Sunday, January 17, 2021

Century-Old Reactors? Tritium in Reactor Domes, Atomic Vets, Used Fuel Fires

Dear Readers,

It's been almost a year since my last newsletter, although I did post a few comments online (URL's below). But I have been busy: In the meantime, I created nearly 300 animations illustrating what happens when people don't wear masks (they spew Coronavirus). These animations have been viewed on Twitter more than a million times.

Currently I've been tested for CoViD six times, all clean. However, last fall a blood test revealed I have Mantle Cell Lymphoma, and I've been getting chemotherapy treatments about once per month. So far, so good. Three more treatments to go, and then, hopefully, a stem cell transplant if all goes well. If not, my wife will let you know...

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Items in this newsletter:

(1) The Hundred Year Nuclear War Against the Environment
(2) URLs for recent essays
(3) How much Tritium is in San Onofre's concrete domes?
(4) Three Tritium essays from 2004, 2006 and 2007
(5) How long does radiation last?
(6) Spent Fuel Fires and Criticality Events
(7) Atomic Veterans and Atomic Victims
(8) EIGHT SIMPLE RULES for protecting your heart
(9) Newsletter authorship notes

(1) The Hundred Year Nuclear War Against the Environment:

On January 21, 2021, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold an all-day virtual public hearing on the insane proposal to extend nuclear power plant licenses to 100 years from the current maximum of 80 years, which is already double the original life expectancy the plants were designed for: A maximum of 40 years. The NRC is doing this not because it's safe or logical, but because it's cheaper and easier than trying to build a new reactor. Also because in some states, such as California, new reactors are forbidden until an out-of-state permanent nuclear waste repository is established and operating. (Never mind that each so-called "refueling" actually places a NEW REACTOR (or at least 1/3rd of a new reactor) inside the reactor pressure vessel, but who's quibbling?)

Recently, famed investigative reporter Karl Grossman published an article about the proposal to extend the reactor licenses to 100 years. The article is well worth reading ahead of the NRC meeting and is available online here:

Additionally, here are some other things to consider:

One of the times San Onofre had to shut down was because a thick cable (as I recall it was over two inches thick) finally gave out after about 30 years -- gave out because it was squished between the floor and the refrigerator-size breakout box it was connected to -- it had been installed carelessly and took decades to fail, but fail it did, eventually.

Also at SanO, the thickness of one of the main steam pipes to the generators had significantly worn over the years, as much as 90% of its thickness had been lost in some parts. But the steam-pipe deterioration wasn't noticed until after the plant had permanently closed due to recently-replaced steam generators vibrating and leaking.

At all reactors, there are only a certain number of sample slugs inside each Reactor Pressure Vessel. These slugs are supposed to be removed one by one over time for destructive testing, in order to judge how well the RPV is holding up. How can they run the reactors safely if these slugs are all used up?

The containment domes were never designed to be strong enough to withstand large airplane strikes, despite initial assurances in the aftermath 9/11. Over time, the cement and iron rebar have been bombarded by radiation, and have been weathering for many decades. It is unlikely they are as strong as they used to be.

And lastly, nobody is left who was around during the design and fabrication of the reactors. The plans have all been removed from local libraries and universities, and instead are only available in Bethesda, Maryland. Nobody knows where all the wires go anymore. More than 90% of each reactor simply cannot be inspected even if they wanted to! Reactors operate on a "fix-on-fail" basis because it's cheaper then pro-active repair/replacement.

(2) URLs for recent essays:

These essays have not been distributed in this newsletter before:

Small Modular Reactors: Stupid 20 years ago when they were first considered, even stupider now. (Sept., 2020):

Reprocessing benefits no one in the long run... (Sept., 2020):

Can spent nuclear fuel be transported safely in America with the current procedures and standards? No! (Sept., 2020):

Is San Onofre's plan to inspect the dry cask nuclear waste storage sufficient? NO! (Oct., 2020):

(3) How much Tritium is in San Onofre's concrete domes?

