Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Welcome to Las Vegas. You're under arrest.

Dear Readers,

Today (October 13, 2015), another old American nuclear reactor announced that it is closing permanently.

Pilgrim opened in 1972 and has been producing nuclear waste ever since. Due to "unprofitable conditions" it will close by 2019, and perhaps much sooner. A wise investor would close it immediately since the risk is not worth ANY possible profit, let alone a loss, but the regional grid operator requires prior notification of voluntary closure, and refueling outages are considered logical times to close nuclear power plants permanently, in order to squeeze the last few dollars of profit out of the reactor.

Across the country, at least 20 reactors are predicted to close over the next decade, mostly because required safety upgrades (such as they are), operating costs, fuel costs, regular maintenance costs, and competitive replacement energy prices (mostly low natural gas prices but also the wonderful low prices for renewables (which will only go even further down as manufacturing capacities ramp up)) -- all add up to one thing: Unprofitability.

Well, whatever it takes, right? Not so fast. Closing 20% of the fleet doesn't solve the nation's biggest liability: Our growing nuclear waste pile. It only slows it down.

The biggest question facing the nation is where to put the waste. What community will take it? What state? Communities around closed reactor sites are especially eager to get their waste removed, but operating reactors want their old waste removed too -- they want a constant stream of removal of old fuel forever. But to where? No one knows.

So the nuclear industry is using activists around the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station very successfully to try to push the nation towards building an "interim" nuclear waste repository, and/or restarting and then finishing Yucca Mountain, the proposed permanent nuclear waste site in Nevada. For the last 30 years, Yucca Mountain has been the ONLY proposed permanent nuclear waste repository in America. Partly because there really isn't anywhere else that's better. But also because no one wants the waste.

President Obama stopped funding Yucca Mountain research, then he formed a special committee to study alternatives. The so-called "Blue Ribbon Commission" (BRC) came up with nothing: They could not think of any permanent alternative, so instead they proposed changing federal laws to make it easier for a small group of property owners, a tiny township, or a small native American tribe with sovereign land, to build an "interim" waste repository. The laws, which have not yet been completely formulated, would prohibit a state, or any larger community such as a county or nearby large city, from blocking the "interim" storage site. The BRC's proposed new federal laws would also prohibit cities, counties, or states from banning the transport of nuclear waste through their community, on the way to the interim storage location.

In response to the BRC's suggestions, western states formulated a mutual agreement saying they would not allow nuclear waste to be stored in any western state -- unless that state's governor approves it. I have no idea of the legality -- or usefulness -- of the western states' governor's agreement, but it shows how little anyone wants even an "interim" waste repository, let alone, a permanent one.

As plants close around the country, calls for a solution to the problem of nuclear waste storage have intensified tremendously, and will continue to do so. But hold on a minute. First we have to close ALL the reactors. Otherwise, we'll just be enabling them to make more waste.

It was at least six months ago, perhaps more, when I first heard the nuclear industry lavishing praise on Southern California Edison's (SCE's) "Community Engagement Panel" (CEP) as "the way to do it" when interacting with the public during decommissioning. In 2012, San Onofre suddenly closed down permanently, due to poorly-designed replacement steam generators that failed less than a year after installation. Since then, half a dozen other reactors have also shut down, or have announced plans to do so soon. The CEP was initiated about six months after permanent closure was announced. It's headed by a pro-nuclear economist from a local university, and includes a past president of the American Nuclear Society and other nuclear proponents.

The industry is right that it's been very successful, insofar as: Many people (and all the media) around San Onofre -- including once-good activists who were urgently trying to shut down the reactor prior to the steam generator failure -- are now completely misled about how deep the problems with nuclear waste really go. Pun intended. There is no place to put it, but all they can think about is moving it somewhere -- anywhere.

Some activists have even joined with the utility, pushing hard for the Yucca Mountain unfinished permanent repository to restart. Others are content with any parking-lot anywhere, as long as it's away from the current site, which of course would certainly be fine with the utility, and with the local politicians who speak so loudly now, but were silent or belligerently pro-San Onofre before, such as Congressman (and possible future speaker of the house) Darrell Issa.

But wishing for the waste to be moved is not the same as moving it. And the fact is, there are no parking-lots available anywhere where the waste will be safe.

