Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Nuclear Waste Problems are Unsolvable Today, Tomorrow, and Forever

The nuclear waste problem is *growing* by several canisters' worth of waste *every week* around the country. The problem is getting enormously larger every year. It remains the #1 reason to close Diablo Canyon now rather than later, and majority owner Southern California Edison (SoCalEd or SCE, 80%) and co-owner San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E, 20%) should be the most vocal to the California Public Utilities Commission about that! Of course, that would require SoCalEd and/or SDG&E admitting the whole operation was a mistake from start to finish, which they'll never do. But it was!

I think it is vital that we keep reminding the country that operating nuclear power plants are creating this dangerous waste needlessly. There are clean alternatives that are much closer to zero carbon impact, and of course, that don't produce nuclear waste.

In the meantime, the public needs to be reminded what they are creating. Otherwise they won't think about the waste problem until their local plant closes. After all: We (the citizens around San Onofre Nuclear [Waste] Generating plant, aka "SanO") didn't (okay, a few of us did, but not many people -- even among activists -- gave it much thought)!

We need to consider how we ended up with all these dry casks in the first place. Right now, between three and four thousand of them already exist nationally, and more than 10,000 canisters worth of fuel already exists in America: In the spent fuel pools, already in canisters, or still in operating reactors.

How did this happen? About 20 years ago, the nuclear industry realized they had a problem with the Spent Fuel Pools (SPFs) -- largely thanks to a few researchers (Frank von Hipple, for one, as I recall) who noticed that triple-packed and quadruple-packed SPFs weren't nearly as safe as the industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) were claiming, especially if the pools were drained for any reason.

One logical solution would have been to turn off the reactors and some of us (raises hand!) argued for that, and SoCalEd would have had to do that, but some nuclear nutcase invented dry cask storage and nearly *everyone* -- including the Union of Only Slightly Concerned Scientists (David Lochbaum, especially) -- supported their use as a way to reduce the "overcrowding" in the pools.

Oh sure, it did that -- although shutting off the reactors and letting the used fuel cool would have reduced the risk just as well or better -- but it also did more than that: It enabled the plants to not just finish out their 40-year planned lifespans, but to apply for 60- and even 80- year extended operating licenses.

SoCalEd, specifically, cut out at least half a billion dollars' worth of upgrade work, in order to make the deal with the state agencies to go ahead with the replacement steam generators. When the price tag (to the ratepayer) was well over a billion dollars, they whittled it down to something closer to a billion by putting some of the maintenance items into a separate account (the ratepayer, of course, still paid). The place was falling apart: It needed reactor pressure vessel heads, new piping, new control systems...

They lied about how thick the canisters would be (they told us they would be two inches thick stainless steel with a 1/4 inch lead lining). They are just over a quarter inch thick, with no lead lining at all.

They -- of course -- completely fabricated how much money the replacement steam generators would "save" ratepayers over the next 20 years -- years that were to be made possible by the use of dry casks. But as it turned out, those extra years did happen because of the shoddy workmanship on the replacement steam generators -- OR it's been rumored (but never proven or disproven) that SanO operators tried to run the reactors too hot. For more profit.

What does all this history have to do with current events?

We, the locals, need to be careful what we wish for. Both for the sake of the world, and of the country, and for our own locality.

If nuclear waste starts to be successfully transported around the country, it will not *just* go on for decades -- it will do that in any case. But it will go on *forever*. Every day, spent nuclear fuel will be transported around the country, from somewhere to somewhere else (perhaps for reprocessing, a filthy industrial procedure).

And SoCalEd and PG&E will seek to overturn the California state law forbidding "new" nuclear power plants until a "permanent" nuclear waste site outside the state has been found and is operational, on the grounds that a temporary site which won't send it back is the de-facto same as what the intent of the law requires. Once some place accepts the waste, it's legally their problem, not SanO's or ours. That's part of any deal SoCalEd will make -- that they are no longer liable in any way for what happens to the waste after it leaves their fence. That means during transit as well as once it gets somewhere. Anywhere.

And what will SoCalEd put at the (by then) leveled and empty San Onofre site?

Small Modular [Nuclear] Reactors. At least a dozen of them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Date: October 27, 2021
To: Editor, Los Angeles Times

This letter is in response to a column by your misguided columnist Jonah Goldberg:

As someone who has had two different cancers 15 years apart, and whose wife has only one breast because the other was lost to cancer, I would like to know if there is anyone who can prove that nuclear weapons and nuclear power was **not** the cause.

In all three cases, it might be. There is no way to say for sure that it isn't.

Millions of Curies of radioactive nuclear fission products (such as strontium) and activation products (such as plutonium) have been released into the environment over the decades since the first reactor went critical in Chicago in 1942.

There is no minimum radiation dose which is considered to be "safe" according to most experts, including government scientists. All radiation exposures carry some risk -- even the medical ones (I've had countless dental x-rays, four CT scans and two PETs).

In addition to over 1,150 nuclear explosions (many in the megaton range) by the U.S., and hundreds more nuclear "tests" by other countries, accidents have happened in the so-called "commercial" nuclear industry and they will always continue to happen, because nobody is perfect, and nuclear workers have proven time and time again that they become complacent over time, and lie and cheat with regularity as well. They overestimate their abilities and underestimate the consequences of their failures.

Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, SL-1, Santa Susanna, the leaks at Hanford, and radioactive messes in thousands of other places in America (and thousands more around the world) all add up. Two US nuclear subs (the Scorpion and the Thresher) and at least half a dozen Russian nuclear subs have been lost at sea.

The cost in human lives from all these accidents is incalculable, especially when every accident results in someone such as Goldberg saying: "nobody died from [whichever one is being mentioned].

The cost in money is equally incalculable, but it is expensive: Nuclear weapons cost America trillions of dollars, and so-called "commercial" nuclear power plants invariably require various forms of direct or indirect payment: Subsidies, price guarantees, and practically free insurance with very low maximum payouts to victims.

No nuclear utility pays for the indefinite time the waste they create will need to be managed. Somebody else (the taxpayers of the future) will pay for nuclear waste storage, as well as for nuclear waste accidents, which are inevitable over time.

So-called "spent" or "used" nuclear fuel is so toxic that mere millionths of a gram is a fatal dose for many of the isotopes. Radioactive isotopes have been used for political assassinations in quantities smaller than a pinhead. It is an invisible killer.

There is no room for nuclear power in any responsible energy future. It is unnecessary, unaffordable, and uncompetitive compared to truly renewable and emission-free energy systems such as wind turbines, tidal energy systems, and solar energy (the sun is a convenient nuclear energy source safely located 93 million miles away). Battery backups and many other energy storage systems such as pumped water storage are also available to cover "baseline" needs during slack renewable energy times.

Electricity can be easily transported thousands of miles by transmission lines, so local short-term renewable energy shortages don't have to impact America's infrastructure. When nuclear plants "go down" they remove a lot of energy from the system because even the planned "Small Modular Nuclear Reactors" are several hundred megawatts, if they have any hope of being cost-competitive with real renewables. Most plans call for there to be clusters of SMNRs at each site.

And note this: Fukushima, Chernobyl and ALL the other nuclear accidents have actually not been nearly as bad as nuclear power can have.

There is no need for nuclear power, no need for risking so much when clean, green alternatives exist.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, California

The author, 65, has been studying nuclear issues for more than 50 years (he has a collection of over 500 books on nuclear weapons and nuclear energy).

The letter below was sent to the San Clemente Times a few days before the LAT letter was sent:

To: San Clemente Times

To The Editor:

This letter is in response to the SanO Public Information Officer's recent letter in your paper:

Mr. Dobken states that nuclear fuel canisters at SanO have a "service life" of 100 years. Two points: First: Why are they only guaranteed by their manufacturer for 20 years? Second: The nuclear waste within them will be toxic for hundreds of thousands of years. What are we leaving for our progeny?

Also, while there have been no (admitted) leaks of canisters (YET), there have been a number of incidents of bad welds, as well as a nearly-dropped canister at San Onofre last year, and in a minor earthquake at an east coast reactor, the canisters shifted about four inches. At SanO there is no rebar in the cement between each canister. Furthermore, there is no adequate way to inspect the canisters for microscopic cracks which can encircle the entire canister unnoticed. Removing them (perhaps 100 years from now, and certainly not for at least several decades) can be extremely dangerous if the canister splits open during removal. There is no way to lift them from the bottom, and fully loaded they are extremely heavy.

Nuclear waste is the most hazardous stuff on earth and it is inadequately protected at San Onofre. For a rundown of the previous decades of attempted nuclear waste management in America, I've reviewed dozens of books here:

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, California

Friday, September 17, 2021

My previous PET was a different isotope.

I had a PET/CT last Friday. I HOT -- but only for about 24 hours! I have a radiation detector, and the LED that normally blinks every couple of seconds -- or less -- was solid red (I kept the sound off, it would have been a constant buzz)! I was about three or four orders of magnitude above background (I took some pictures of the readings). This isotope has about a 50 minute half-life. So a lot of people would say I was "clean" after ten half-lives -- in this case then: By dinner time.

But the best nuclear physicists I've met (and I've met dozens) prefer to speak of 20 half-lives. You could watch the numbers dropping every time I put the radiation detector up to my body in the same place. Blinking was also elevated if it was simply in the same room, but less and less the further from me the detector was placed, of course.

My previous PET, November 2020, was a different isotope: I was "hot" for about three days* because it had a half-life of about eight hours.

Last time, they wanted to see how much of the cancer was in the bones (LOTS). This time they wanted to see how much my lymph nodes would take up, a few months after chemo was over.

The answer? None!

Here's what the doctor just sent me minutes ago:

"The PET/CT confirms that you have achieved a complete remission. This is great news!"

Blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy a month or two ago had already come out negative. Next blood test is next month -- just to be sure.

Not a bad result after spending two one week visits in the hospital getting 13 or 14 (I lost count; might have been 15) units of blood during the two lengthy hospital stays, plus a dozen additional trips to complete my chemo treatments and another two dozen visits to get blood tests -- all during the worst pandemic in modern history! I only saw ONE professional medical person with her mask below her nose, and that was a year ago. the medical staff have been marvelous from start to finish.

Radiation has its benefits for mankind. Nuclear weapons and nuclear energy are not among them. (Medical isotopes can be made with at most one or two reactors in the entire world, and many isotopes can be made without a reactor (perhaps from all the Spent Nuclear Fuel lying around in hundreds of locations around the world).

Today Joe Biden announced he is giving Australia the designs for our nuclear submarines so that Australia can build at least eight nuclear submarines of their own. Says it has nothing to do with China. Uh huh.

And today, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a "temporary" nuclear waste repository in Texas, that almost nobody in Texas wants -- not even the Governor, who loves nuclear power. But doesn't want to deal with the waste.

We all have a lot of work to do!

*A small addendum:

After the first PET I probably should have isolated for closer to a week, rather than just three days, in keeping with the 20 half-lives standard that the best radiation experts suggest rather than the pro-nuker's standard 10 half-lives number.

After 10 half-lives about 1 thousandth of the original amount remains.

After 20 half-lives about 1 millionth of the original amount remains.

Sometimes I think pro-nukers are just really bad at math.

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