The concrete dome of a typical nuclear power plant contains approximately 500,000 cubic feet of concrete (about 18,000 cubic yards). A cubic foot of concrete weighs about 150 pounds, so a typical nuclear reactor dome contains approximately 32 billion grams of concrete.

Tritium appears in the concrete in two ways: Some tritium is absorbed or adsorbed into the concrete from inside the containment dome. Some tritium is created within the concrete from neutron absorption by lithium atoms which then decay, creating a tritium atom in the process.

Rolphton, a small early experimental CANDU reactor in Canada, had concentrations of tritium in its concrete containment structure as high as 82,000 Bq per gram when measured in the early 1990s (1), after operating from 1962 to 1987. The Rolphton reactor was about 22 Megawatts, or about 1/50th the size of San Onofre's reactors. The San Onofre reactors operated for about the same length of time as the Rolphton reactor.

U.S. Light Water Reactors produce about 1/30th as much tritium as CANDU reactors (and release about 1/20th as much into the environment while operating).

A single Bq is one radioactive decay per second. The half-life of tritium is about 12.3 years. For reference, the average 70 kg human gets about 5,000 Bq of radiation from internal K-40 (2).

During decommissioning, the tritium can get released a number of ways: If the concrete is heated to a high temperature (perhaps while cutting rebar apart) then tightly bound tritium can get released. At lower temperatures around the boiling point of water, loosely bound tritium can be released. Also, during crushing of the cement, tritium can more easily migrate out of the cement into the atmosphere.

(1) Ian Fairlie, letter to Roger Johnson
(2) K-40 value from Health Physics Society web site.

(4) Three Tritium essays from 2004, 2006 and 2007:

These three essays were inspired by a suggestion to learn about, and write about, Tritium by Dr. Helen Caldicott. They were written with the help of Dr. Marion Fulk, a tritium expert who worked at Lawrence Livermore National Labs in Berkeley, California (mistakes, however, are surely mine):

Tritium -- A response to Mr. Richard Warnock's published comments in the North County Times:

Tritium Explained (why "Low Level Radiation" can be
disproportionately harmful):

It's all about the DNA:

(5) How long does radiation last?:

The first large, intentional release of man-made radiation was the Trinity blast in New Mexico in the summer of 1945, prior to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. Nuclear explosions release a lot of radiation: Millions of curies. But Trinity only released a tiny fraction -- probably less than 1% -- of the radioactivity that a nuclear power plant creates *every day*.

Yet, more than 75 years after the Trinity blast lit up the morning sky, the blast site in New Mexico is *still* "hot." (See quote, below.)


"Radiation levels in the fenced, ground zero area are low. On an average the levels are only 10 times greater than the region's natural background radiation. A one-hour visit to the inner fenced area will result in a whole body exposure of one-half to one milliroentgen."

(6) Spent Fuel Fires and Criticality Events:

A spent fuel fire at the San Onofre Nuclear Waste Dump can be worse than a reactor meltdown: It can release more radioactivity, especially if it involves a criticality event. And that's always a possibility because any used reactor fuel fire can result in physical damage to the reactor spent fuel assemblies. Each assembly weighs about two tons. There are 20 to 30 (or more) assemblies in each dry cask, and each assembly is comprised of several hundred long thin tubes. Each tube is filled with a hundred or more pellets of Uranium fuel. Reactor fuel assemblies are typically about 12 feet long.

All these tubes of pellets need to be kept carefully apart. And that's not easy if anything happens which deforms the entire container, such as by crushing it. This could happen if one of hundreds of bridges it will eventually travel on collapses as it travels across the bridge or if the bridge itself falls on the transport cask when the spent reactor fuel train or truck passes underneath. Perhaps by an act of terrorism: Violent white supremacists have long fantasized about attacking a nuclear facility. Spent fuel is the softest target, especially during transport.

And assuming they do get moved some time in the future, how safe are these containers during transport, what with fuel oil and chemical cars roll back and forth on the same routes that would be used for nuclear shipments? They are bound to be on adjacent rails or roads many times as 10,000 or more used reactor fuel canisters are moved throughout the country.

These shipments must be made in secret (for security reasons). So you can't disrupt the usual rail traffic very much, or terrorists would know a shipment is going to occur.

There is plenty of risk even when the spent fuel container is not traveling on the open roads or rails. Terrorists can place explosives inside the large air gap between the spent fuel cask and the cement "cocoon" that surrounds it. A jet aircraft impact can also deform a canister, as well as earthquakes and asteroids -- and everything in between.

Keeping the spent fuel pellets apart if a fire occurs (such as after a jet aircraft impact) is not easy, because the tubes or ("cladding") that contains the uranium pellets are made of an alloy of zirconium (sometimes called "zircalloy") which, once lit, burns furiously. In fact, the cladding is pyrophoric.

Used reactor fuel is kept in a container that has been permanently (we HOPE!) sealed after being carefully (we HOPE!) dried and then carefully (we HOPE!) backfilled with helium. (A few grams of water always remains, though.) The sealed (we HOPE!) container just sits there...for 10 years...20 years...100 years...300 years...

Who knows how long?

Some additional helium is created by the continuing process of nuclear fission. This will go on for thousands of years.

Helium isn't flammable, but if an opening in the canister ever occurs in the future, the helium is going to escape very quickly, and get replaced with outside air, which can support a fire. Helium could be used to extinguish a fire, except, being lighter than air, it will quickly escape, at least everything physically below the leak point. Most of the rest will mix with incoming air and eventually be replaced through turbulence within a leaking canister.

The introduction of air into the canister provides a flammable environment for the zirconium cladding. Hydrogen that might be present could also provide an explosive environment. If any of the uranium has flaked apart -- which is likely -- the fragmented pieces of uranium, or any uranium dust in the canister, is also pyrophoric.

If there's a leak, then along with the helium, a variety of radioactive particles will also be released, because the UO2 (Uranium Dioxide) ceramic pellets are splintering, cracking and deforming, and releasing radioactive gasses and fission products that have been trapped inside. New fission products are still being created, but most were created while the reactor was operating.

The thousands of pounds of combustible radioactive pellets are MOSTLY made of uranium dioxide, mostly U-238, and also between 1 and 2% U-235, which is the one that they split to generate electricity. Another 1% or so is now plutonium, which is thousands of times more hazardous than U-235 or U-238. And lastly, there are the fission products. Fission products are what's left when a uranium or plutonium atom splits and releases a few neutrons. There are usually two fission products after a uranium or plutonium atom splits. Hundreds of different kinds of isotopes are created by radioactive fission, and nearly all are radioactive, many with half-lives within human lifespans.

Nuclear fuel assemblies are removed when they become financially inefficient to use in a commercial power reactor. This occurs after about five years in the reactor, because by then the UO2 pellets are contaminated with the fission products, which don't themselves fission, but they do get in the way if they get hit by another fission event's neutrons. The U-238 also gets in the way, but in commercial nuclear reactors, there has to be at least 80%, and normally closer to 95% or more, non-fissile U-238 in a fuel pellet.

If your uranium object has more than 20% U-235 in it, you have either a nuclear bomb or a military naval reactor. Some university research reactors have up to 20% U-235, but commercial reactors are limited to about 5% U-235.

Uranium dust or small fragments are pyrophoric, but even intact uranium pellets can burn, and fiercely. It requires more heat than a zirconium fire normally produces to ignite UO2 pellets, but many weapons a terrorist might use will produce sufficient heat to ignite the Uranium.

If the zirconium rods that hold the uranium pellets burn, the uranium pellets will fall to the bottom of the spent fuel canister, and that's when a criticality event might occur, especially if water is introduced into the cask (which is possible -- or even likely -- for a variety of reasons).

How does water cause a criticality event? Because the nuclear reaction works best if the neutrons are slowed down to "terrestrial" speeds (hundreds of miles per hour, rather than their speed when they are initially ejected, which is orders of magnitude faster (an ejected neutron probably starts out at or near the speed of light and is mostly energy, not matter). Water slows the neutron down to speeds where it has about the same mass as any other neutron in the universe. That's when uranium atoms are most likely to absorb the neutron.

This has been a simplified description of how a spent fuel fire or any deformation of the fuel in a spent fuel canister can cause a criticality event. There's no telling how "likely" it is, but we all better hope it NEVER happens.

(7) Atomic Veterans and Atomic Victims:

A few years ago my wife and I recorded several presentations by, and did several interviews of, atomic veterans during "Atomic Veterans Day" at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Nevada. One veteran actually parachuted into ground zero shortly after the blast. Many of his fellow soldiers had long since died of various cancers by the time we interviewed him. These recordings are available at my You Tube channel (URLs below).

From the very beginning the U.S. military has misunderstood radiation effects, and has sought to minimize any perception of the danger to the public and to the veterans who have been exposed. For example, the Smyth Report (published by the U.S. Government in August, 1945) explicitly stated that little was known about the health effects of plutonium at the time it was used for the Nagasaki and Trinity bombs.

Fast forward to the military's use of Depleted Uranium weaponry against Falluja during the Gulf War, which has resulted in thousands of childhood deformities and cancers among civilians living in the area. When above-ground weapons testing began in Nevada, the poison gas clouds were ignored completely until the Kodak company started complaining that their film stock was being ruined!

It's long past time for the U.S. Government to come clean about what it knows -- and doesn't know -- about radiation dangers to the public, and to properly compensate and care for our Atomic Veterans.


Here are the URLs for the Atomic Veteran interviews and presentations:

Atomic Bomb Test Veteran Max M. Miller talks about his experience witnessing a test

Bud Feurt is the California Commander of the National Association of Atomic Vets.

The aircraft shown in the thumbnail is an L-20 Beaver, the type Hinshaw maintained while on Enewetok.

Al Tseu, Paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. Tseu was dropped into the radioactive "ground zero" area following a test blast at the Nevada test site. This recording is part of an oral history project. This is the second of two videos of Al Tseu recorded at the NATM.
Al Tseu 2nd video:

Dr. Livingston's middle initial is M, not K. I apologize for the error.

I did a complete article about Dr. Livingston's idea for neutralizing nuclear waste with lasers (with his help):

Atomic Veteran Roger Stenerson:

Atomic Veterans Al Gettier, Larrie Adams:

Atomic Veteran Wally Lyons:

Bonus video!
Tuskegee Airmen Tribute February 20, 2016 at Palm Springs Air Museum, Palm Springs, CA

(8) EIGHT SIMPLE RULES for protecting your heart:

1) Exercise hard and often.
2) Watch your diet and weight.
3) Avoid tobacco smoke and other pollutants.
4) Control your blood pressure.
5) Minimize stress and enjoy life.
6) Know the warning signs of a heart attack.
7) Get regular medical checkups.
8) Know where the nearest cardiac care facility or hospital is located.

(9) Newsletter authorship notes:

Newsletter by Ace Hoffman, Carlsbad, California

** Ace Hoffman, Owner & Chief Programmer
** The Animated Software Co.
** Carlsbad, California
** home page:
** email:
** To cease contact, please put "Unsubscribe-me-please" in the subject.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Is San Onofre's plan to inspect the dry cask nuclear waste storage sufficient? NO! 


Is long-term dry-cask storage of nuclear waste in a salty environment safe? Probably not!

According to San Onofre's PR department, only 1 in 8 canisters will be randomly inspected for cracking -- about 12.5% of the total.

But how much of each canister will actually be inspected? Let's do some simple math:

San Onofre's 3D camera system (see photo) supposedly can see scratches down to 1/1,000th of an inch.

But that requires only being able to "see" only a small portion at one time.

The surface area of a dry cask is approximately 50,809 square inches (352.85 square feet). The bottom (about 26.5 square feet) of which is unavailable for inspecting with the current system (possibly the most important area since the entire weight of the cask rests on about 6 small metal plates underneath the cask).

If the inspection system can view one entire square inch in one second (humanly impossible in this author's opinion!) it would take approximately 47,000 seconds (~13 hours) to inspect one canister (not including the bottom at all). This would include zero overlap as the equipment moves up and down.

In any case, cracks can also form from the inside, which cannot be inspected at all. A crack forming from the inside could go completely around the canister and be 99.999% of the way through the thin (5/8ths inch) wall of the canister, and still would not be visible at all.

When lifting a canister out of the hole (perhaps 100 to 300 years from now) a circular crack would not need to be nearly that well formed to cause the canister to crack as it is being lifted, immediately releasing enormous amounts of radioactivity to the workers and the environment. Canisters are designed to be lifted from hooks at the top, such that the entire weight of the canister is supported by a couple of hooks at the top. The bottom of the canister and the sides support almost the entire weight since the contents rest on the bottom of the canister.

In this author's opinion, there is nothing safe about the inspection system or the eventual plan to lift and remove the canisters for transport to a permanent repository or secondary temporary repository, or to a reprocessing facility.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA


Typical dry cask dimensions at SanO:
 69.75 inches wide and 197.0 inches in length.

area of a "right cylinder" (assumes square edges):
Calculated on Google:
((2 * (3.14159 * (69.75 / 2)) * 197) + (2 * 3.14159 * ((69.75 / 2) ^2))) = ~50809.82 square inches (about 352.85 square feet).
Calculated from:

radius r = 34.875 in
height h = 197 in
volume V = 752739.197 in3
lateral surface area L = 43167.8393 in2
top surface area T = 3821.01115 in2
base surface area B = 3821.01115 in2
total surface area A = 50809.8616 in2


"The 3-D camera system can see scratches down to one-thousandth of an inch, and has been able to document scratches that are about 26/1000 of an inch on canisters, Morris and Howell said. If those are the deepest scratches, they are well within tolerance, they said.

"Scratches are no more than the thickness of a credit card, said Edison’s Tom Palmisano at the San Onofre Community Engagement Panel meeting Thursday, March 28. The oxide layer on the exterior of the canisters reforms quickly, he said, so there’s no risk from corrosion in the short or long term."

"Stress corrosion cracking is an insidious form of corrosion since an applied stress and a corrosive environment can work together and cause complete failure of a component, when neither the stress nor the environment would be a problem on their own. The stress level may be very low, possibly only residual, and the corrosion may be initiated at a microscopic crack tip that does not repassivate rapidly. Incremental crack growth may then occur, resulting in fracture of the implant. Industrial uses of stainless steels in saline environments have shown susceptibility to stress corrosion cracking and therefore it is a potential source of failure for implanted devices."


"Deliquescence of these salts in a humid environment could create a chloride-rich brine on the canister surface. This, in addition to the presence of residual tensile stresses, could make the canister susceptible to chloride-induced stress corrosion cracking. "



Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Can spent nuclear fuel be transported safely in America with the current procedures and standards? No!

Can spent nuclear fuel be transported safely in America with the current procedures and standards? No!

September 29, 2020

The nuclear industry believes they can just put even a cracked-and-leaking canister into a transportation outer-pack and off it goes... but:

One only needs to look at our transportation infrastructure to know that spent fuel transport is a crap shoot.

When the Mianus River Bridge in Connecticut collapsed in 1983, killing three people, including a tractor-trailer driver, I was traveling over that bridge twice a day.  I HEARD the screeching of the huge metal pin that eventually failed. I even followed the truck that was next to me the moment I heard the screech to determine if it was the truck I had heard -- or the bridge. I followed it for at least two miles. I saw that truck drive over numerous bumps and potholes in the poorly-maintained I-95 Interstate and it never screeched again. This made me absolutely sure it was the bridge I had heard. A few days or maybe a week later it collapsed. It turned out dozens of local residents had heard it screech repeatedly and complained to CT-DOT, to no avail. CT-DOT did not come out and inspect the bridge, which would have immediately shut down the bridge and saved those lives and millions of dollars in damage.

I was already opposed to nuclear power. I had, for example, created a comedy routine called Three Mile Island Beatles in 1979, which aired nationally on Pacifica stations and on the Dr. Demento show:

I did NOT call CT-DOT about the bridge. I think that's what turned me from merely complaining/explaining to the public about problems to complaining to the government directly about problems (so far, to no avail). I probably have attended more NRC hearings about San Onofre over the past 30 years than anyone else...

And then there's the Baltimore Tunnel fire in 2001. Time-at-Temperatures far exceeded anything the spent fuel canisters could have survived. When I mentioned this to Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials they assured me that chemical and fuel trains would not be allowed to be passing the spent fuel trains. This was a made-up baloney excuse off the top of the guy's head at the time. They do that all the time.

Then there was the collapse of the I-35 West bridge in Minnesota in 2007, which killed 13 people and injured 145. A rail line ran below the bridge portion that collapsed; any spent fuel that would have been traveling on that rail line at the time would have been crushed like an egg under an anvil. Any traveling on the bridge would have fallen farther than NRC regulations assume is possible.

If you look at the actual standards that spent fuel casks are expected to meet for drop survivability, crush survivability, fire survivability, etc. it will be obvious these are way too lax (sorry, I haven't actually seen them in many years, but I haven't heard they've been made significantly stronger).

That famous video of a jet plane crashing into one? It was just a fighter jet, and my understanding is that the engine was removed! (this means the turbine shaft -- the part most likely to penetrate a dry cask -- was not there). It wasn't a 747 loaded with fuel, with four enormous turbine shafts.  It wasn't traveling nearly as fast as a crashing jet would be going. And it wasn't a terrorist with a weapon that can penetrate 8 inches of steel or a dozen feet of concrete (such weapons exist and can be obtained by terrorist groups fairly easily).

Their tests are inadequate, their claims are false, their "perfect record" is irrelevant.

Thank you for attending my Ted Rant.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA


From: Donna Gilmore 
Sent: Wednesday, September 30, 2020, 08:09:33 AM PDT

Ace, the NRC approved transport specs have gotten even worse.  Heavier loads with more and hotter fuel assemblies are being approved.  

The NRC refuses to reveal the thickness of the lead layer in the Holtec high burnup transport casks. 

Information on handling high burnup fuel is labeled "proprietary" in the Areva high burnup transport cask used for transporting thin-wall canisters.  

No inspection is required of the condition of the thin-wall canister or the canister contents before transport in spite of the NRC knowing high burnup fuel and other fuel can degrade during dry storage. The NRC admits it doesn't know if normal train vibrations will cause high burnup fuel rods to fail. 

They have no plan to prevent failure or deal with the consequences of failure. They refer to this as "out of scope" to avoid discussing this in various proceedings. 

The proposed CIS plans (in New Mexico and Texas) are to return leaking canisters back to sender. The NRC is ignoring this problem. 

By the NRC approving uninspectable welded shut thin-wall canisters and allowing zirconium clad high burnup fuel, they've created a perfect storm for failure in both storage and transport. 

All thin-wall canisters must be replaced with proven thick-wall casks designed for both storage and transport. There are no other short-term options. 

And no long term options exist -- despite the unsubstantiated hope for a geological repository being perpetuated as a solution. 

We cannot kick this can down the road any longer. We are nearing the end of this road. 

Donna Gilmore