Monday, June 4, 2012

If we're going to "phase out" nuclear power, shouldn't Phase One be San Onofre, RIGHT NOW?


Dear Readers,

Many people have called for phasing out the 104 operating nuclear reactors in America and replacing them with clean, green renewable energy systems such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, space-based mirrors, and, of course, conservation. The technology to replace nuclear power is readily available -- including the space-based mirrors.

So let's get started. And let's start by "phasing out" San Onofre Nuclear Waste Generating Station (SONWGS) RIGHT NOW!

Waiting to stop relicensing ten years down the road -- in 2022 -- is just waiting for disaster to strike twixt now and then. Waiting to stop SONWGS at a "relicensing" hearing, as some activists want do in order to "phase out" the plant, is just playing into the industry's hands -- again!

Consider it this way: Relicensing is a moment in time. If we win, true, that's great -- but no one has ever stopped a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) relicensing application, not once.

Waiting for the moment of relicensing is pure folly. As soon as that moment has passed, and you've failed, what are you going to do that you can't do TODAY? Wait ANOTHER, oh 19 years and hope you can prevent relicensing then? Fight every day for another 20 years against the plant, in order to prevent its relicensing again in 2042? Neither option appeals to me.

The entire nuclear industry now expects to run old reactors EIGHTY YEARS because new licenses -- and money for construction -- are both nearly impossible to obtain. But they can make a bundle from old reactors, because so many costs are passed on to the ratepayers and to our progeny. And because the deadly used reactor cores are just being stored on site in dangerous "Dry Casks" which the utilities have built hundreds of in the past decade.

Old licenses, old reactors and old technology -- can just be kept running. Deadly waste -- can just keep piling up.

Until something happens.

Even pro-nuker and local Congressional Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) has admitted that San Onofre is outdated technology. For instance it has no passive cooling system. This author does NOT endorse the new technology that Issa endorses, he finds it utterly inadequate on many counts. But Issa and I agree on SanO. Except he wants it shut down in ten years, at relicensing time and replaced with a "new" design with the aforementioned "passive cooling system" (it's a better design, I'll admit -- but it's hardly good enough).

Why not just keep San Onofre shut permanently NOW, Mr. Issa? We would save all that repair money that will have to be spent, and we would eliminate all the risks associated with "hot" (thermally and radioactively) fuel fresh out of the reactor, as well as the dangers of the operating reactors themselves? And we'd stop making more waste! Let's "phase out" San Onofre NOW, not later!

Relicensing of California's reactors is ten years away. Why wait? The San Andreas Fault probably won't wait! (Ask any geologist.) There are many other active faults near San Onofre, and a $64 million study which has finally been commissioned (at ratepayer expense) to study the local earthquake and tsunami dangers is actually worthless, because more than enough is ALREADY known!

Legally, one would think you could ALWAYS shut down a dangerous operation or, in San Onofre's case, prevent it from restarting. San Onofre's operators have failed to properly maintain the reactors. Their license to operate can and should be taken away.

You just have to convince a judge or jury that something is a "clear and present danger", right?

Normally that's true, but the nuclear industry has that route hopelessly tied up in a bureaucratic mess that ends with the NRC. Even Oyster Creek in New Jersey -- just like Fukushima and just as dangerous -- was relicensed for another 20 years almost immediately after the "unthinkable, unspeakable" triple-meltdowns in Japan! Did the NRC consider all the similarities between Fukushima and Oyster Creek? Not at all! Not a one! Literally! And even if they had wanted to, they wouldn't have known what had actually happened to the nearly identical reactors in Japan by the time the NRC reissued the Oyster Creek license for another 20 years.

And you can't talk about "safety" with anyone else, they'll tell you to go to the NRC. And the NRC will rubber-stamp the worst reactors on the planet, in the most dangerous places.

Phase out? You'll hear that over and over again from the "experts": "We have to phase out nuclear power." In Germany they are phasing out nuclear power. In the meantime, let's hope it doesn't phase them out first! It's a small country: One meltdown could ruin their entire economy, just as it could do to California.

