Thursday, June 27, 2013

FOE & SCGreen both endorse endless dry cask storage on site at San Onofre...

"Friends of the Earth" (FOE) released a report today which endorses moving all the spent fuel at San Onofre to on-site dry cask storage as quickly as possible.

Not "hardened" storage -- at least, the word was not used in the press release, and the finances proposed in the longer report did not provide for it.

Not transportable containers -- the funding for such things also wasn't included.

Not containers widely spread out and separated by earthen berms, with deep pits and channels for jet fuel to run off into, just in case a plane crashes into them.

Not containers stored underground, with high walls to prevent line-of-sight attacks, and strong roofs. No place for such things was named. No money for such things was allotted.

Where would FOE's "hardened" dry casks be located? Camp Pendleton? The moon? Up and down San Onofre State Beach?

No, that's not what FOE recommended. They're recommending, in the strongest terms, plain-vanilla dry cask storage such as they've been doing at San Onofre for over a decade already -- at a frantic pace, I might add -- and have been doing nationally since 1986. Over 1500 dry casks sit waiting around the country right now.

Waiting for what? To be breached!

We already have about 50 dry casks at San Onofre. The rest of the fuel is in the spent fuel pools, and Unit two's reactor is still filled with fuel at this moment.

I asked Mr. Headrick of SCGreen, who, along with FOE, has endorsed dry cask storage, if he thought it was strange that he was endorsing exactly what SCE's expected policy was.

He said he was afraid of "the big one" but admitted to not being an expert. Both dry casks and the spent fuel pools are built to the same seismic qualifications. So what's his rush?

Even the experts contracted by FOE (Arnie Gundersen, Robert Alverez and others) admit that we have a minimum of "five to seven years" before the pools can be completely emptied, because the most recently removed fuel cannot be removed from the spent fuel pools any sooner than that.

Why not put it in reusable shipping containers once, move it once, and be done with it? At least move it to Palo Verde, assuming Diablo Canyon closes soon. Move it to a place which hasn't got the sense to close their own reactor.

Why should ANYONE rush to judgement and produce a report condemning SoCal's 8.7 million residents to deadly dry cask storage? Those casks will quite likely be here for hundreds of years -- during what is by far the most deadly time for the fuel, because of the fission products it contains.

Worse, this FOE report was produced immediately after FOE had been supporting the local activists financially and in many other ways, yet without allowing the activists to have any input on FOE's decision to endorse dry cask storage. (This author commended FOE on their efforts to shut San Onofre not long ago.)

FOE's been telling the NRC (and the media) they represent the citizens of southern California. Do they? Is eternal -- until it fails -- dry cask storage what southern Californians really want for the next seven, or seventy, or seven hundred -- generations?

Friends Of the Earth ("experts") and San Clemente Green (admittedly "not experts") have done what no one else could do -- they have condemned SoCal to a virtually permanent dry cask horror. Fighting Goliath was hard enough when baby Goliath (FOE) was on our side. Fighting Goliath and mini-Goliath together will be well nigh impossible. So we're getting dry casks, with no hope of removal. Great job, FOE! NOT!

Thanks to FOE's endorsement, 8.7 million people who live within 50 miles of one of the nation's largest nuclear waste dumps -- formerly known as San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station -- can expect that dump to remain on the coast, in a tsunami inundation zone, in an earthquake zone, in a high population zone, for centuries.

Dry cask storage is NO solution to the nuclear waste problem! Not here, not anywhere!

FOE's report makes one minor allusion to the danger -- namely, admitting it's not perfectly safe. In reality, it's not even close.

I found out about FOE's press release, while surfing the Internet on my "4G Note II" smart phone amidst a widespread, but short-lived, blackout. Below are my tweets from this morning during the blackout regarding the FOE report, in reverse chronological order.

If the fission products or the plutonium or uranium in these dry casks is ever released for any reason, all the effort the activists had put into stopping San Onofre will have been for nothing. It will be centuries before the danger significantly subsides, and the most dangerous time is right now. Yet we talk about "temporary" solutions! The best permanent solutions are needed as soon as the fuel can be moved -- not "interim" anything!

There are no good solutions, so America should realize it must shut down ALL the other reactors. And remove the fuel from southern California's coast. It's just crazy not to.

But instead, FOE proposes to walk away from SanO's mess, just like SCE wants to do. What's wrong with this picture?

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Tweets during the local blackout:

NAS reports indicated serious complications AND LARGE RELEASES can occur from mishandling fuel xfer or from cask degradation, accidents&etc.

Dry casks are NO solution to the used reactor core waste storage problem. They are a holding pattern for a nuclear disaster for 8.7million

Dry cask storage enabled the nuke industry to continue decades longer than it otherwise would have been able to go with no waste "solution."

A non-overfilled spent fuel pool costs the same as a 4X overloaded SFP-half a billion dollars, at least. DKS is much CHEAPER I'll admit.

Transfer of spent reactor fuel is always risky and should be done as seldom as possible. Where will it go from the dry casks? Nowhere???

No serious incident has occurred at a dry cask "farm" but when it does it could rival a meltdown in an operating reactor. Pu could escape.

Dry cask storage was invented to allow the nuclear industry to continue operation by storing intensely radioactive waste on site cheaply.

Large earthquakes could rip those dry casks apart... greater-than-design-basis is possible. Same with tsunamis...could cause a full release.

NRC admitted dry cask storage could last 300 years; fully expect many 20 yr extensions... a lot can go wrong in a couple of centuries...

What about the whistleblower who reported that SanO's dry casks were fabricated poorly on site? Who cares? &what's next for the waste? When?

What happens when one-just one-dry cask breaches? Do you call that a manageable risk or an unacceptable one? Airplane strikes? Terrorists?

Thanks 4 the legacy of on site nuke waste storage forever in non-hardened dry casks, FOE. Gave up on SoCal, did you? No blackouts either?

(From a letter to several activists today (slightly modified)):

The FOE report admits we have one of the 10 or so largest nuclear waste dumps in the country. Then it proposes we stay that way.

It says it's calling for "hardened" on site storage but it's been announced in such a way as to force us to settle for a far less robust dry cask system (the term "hardened" wasn't even used in the press release) -- and the report's financial assumptions make it clear they are talking about a far less robust dry cask system than what, say, Arjun Makhijani means when he uses the term "hardened." Some mention of "hardened" systems are made, but no money is allocated to build them and their form and function are not provided. Hardened against what?

What the FOE report is talking about is the current system, which is NOT good enough -- we are NOT protected against anything major and the waste will be here for centuries -- during its most hazardous time, it will be the least protected in the most populated area!!

The only safe dry cask system isn't located in an earthquake zone, tsunami zone or large population zone. It's not under major air traffic routes. It's not located here.


From another letter (also modified):

The quote below is from page 43 of the United States Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board Evaluation of the Technical Basis for Extended Dry Storage and Transportation of Used Nuclear Fuel December 2010. The reference is for shipping casks. There are similar rules for stationary dry casks.

The conditions are not extreme for each test. Every cask is likely to travel over a bridge more than 30 feet high, for instance. Maybe much higher.

These rules prove that nuclear waste transport -- which MUST happen if we are to protect our most valuable land -- is a gamble. The more often you transport the waste, the more often you have to load and unload the casks, operations which can also go wrong. It's all a gamble. How many gambles should the nation take? How many gambles should the local community take? If we hadn't shut down, that'd be one thing, but we have. We're done. Get the waste out of here (and get it out of San Diego Bay, by the way).

One of the NRC's reports on the SanO steam generator failures made it clear that the regulators assume that all manufacturing is actually done to design specifications. This is true even though the whole reason for the NRC's various onsite inspection programs is because the facts don't always match the reports or the plans or anything.

So, given that accidents DO happen, and given that any given set of tests may have been done improperly or not done at all, or might not reflect the real world, and given that computer calculations for these sorts of things are notoriously inaccurate, one has to assume cask failure is a possibility. What then? What if all the casks are cracked open by an earthquake, or in a tsunami, or both? Is it really THAT unlikely here? And regardless of the frequency, was it worth the risk for what it gave us -- electricity that solar and wind power could have given us?

Should the waste remain on the ocean edge of a military base, surrounded on the land side by some of the most fertile growing environments in the world, that just need cheap access to desal plants, or cheap access to ANY clean water, to function? Our land is among the most valuable real estate on earth, although it is regularly abused by putting up buildings where farms which could feed the world should be. So instead there are 8.7 million people here and growing. Chernobyl destroyed mostly farmland yet still killed thousands, or perhaps a million or more. The evacuations of Fukushima and Chernobyl were poorly done and late in coming.

One dry cask failure would be enough to require massive permanent evacuations and would lower the local real estate values by, oh a trillion dollars or so. Is that what FOE helped us achieve?

What does "hardened" mean? Does it mean it will merely pass the standards shown below? Unless Messrs Alverez and Gundersen wish to define "hardened" such that it includes surviving an accidental (or purposeful) airplane strike, a Fukushima-sized seismic or aquatic event, sabotage or poor construction, their press release needs to be withdrawn for inaccurately portraying their document, which needs to be withdrawn and rewritten. The FOE document only provides for a minimal amount of protection, equal to current government standards for the deadliest stuff on earth. For most of the next millennia, the fission products will be the predominant danger. Many of them are far more poisonous even than the plutonium, because they bioaccumulate in the environment and because of their short half-lives, such as 30 years for many of them. In 300 years those will be a thousandth as hazardous as they are now yet still require isolation until they're radiation has declined many more orders of magnitude, over many millennia. These time frames show how important protecting the next few dozen generations is, when the fuel is especially dangerous.

The only way to "harden" nuclear waste in southern California is to move it away, and the only possible ways to "harden" it anywhere are far more expensive that what Bob Alverez / FOE / SCE are proposing / planning.

If proper protections aren't taken, a dry cask catastrophe will happen somewhere, sooner or later. And one cask would be a very serious accident: Quoting FOE's own report commenting on spent fuel pool fires, one doesn't need to extrapolate far to imagine what one dry cask failure could do:

"Far less radioactive cesium was released by the Fukushima nuclear disaster [than in a spent fuel pool fire], which resulted in significant land and aquatic contamination, forcing the eviction of approximately 150,000 people from their homes, food restrictions, and the large, costly remediation of large areas offsite."

From that quote, one can expect to lose all of San Clemente if just ONE dry cask fails, for ANY reason! Maybe we won't lose San Diego (maybe we will), but San Clemente is toast on the coast.

Besides, think about this: Fukushima only contained spent reactor cores, too, just like we have at San Onofre, but fresher -- the reactors had only been shut down for a few hours when the systems failed and they overheated. And look what a mess that made! But the point is, the reactors were already off, so they were in essentially the same setup we have: They had spent fuel in the reactor, spent fuel in the pools, and spent fuel in dry casks. The dry casks were not hit by anything (such as a boat) or tipped over or anything like that. And it was the spent fuel in the reactors that actually caused the problem -- NOT the fuel in the spent fuel pools. And our pools aren't 60 feet off the ground. And if those domes are so strong, can't we build ground-level spent fuel pools inside them for temporary storage of the fuel until we move it? Keeping something that mustn't catch fire under 40 feet of water makes sense to me.

Had Fukushima's reactors been off for five to seven years, or even as long as ours have been, there probably wouldn't have been ANY problem no matter where the fuel was -- dry casks, spent fuel pools, or left in the reactor (with water). The main difference is that with the reactors off, the fuel has time to cool, which occurs over a long time, following a logarithmic descent. It cools both thermally and radiologically, but it takes eons.

