Friday, April 17, 2015

In what way are you saying Dr. Singh's remark was misquoted or taken out of context?

Dr. Victor,

Last night you said that a statement Dr. Kris Singh, CEO of Holtec, makes on a video I've posted here from a prior SCE/CEP meeting "misquotes" and/or "takes out of context" Dr. Singh's remarks:

That is a very serious charge. I would like you to explain why you made it.

(And by the way, there were audio problems with the livestream throughout the meeting, where the video would pause (okay, that's normal) and then sometimes skip (that's NOT normal!), but I don't think I am misquoting you in this instance. Please let me know if I am. Also, even though you started more than 10 minutes late, at 9:03 you cut off the l ast member of the public to speak, Bruce Campbell, who was speaking eloquently and clearly and concisely, and then within a minute, at 9:04, you stated that the purpose of the CEP was to let the public be heard. Well?)

The videotape (URL above) is perfectly clear (if you listen carefully...). Of course Dr. Singh didn't mean it would all leak out at once, but let's say one puts the leaking canister into a "Russian Doll" configuration (inside another, larger canister):

In that case, wouldn't "millions of Curies" transfer out of the inner container into the second container? First, the inner and outer casks will equalize pressure, then "brownian motion" will continue to equalize the percentages of various elements in the gas on either side of the leak over time. If leakage from the inner container to the outer container "doesn't count" in Dr. Singh's estimate, how long did he think it would take to plug the leak, and what happens when the new, rushed, outer containment later starts to leak, or what happens if the inner container fails more completely, and, for example, and end plate falls off due to crack growth)?

Precisely how radioactive the "inert" gas is (mainly helium, but with "trace" (watch out for that word! It can mean a lot of things, literally!)) quantities of water vapor, tritium, cesium, strontium, etc..) undoubtedly depends in large part on the condition of the cladding: Damaged fuel cladding could leak gaseous fission products (and water vapor) into the atmosphere of the 1/2-inch thin stainless steel cask over time, and then out the leak hole.

The specific activity of pure H3 (Tritium) is about 10,000 Curies per gram.

So one question is: What is the condition of the fuel Dr. Singh assumes is inside the leaking cask?

What does Dr. Singh envision would happen next to the cask, after the gasses leak out and the pressure is equal to the outside world from then on, until the leak is plugged, or the "Russian Doll" is built and the cask placed in it? The outer container will make the cask extra-large and extra-heavy: Can it still be transported? By road? By rail? Over what infrastructure (over or under how many old and decrepit bridges?) How many natural gas pipelines will the waste be transported over?

The Areva representative at the same CEP meeting stated that heating damaged fuel for transport might be necessary -- and would be possible -- to make it more ductile (and thus better able to withstand the jolts of transport). How does Dr. Singh envision that fuel inside an additional heavy overpack would be heated for transport, and yet even with the massive heating mechanism necessary for such a thing, it would still not be too heavy to carry over our nation's old highway and/or railroad infrastructure, to some "desolate" location (that doesn't actually exist; for example, I (and at least 100,000 other people) drove fairly close to the Chocolate Mountains four times in the past two weeks))?

Assuming Dr. Singh successfully uses the "Russian Doll" solution to mitigate a canister leaking from a microscopic crack, when the pressures equalize, if the cask is not already encased in an outer cask, then outside air starts to go INSIDE the "dry" cask as ambient pressures fluctuate with the wind: There will be moments when the cask sucks in air through the same hole that had been expelling pressurized radioactive gasses. Whenever that happens, water vapor, corrosive elements, etc. can come rushing in.

So not only must the leaking canister be placed in the "Russian Doll" canister immediately, the outer container has to be 100% inert gas (helium), but also, the outside surface of the old dry cask has to be completely cleaned of corrosive materials. But cleaning it may introduce yet more microscopic cracks -- well, actually, "will" introduce such cracks, not "may." And all this has to be accomplished while the cask is expelling radioactive gasses, unless the leak is plugged first, which can, in the long run, do even more damage? (For example, drill bits can drop material into the dry cask as they break through, burrs can cause new cracks, overheating can weaken the alloy around the plug, etc..)

Also, gamma radiation will probably be streaming out the crack, however small it is. These invisible rays will have to be carefully avoided by the workers.

What if the leak is in a hard-to-reach spot? What if the cask has been deformed and won't fit a standard overpack "Russian Doll" outer canister (Do they even exist? I don't think so!)?

If the small-but-continuous-leak occurred when the site was damaged by an earthquake/tsunami, it might be very hard to get at the breached dry cask. What condition is Dr. Singh assuming the dry cask will be in when the breach occurs? Will it be just sitting there rusting away (stress corrosion cracking; the weights involved in dry cask storage are enormous, and the pressure-points that take the weight are particularly susceptible...)?

Or was he envisioning that the tiny crack occurred while the dry cask was crushed under a burning 747 loaded with jet fuel (and possibly thousands of pounds of explosives, too)? A dry cask is absolutely no protection against a 747 and nor is the reinforced cement overpack/covering/beehive configuration. A wide variety of modern weapons can go through more than a dozen feet of reinforced concrete -- yet SCE/Holtec offers us only about three feet. Even a 50-caliber machine gun can pound through that fairly quickly (though probably not on the first shot). (I think that's one reason the "sunken" option we are being offered by Holtec is somewhat better than the above-ground stacking we now have for the first 51 dry casks.)

And here's the thing about isolation at an interim storage facility, which so many people last last night's SCE/CEP meeting wished to magically have happen to our nuclear waste: It proves that people expect the outer containments (the thin stainless steel casks) to fail eventually. They want that failure to happen away from large populations.

The government agrees with this assessment (as do you, based on your remarks last night). The Blue Ribbon Commission pushed for one or more "interim" storage sites, which are places to keep the fuel for several decades or, more likely, for several centuries or, even more likely, forever, and thus (in the government's vision) enable reactors to keep operating without having to stack up this deadly material so close to large populations.

Whether "old fuel" or "young fuel" should go there first is debatable -- you assumed, last night, that closed reactors would get priority. I see no reason to assume that.

Since everyone is clamoring to get the waste away from southern California, clearly, the idea that half-inch thin dry casks are adequate is ridiculous: No one believes it.

Holtec is selling the deadliest pig-in-a-poke in history. And you're buying it.

But back to the "misquote."

How tiny of a theoretical crack are we talking about? I've been assuming a microscopic crack, or at least that it starts out that way. Sometimes cracks plug themselves with crud... but more often, they grow over time (just like with steam generator leaks). What did Dr. Singh envision the utility/NRC would do to stop the breach once it had started? What are the conditions he's putting on his statement besides just using an overpack rather than attempting to repair the damaged canister? And how soon could he have an overpack ready, have the outer side of the leaking cask cleaned, excavate the cask from underneath a burning 747, and have everything be properly inspected from manufacture right up to insertion of the damaged canister and sealing up the "Russian Doll"? What is Dr. Singh's promise that he can do?

A dry cask can hold many millions of Curies of radiation. After ten years, spent fuel has about 4 X 10^5 (400,000) Curies of radiation per ton of fuel (1). A million Curies leaking out would be quite a significant leak, but hardly the whole load.

So, I ask: Why are you saying Dr. Singh is saying he was misquoted? His statement is on the video exactly as we claim it is (2). Where's the misquote?

I hope you (and/or Dr. Singh) will answer these additional questions.


Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA


(1) Source: Nuclear Energy ebook Collection: Ultimate CD, page 298

By Gianni Petrangeli, Raymond Murray, Colin Bayliss, Galen J. Suppes, Elmer E. Lewis, Hideo Kozima

(2) Here is a longer recording of Dr. Singh's remarks from his appearance at the SCE/CEP that night, plus a few others who also spoke:


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