But here in California we have a PERFECT example of where a "phase out" can start: SAN ONOFRE. It's terribly broken! Only a fool would restart it at all, but especially without installing all-new steam generators, at a total cost, including replacement energy in the meantime (because cheap renewable sources had not been secured) of probably about two billion dollars and a total delay of at least two more years.

But even once repaired, only a fool would restart San Onofre. They tried that last time and look what happened! And think about what could have happened. Even since the reactor was shut down, critical safety systems have been found to be inoperative since the plant was built decades ago! That's what happens when you can't test your "fail-safe" safety systems!

Did someone say "phase out"? Phase one of phase out should begin at San Onofre, RIGHT NOW!

But instead, we just keep hearing the phrase "phase out nuclear power". We hear it from "experts" and activists. When does a "phase out" start? Below are quotes from two experts calling for phase-out. Their arguments sound like they should be calling for shut-down, but then, in the end, all they call for is "phase-out". The two examples are both more than ten years old. "Phase out" has still not begun.

When can we start calling for "shut-down" instead? AFTER America's own Fukushima? Is that what it will take to hear a united call for shut-down?

Ten years ago "phase-out" was the wrong thing to call for. All the terrible things we were afraid would happen here -- happened in Japan. We've been lucky -- so far. They weren't.

Must we wait to learn the lessons for ourselves? Or can we start "phase out" NOW, at San Onofre, TODAY?


Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

The author, an educational software developer, was nearly phased out himself, by bladder cancer in 2007. (Environmental radiation is one known cause of bladder cancer.) He is the author of The Code Killers: Why DNA and Ionizing Radiation are a Dangerous Mix, a free download available at his web site: .

Dr. Arjun Makhijani (President, IEER) on SFPs vs. DKS:

A Bad Approach to Nuclear Waste (Wash Post Op-Ed, Feb. 13, 2002 by Arjun Makhijani)

Dr. Makhijani's bio from the article: "The writer is President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. A study he co-authored in 1992 on nuclear waste was partially funded by the state of Nevada."
"To eliminate security risks arising from on-site spent-fuel storage, it is essential to remove all the spent fuel from the pools and put it in some form of sub-surface storage, either on site or in a deep repository. In the long term (several decades) no reasonable substitute for a deep geologic repository exists.

"But the spent-fuel pools cannot be closed while there existing nuclear power plants are operating. Underwater storage for several years is essential, else the spent fuel will melt and release large amounts of radioactivity. In other words, to end the security vulnerability of spent-fuel pools, existing nuclear power plants must be phased out."

I've posted a photocopy of Dr. Makhijani's entire op-ed here:

Short URL:

I have great respect for Dr. Makhijani. But how do you start a "phase out"? You shut a reactor down, then another and another. Ten years on, can we finally start this "phase out" process at San Onofre? I hope he will join our call to keep San Onofre closed forever!

Note that current dry cask storage is NOT Dr. Makhijani's concept of "sub-surface on-site storage", what we are actually doing is much cheaper, and leaves the fuel in a much more vulnerable state than his "Hardened On Site Storage (HOSS)" plan. No plan is perfect, but not making more waste reduces the problem for the rest of humanity to only what we have already created.

Kevin Kamps on SFPs vs. DKS:

Here is Kevin Kamps, then of NIRS, and now of Beyond Nuclear (both terrific organizations). Kamps' document is from three months before 9-11. Six pages into his treatise against dry casks he says this:

"Nuclear power must be phased out and replaced with safer, cheaper, cleaner ways to meet our electricity needs: conservation, efficiency, and renewable sources such as wind, solar, and fuel cells."

Kevin Kamps' full document (in "png" form; shortened URLs):
Page 1:
Page 2:
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I have great respect for Kevin Kamps, but I think it's time to "phase out" San Onofre and I thought so then. Right now San Onofre is in a significant state of disrepair. Right now wind, solar, and other renewable energy solutions can provide all the power we need AND much-needed jobs in the state. And right now, The Big One hasn't struck... yet. So what's wrong with now? I hope he will join our call to keep San Onofre closed forever!

Contact information for Ace Hoffman:

** Ace Hoffman, Owner & Chief Programmer, The Animated Software Co.
** POB 1936, Carlsbad CA 92018
** U.S. & Canada (800) 551-2726; elsewhere: (760) 720-7261
** home page: