Monday, December 1, 2014

If Yucca Mountain and all other nuclear waste storage locations fail to open?

To: Orange County Register ( )

December 1st, 2014

To The Editor,

Perhaps you think it's just a "thought experiment" not based in reality, but what if Yucca Mountain and all other nuclear waste storage locations fail to open?

Had I asked that 70 years ago -- even then a few years into the "nuclear" age -- I'd have been told a solution is on the way... but no one could have told me what it would be. Ditto half a century ago. Nothing. Then, for about 20 years, we were all told "Yucca Mountain" but that's gone now, too -- and well it should be.

Have you investigated what's wrong with Yucca Mountain? Four-inch-thick titanium drip shields wouldn't last nearly long enough. Volcanoes more likely (less extinct) than first thought. Underground rivers. Earthquakes too, and water intrusion from above (hence the decision to try to design 10,000-year drip shields), especially due to possible changing climatic conditions caused by the vagaries of global warming (i.e., expect MORE rain in SOME desert areas, but mostly much LESS rain everywhere. And every drop of water, wasted by a billion gallons a day in a nuclear plant, is more precious than ever. Solar and wind power use no water, and enclosing the ever-evaporating California Aqueduct in shade-giving solar panels might go a long way (literally and figuratively) to solving several of our current environmental problems all by itself. Solar panels can now be built into roadways, bike paths and sidewalks.

And speaking of your calculations for how much area in solar panels would be needed replace SanO: Assuming your estimates are correct, those are actually doable numbers. But I hope your readers noted (because you didn't) that those estimates replaced two million homes' dirty power source with clean ones: With ONLY "64,000 acres" of solar panels (which could all be located on people's rooftops, by the way, so they wouldn't take up ANY land space) or ONLY "59,000 acres" of wind turbines. As for your estimate of the "acreage" needed for wind turbines, perhaps you haven't been studying the concept of "multi-use" land projects and I guess you're including all the space needed to keep their blades separate from each other, regardless of what's on the ground underneath. Modern wind turbines produce about 6 megawatts of power, so I really have no idea how you came up with that "59,000 acres" figure.

You should also know that house cats kill orders-of-magnitude more birds than wind turbines, and better blade designs are coming with large-scale 3D printing of blade components.

Have you seen the latest ideas for wind turbines that take essentially NO space on the ground? They convert high-speed (and nearly constant) winds aloft to energy, and run that free power down long wires from miles above the earth. VERY efficient! Furthermore, they can be used to ENFORCE "no-fly zones" around existing nuclear waste dumps, just like barrage balloons did for London during WWII. Imagine that!

But you still want more nukes.

Well, take your nuclear waste and stuff it... somewhere. Seriously: Let's see you A) Propose a plan and B) Make it work -- globally. Make it work for ALL the waste that's ever been produced, that's stored here at San Onofre, and at Diablo Canyon and everywhere else, and make it work for all the current waste that's being made every day, before you conspire to produce more. (About 10 tons of spent nuclear fuel is produced in America every day, and 50 tons globally -- but NONE at San Onofre thanks to poor design of their new steam generators, caused by arrogance, ignorance, negligence and greed on the part of the power plant's operators, engineers and most of all, their executives.)

The more recently the "spent" nuclear fuel assemblies came out of the reactor, the more dangerous it is if anything goes wrong or even just for the workers who transfer it from the reactor to the spent fuel pools to the dry casks to transfer casks to move it to...well, where? Or to replacement dry casks (somehow?) sooner or later if there is no place -- and that's by far the most likely scenario. Nobody in their right minds thinks they can safely store nuclear waste for as long as necessary to protect humans from its most hazardous toxins, such as plutonium. It will have to be transferred to new containers many, many times for there to even be a chance that it will be safely stored for the duration.

So let's NOT plan on turning on any more nuclear reactors in southern California, where 30 million people have nowhere to go in an emergency, no way to get there, and no desire to leave in the first place. We like it here. We don't want anything going on which can have one bad day and destroy the entire southern half of the state -- maybe even half the country (study (Google): Worst Case Scenarios for Chernobyl, Fukushima, or any other reactor or spent fuel site).

And while we're prohibiting NEW nuclear reactors in southern California, let's reassess the earthquake safety rating of Diablo Canyon, and shut that monstrosity down, too, before something terrible happens. Nuclear power plants are NOT made to withstand all possible earthquakes that might hit them. Instead, calculations are made of the likelihood of earthquakes large enough, close enough, and aiming in the right direction with the right style of peaks and valleys of energy dissipation, within a given time frame of the reactor operating. These calculations are called Probabilistic Risks Assessments (PRIs).

Are PRIs complicated calculations? Oh, sure. But it's worse than that: There's no reliable data to go INTO the calculations -- least of all, reliable, accurate data on the quality of the workmanship that went into the nuclear reactor when it was built!

And if new data about the size, frequency, closeness, etc. of an earthquake is discovered after the "Environmental Impact Statement" has been produced, that new data is ignored. Once an EIS, always an EIS, and worse than that: One power plant's EIS becomes a generic EIS for all the others, even though the circumstances are completely different. And once a reactor survives one licensing period, the same 20-year-old EIS is used as the basis for extending it to 40, 60, or even 80 years of operation and beyond -- it's rubber-stamped (no reactor license extension request has ever been turned down by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)).

People don't want nuclear waste anywhere near them, but thanks to promoters like you, San Clemente's got a huge pile of it, and has to keep it for what might be thousands of generations.

And now you want more?

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA


Editorial: Even after San Onofre, don't rule out a role for nuclear power


Published: Nov. 26, 2014 Updated: 4:23 p.m.

Edison ratepayers will be getting a $1.45 billion refund for electricity not generated from the premature shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in the settlement recently approved by the California Public Utilities Commission.

However, considering the $3.3 billion cost to shut down the plant, and to pay for those failed steam generators at the center of the closure, will be paid by ratepayers until 2022, it probably doesn't seem like much of a refund.

In all, it seems likely the deal is the best Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric customers are probably going to get over the shuttered nuclear plant ­ and likelyy only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rate increases attributable to the shutdown.

Sure, the generators were meant to pay for themselves over the lengthened lifespan of the plant, but the real costs come from the abrupt loss of nearly 20 percent of SCE's energy production, 2,200 megawatts, which powered about 1.4 million homes.

Solar and wind have been touted as worthy replacements, but it would take 64,000 acres of solar panels or 59,000 acres of wind turbines to replace San Onofre. Instead, SCE has resorted to buying electricity out of state, much of it from coal and natural gas. Before San Onofre went offline, SCE was buying nearly two-thirds of the electricity it provided to consumers; now, it is closer to seven-eights.

Rates, Edison said, likely will go up again shortly after the decrease to cover the higher cost of buying electricity, a Register report noted.

Ratepayers simply should not be on the hook for the costs associated with inattention at the plant, since, according to a Register report, "a federal investigation after the 2012 leak concluded that a botched computer analysis resulted in generator design flaws that were largely to blame for the unprecedented wear in the tubing that carried radioactive water."

That is an unfortunate byproduct of our government-protected monopoly of utility companies, where ratepayers are a captive market. Equally unfortunate is the ease with which environmentalists and their political allies capitalized on the opportunity to shut down for good one of the few clean energy sources in the state.

Despite a handful of headline-catching incidents, nuclear energy has been an extremely safe, reliable and clean source of energy. California's strained power grid simply is not keeping up with growing demandand will require a diverse energy solution. Despite recent setbacks, nuclear power should remain a key part of that energy portfolio.

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