Yucca Mountain is a terrible "solution" to the waste problem. Water leakage from above, water seepage from below, volcanic eruptions in the not-so-distant past, the possibility the area will become lush (again) in the not-so-distant future (due to global warming)...there is only one conclusion: Yucca Mountain's "science" is full of holes.

There never will be any truly safe -- let alone, cost-effective -- solutions to the problem of storing nuclear waste indefinitely. There will always be an element of risk, no matter what solution is implemented.

For this reason, all "solutions" rely on "Probabilistic Risk Assessments" (PRAs) for justification. All PRAs accept that "life is a gamble." All PRAs gamble with your life.

In Nevada, they understand gambling. And they don't want Yucca Mountain.

Bad as Yucca Mountain is, the "interim" solutions are even worse. And worst of all, the area surrounding Yucca Mountain would probably become an "interim" storage site itself for many decades -- with minimal protection since it would be presumed to be very temporary.

Interim solutions offer no real protection for the fuel canisters from earthquakes, volcanoes, tornados and "tornado missiles," real missiles, A-10 Warthogs flown by renegade pilots with live DU shells, a LPG explosion nearby at sea or on the railroad tracks near many of the sites (including San Onofre), rust, apathy, poor welding during manufacture (include San Onofre here, too), transportation hazards, tsunamis...even asteroids.

Southern California's remaining newspapers blame the failure of the feds to open Yucca Mountain, and San Onofre's sudden closing, as the cause of high energy bills in the future. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The bill may be high, but it is because we have the waste -- we already made it, and now we have to protect it. Doing that successfully will cost billions. Failing to do so, however, could cost trillions.

Ionizing radiation destroys any chemical bond of any container you put radioactive substances in. Radiation accelerates decay, corrosion, embrittlement, rust, osteo-ripening, Wigner's disease, hardening, loss of ductility, aging...(these are all basically names for the same thing). So you can't just enclose nuclear waste and walk away. Eventually you have to transfer the waste to a new enclosure, or enclose the original enclosure (as they're doing in Chernobyl already). And then sooner or later, repeat the process.

Yucca Mountain was supposed to "solve" all that by letting the containers crumble under thousands of tons of rock, over a period of hundreds of years (so hopefully, most of the crumbling would start long after most of the fission products will have decayed away). Yucca Mountain is an iffy proposition at best, since predicting the behavior of the radionuclides in the ground over a period of many millennia is basically just guesswork.

Thanks to San Onofre and the complicity of the California Coastal Commission (CCC), the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the gullible public enjoyed relatively cheap energy (nevertheless, among the most expensive in the nation) for approximately two generations. But the full cost of that "cheap" energy is to be paid by our children, and our children's children, for thousands of generations.

Those who made the waste -- and thus, made the waste problem -- are the ones to blame if rates go up because Yucca Mountain (or any solution) doesn't open up. Likewise, those who made the waste are to blame if rates go up because the NRC (dream on), or the CPUC or CCC decides to require more robust (and more expensive) solutions than the cheap "ISFSI Islands" SoCalEd is proposing to use. If rates go up because we manage to catch the failure of a dry cask BEFORE a catastrophe, and only have to spend billions to repackage each cask, instead of trillions if there is a full release of one or more spent fuel casks, it will be the fault of those who made this awful stuff.

You can never clear the site of an operating reactor of its most dangerous, most risky contents. Risk is only reduced after the reactor is permanently shut down. After that, the fuel has to cool thermally and radioactively...the longer you let it cool, the less risky it becomes. It takes many millennia before it is safe to handle.

For operating reactors, worrying about getting their used fuel offsite is ignoring the more imminent danger: The reactor itself, and the used fuel which was most recently removed from the reactor. The older fuel (actually "old reactor cores") is a growing problem, but not the main problem at open reactors. Closing them is the main problem.

However, at closed reactors, the used fuel is the problem.

Operating reactors have to build several more dry casks every time they refuel, since their spent fuel pools are already full. After filling the stainless steel casks and inserting them into cement bunkers, the utility assumes that Department of Energy (DOE) will "take possession of it at some point." And so they keep operating.

The $30 billion dollars ratepayers across the country have already put into a fund for building a permanent solution is probably going to be siphoned off for "interim" storage solutions. There is currently a proposal to "only" siphon off the interest that is accruing -- but the principal is worth less and less every year because of inflation, so really that's making a permanent solution more and more difficult to fund properly. They've already stopped collecting more money from the ratepayers, because the DOE hasn't been getting anywhere with its plans.

