "Any discussion of the restart of Unit 2 or Unit 3 is clearly premature." This announcement was made apparently because of "erroneous reports in the media".
At the very end of the hearing in Sacramento, some direct questions about contingencies for rolling blackouts were discussed. Of course they have contingencies. Of course it could happen -- with or without San Onofre operating. Don't be surprised if there are rolling blackouts if attention isn't paid to the need to conserve energy. If extraordinarily hot days occur. If wildfires down power lines. But at least there won't be blackouts AND EVACUATIONS due to meltdowns!
Those testifying in Sacramento today had four or five different reasons that SoCal can live without SanO. We have backup power generation, we have transmission lines, we have conservation plans, we have incentives for businesses to conserve energy... and we have a lot of excess capacity, too. These were not "anti-nuclear" activists talking, these were system operators of our power grid. They actually hoped San Onofre would come back online! But they could not and did not say we need it.
Because we don't.
Keep San Onofre closed forever!
Write to the NRC, the CPUC, the CEC, and the ISO to demand San Onofre be taken out of our energy mix FOREVER -- and Diablo Canyon, too!
The author has been studying energy issues in California for many decades, and nuclear energy in particular for more than 40 years. His 2008 book on nuclear issues, The Code Killers, is available for free download from his web site: www.acehoffman.org . Hoffman, 55, is also a computer programmer and cancer survivor. He resides in Carlsbad, California.