Even after a five to seven year wait the fuel is still very hot (400 degrees F at the fuel rod surface). The longer you wait, the safer the fuel transfer operation is, the less exposure the workers experience, and the safer the fuel is once it's in the dry casks or while it's in transit.

The casks that will be used at SanO are not "hardened" and only cost a million bucks per cask. They are not designed to withstand airplane strikes or many other significant hazards they might be exposed to. They are a bargain for SCE. But if they fail, they are certainly no bargain for us.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Regulations for shipping casks for spent nuclear fuel:

3.1.1 Package Performance Testing

As identified in 10 CFR 71, shipping casks or packages are required to survive a sequence of tests simulating "normal conditions of transport" (10 CFR 71.71) and "hypothetical accident conditions" (10 CFR 71.73). The more rigorous suite of accident tests are to be performed in this sequence:

free-drop test: drop package 9 m (30 ft) onto an essentially unyielding horizontal surface (strike speed will be about 48 kph or 30 mph) with the package orientation arranged so that its weakest point is struck,

puncture test: drop package 1 m onto a vertical, 15 cm (6 in) diameter, cylindrical mild steel bar striking the package at its most vulnerable spot,

thermal test: exposure of packaged, fully engulfed in a fire of at least 800ºC (1470ºF) for a period of 30 minutes with less than the specified loss of containment effectiveness, and

immersion test: package placed under a head of water of at least 15 m (50 ft) or an external pressure of about 150 kPa (21.7 psi or 3130 psf) for at least 8 hours.

The NRC permits quantitative analysis (e.g., computer simulations using physics based finite element or finite difference models), scale-model (typically one-quarter or one-half scale), and full-scale testing of packages or package components, and comparisons with existing approved package designs to be used to demonstrate compliance with the regulations. Scale model testing is limited in that some of the most important weak points in a complex structure often may not scale well, for instance bolts and welds.38 These situations require special analyses. Testing of full-scale actual packages (including both certification tests under actual accident conditions and demonstration tests under simulated accident conditions) is not a requirement of the regulations. The NRC has certified several transportation package designs that include dual and multi-purpose packages designed for both transportation and storage.


Useful URLs:

FOE SanO Dry Cask Endorsement:

NAS dry casks report (at NIRS web site):

My own July 29th, 2012 spent fuel fires report:

Kirk Sorensen on the makeup of nuclear waste:

In 2010 Kirk Sorensen gave a wonderful description of the problem of nuclear waste. It's Sorensen, so of course he misunderstands the risk factors from DNA damage, bioaccumulation and accidents, and he suggests thorium reactors can solve the plutonium problem that inevitably remains. I don't agree with Sorensen's conclusions, but it's still a great presentation about the waste. It's called Is Nuclear Waste Really Waste?

The answer -- and Sorensen misses it -- is that nuclear waste is the worst kind of waste there is. Sorensen thinks palladium might be worth extracting from the waste, if it weren't for a pesky 6-million-year half-life radioactive isotope to muddy the waters. He's sure the plutonium is worth recovering, too. I say if someone wants to try again in a thousand years (when most of the fission products have decayed away), they'll extract the stuff whether we bury it or sink it or box it or put a pretty bow on it. In any case, Sorensen does illustrate the radioactive content of nuclear waste wonderfully and his illustrations are based on standard government/nuke industry software and data produced by a program whose accuracy has been validated a number of ways. The presentation also includes a nice primer on nuclear fission (for those who need one). He just goes off on his thorium kick, so I can't recommend it beyond its value for outlining the nuke waste problem.

Matt Wald (NYT) from 2010:

"Metal parts of such casks can begin corroding in weeks if salt hits them, the N.R.C. has found. Whether this happens depends partly on the temperature of the cask (it is heated by the waste) and the humidity in the air.

"The engineer who headed the Yucca program under the Bush administration, Edward F. Sproat III, also attending the conference, said, "you can't keep that stuff in those canisters forever. They're not designed that way." "


** Ace Hoffman
** Carlsbad, CA