The lesson to be learned by Californians from the San Onofre steam generator debacle and subsequent waste problem we are left with, is to shut down Diablo Canyon immediately and demand that Arizona shut down Palo Verde (20% owned by San Onofre's owner, Southern California Edison). Shutting down the operating reactors is the most important thing local activists around San Onofre can help with, since they can see (if they look) the difference in risk factors between: 1) an operating reactor, 2) "fresh" used fuel which was recently removed from the reactor, 3) older used fuel, and 4) no fuel on site at all (the desired condition everywhere).

But they can also see (if they look) that trying to force Nevada to take the waste is naive. This author was in Nevada for two hearings last month (September, 2015) and has been to five or six hearings there over the past decade and a half. The majority of the citizens of Nevada definitely don't want our waste, and Las Vegas in particular is adamant that THEY don't want it anywhere near them (and Yucca Mountain is VERY near them). And it's not just their elected representatives -- it's the people who elected them. And it's the people with money, too. The ones who own the casinos. They don't want nuclear waste trucked through their town (which would be the preferred route for much of the waste). City officials have even sworn to arrest anyone who tries to drive used nuclear reactor cores through their city.

The transport and storage accident scenarios envisioned by the NRC are farcical: In their fantasies, mere millionths of a single fuel pellet (i.e., tiny fractions of a gram) of nuclear waste ever escapes a dry cask, either during transport or while sitting wherever it may be for the next 300 years (or more). NRC assumes that only these tiny fractional amounts, out of all 10,000+ dry casks worth of fuel which already exists in America, and all that will be made in the coming decades, will ever be released in any "worst case" scenario. It's preposterous.

If we're lucky, all 300+ dry casks' worth that already exists in California will be transported with few accidents, and those accidents (according to the NRC's PRAs) will only release millionths of a gram (or less) of the 20 or so tons of nuclear fuel inside each cask. But perhaps we will not be so lucky, especially since the longer we wait to transport the casks, the more embrittled the containers will be when they are finally moved.

Nuclear power is, of course, completely replaceable with clean renewable energy, such as wind, wave, solar, and so on. These energy sources put zero costs on future generations and zero risk.

It's time for California and the rest of America to switch to clean energy solutions.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Correspondence with Tim Judson, NIRS:

To: "Tim Judson" <timj .. nirs.org>
Subject: RE: [NukeNet] NIRS statement on Pilgrim reactor closure announcement
Cc: "Michael Mariotte" <nirsnet .. nirs.org>, "Michael Aguirre" <maguirre .. amslawyers.com>, "Donna Gilmore" <dgilmore .. cox.net>


Your policy has enabled the nuclear industry to give us 2,200 dry casks across the country so far. How many more are you willing to put up with? We'll need 10,000+ for all the waste in existence today, with a new one needed every other day in America for as far into the future as anyone can see. Because when the pools got full, NIRS and "1000 local, regional, and national groups across the country" endorsed dry cask storage when shut-down was the only reasonable alternative.

Yet you called this "secure." I don't know what metallurgists you consult, but clearly none I would respect.


At 10:39 PM 10/13/2015 +0000, Tim Judson wrote:
>Hey Ace,
>For over 10 years, NIRS has taken the position that fuel should be transferred from high-density pool storage to Hardened On-Site Storage, along with 1,000 local, regional, and national groups across the country, including those in reactor communities. Pilgrim is a Mark I Boiling Water Reactor, with the fuel pool six stories in the air. There is nothing less secure than that. We understand every site has different kinds of constraints and vulnerabilities. We also believe current dry-cask designs are not good enough, and we push for better standards. But the dangers of high-density pool storage are extreme. There is no good solution to the waste, only bad options ranging from worse to worst. Activists in the Plymouth community want the waste out of the pool. There has been a dispute about the location of the dry-cask pad, not the need to get the waste out of the pool.
>Hope that helps,
>From: Ace Hoffman
>Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2015 1:49 PM
>To: Michael Mariotte
>Cc: Tim Judson
>Subject: Re: [NukeNet] NIRS statement on Pilgrim reactor closure announcement
>Does NIRS officially think the waste can be "secured" properly?
>If so, please think again!
>At 05:36 PM 10/13/2015 +0000, NIRS wrote:
>FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Tim Judson 212-729-1169
>October 13, 2015 timj .. nirs.org
>Statement by NIRS Executive Director Tim Judson on
>Entergy's Announced Closure of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant
>NIRS applauds Entergy's decision to close the unsafe, uneconomical, and polluting Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant, on Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts. However, Entergy's proposed 2019 closure date is unacceptable, and poses the risk that this dangerous reactor could continue operating for nearly four more years. Pilgrim currently has the worst nuclear safety rating in the country, tied with Entergy's Arkansas Nuclear One plant.
>Entergy has been cutting costs on the aging, uncompetitive reactor at Pilgrim for years, which has resulted in the rise in safety violations, equipment failures and even security lapses, and Entergy's decision to close the plant is ostensibly to avoid millions of dollars in costs to meet NRC's minimum safety standards. The NRC cannot allow a reactor to operate without addressing the systemic safety violations that Entergy has at Pilgrim.
>In 2013, NIRS, Citizens Awareness Network, Pilgrim Watch, and other organizations petitioned the NRC for enforcement of the agency's financial qualifications regulations at Pilgrim. Such action could have avoided this situation entirely, but NRC inexplicably refuses to enforce that regulation. We also call on New England's electricity grid operator to work with Entergy to release Pilgrim from its capacity commitments and enable the plant to close as soon as possible.
>NIRS supports the call of Senator Edward Markey for assistance to Pilgrim workers who may be displaced by the reactors' closure. That plan should begin with a planned, orderly, and responsible decommissioning of Pilgrim. With approximately $900 million in a dedicated decommissioning trust fund, most of the workforce could be retained for 10-20 years in securing the nuclear waste and cleaning up the radioactive and toxic materials at Pilgrim, restoring and protecting the ecology of Cape Cod for generations to come.
>NukeNet Anti-Nuclear Network (nukenet@energyjustice.net)

Quotes collected by Ace Hoffman:

"Nuclear war must be the most carefully avoided topic of general significance in the contemporary world. People are not curious about the details." -- Paul Brians (author; quote is from: Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction)
�When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.� -- Sinclair Lewis (first American Nobel Prize winner in Literature, 2.7.1885 - 1.10.1951)
"There is no such thing as a pro-nuclear environmentalist." -- Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa, 1992)
"Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories." -- Sun Tzu (Chinese general b.500 BC)
�Stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results.� -- Margaret Atwood (Canadian poet/novelest/environmentalist/etc.)
�The sun shows up every day and produces ridiculous amounts of power.� -- Elon Musk (5.1.2015)
"The most intolerable reactor of all may be one which comes successfully to the end of its planned life having produced mountains of radioactive waste for which there is no disposal safe from earthquake damage or sabotage." -- A. Stanley Thompson (a pioneer nuclear physicist who later realized the whole situation)
"Any dose is an overdose." -- Dr. John W. Gofman (another pioneer nuclear physicist who saw the light (9.21.1918 - 8.15.2007))
"Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery." -- Octavia Butler (science fiction writer, 7.22.1947 - 2.24.2006)
"If you want real welfare reform, you focus on a good education, good health care, and a good job.

If you want to reduce poverty, you focus on a good education, good healthcare, and a good job.

If you want a stable middle class, you focus on a good education, good health care, and a good job.

If you want to have citizens who can participate in democracy, you focus on a good education, good health care, and a good job.

And if you want to end the violence, you could build a million new prisons and you could fill them up, but you never end this cycle of violence unless you invest in the health and the skill and the intellect and the character of our children. You focus on a good education, good health care and a good job.

And other than that, I don't feel strongly about anything."

-- Paul Wellstone (US Senator, D-Minnesota, 7.21.1944 - 10.25.2002)
"There are no warlike peoples - just warlike leaders." -- Ralph Bunche (8.7.1903 - 12.9.1971)
In the execution room, Troy [Davis] used his last words to proclaim his innocence one final time. He then made a call for his movement -- all of our movement -- to bring about [an] end of the death penalty for good. And then, in his final breath, he asked God�s mercy upon those about to kill him.
"Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God." -- Thomas Jefferson
"Officials from the San Onofre nuclear reactor said the warning siren that went off yesterday was just a malfunction and no one should worry. Hey, I worry, if they can't even get the siren to work right, what the hell are they doing with the reactor??" Jay Leno 1/20/10
"Please send this to everyone you know!" -- Ace Hoffman (original collector of the above quotes)

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An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
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