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.

(Note: Anonymous comments will not be printed. All comments must include author's name and contact information (contact information is for verification purposes only and will not be published. Name will be published).

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Presentation to the CA Coastal Comm (CCC) Sept. 8, 2021:


For decades you accepted the production of thousands of tons of nuclear waste. Why? Because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told you it was "safe" and ALSO told you you cannot make any restrictions based on "safety." They also promised to take the waste away.

I've been at hearings here in California where the moment a citizen mentions "safety" they are cut off.

So I won't talk about safety.

Rather I'm going to talk about consequences, and you CAN make rulings based on ANY potential consequences of any possible accident -- even the rare ones -- the so-called "beyond design basis" accidents.

You have an obligation to consider financial, environmental, and health risks to Californians from any and all possible accidents, ESPECIALLY including events which no reasonable person can responsibly predict the "odds" of them happening.

Extreme weather, terrorism, even just poor work attitudes or mismanagement -- all are unpredictable.

You MUST plan for worst-case scenarios. And if you do, you'll force Diablo Canyon to be permanently closed immediately, because any fool can see what might go wrong at any moment there, by looking at Fukushima or Chernobyl -- or at Hanford. Nobody wants a severe nuclear accident in California. We rebuild after fires, because we can. But areas of Fukushima will be uninhabitable for thousands of years.

To prevent a catastrophic event here, you must insist on better management of the waste at San Onofre and at other sites in California.

Some nuclear waste has been here for decades already. It isn't going anywhere because nobody wants it. Nobody needs it, and the infrastructure -- roads, tunnels and bridges -- is too dilapidated to move it anyway.

Most of the nuclear waste in California is in thin-walled canisters, much of it far too close to earthquake faults and tsunami threats.

It's your obligation to protect Californians, our health, and our economy.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA


I've been continuing to listen to the CCC meeting, and a very interesting presentation by Patrick Barnard from "OCOF" talked about groundwater rise that will accompany rising sea levels over the coming decades.

It was a very interesting presentation -- but they did not discuss what might happen at San Onofre if the water table rises AND the ocean storms overtop the puny "sea wall" at the nuclear waste site. It would be good for the CCC to discuss that issue specifically when thinking about the environmental problems they are already thinking about. The ISFSI "island" is not designed to float and might crack, splitting open one or more of the thin-walled canisters (or thick-walled ones, if we had those in that ISFSI) and of course, the current canisters might not be able to cool properly if loaded with sand and debris after a tsunami (perhaps caused by a local underwater landslide or even a nuclear offshore attack)...

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Stranded Nuclear Waste: What future does the industry have?

Open letter to local activists:

I don't doubt some of you opposed SanO when it was running...but I doubt any of these officials ever thought about how dangerous it was when it was thousands of times more dangerous than it is right now. For ~2200 Megawatts of power they gladly accepted thousands of tons of nuclear waste. Now they want to give it to someone else. And oh, does Edison love them! Nothing will keep the nuclear industry generating more waste than if SanO's waste can get shipped to someone else...the whole bottleneck for the entire industry will be broken! Dangerously overcrowded spent fuel pools used to pose that problem -- a new pool would cost a billion dollars, and they couldn't possibly justify that to any accountant or state committee. So someone invented dry casks, and that broke the spent fuel pool crowding bottleneck, and SanO and other reactors could keep generating waste: More than 10,000 dry casks worth of waste exists (probably close to 4,000 casks are now in existence). Not one nuclear power plant has ever been closed because of a waste problem -- they just put it in canisters: Cheap, thin-walled canisters that will maybe last 20 years if they're lucky, and if they are, they'll push 40, 60, 80 years...until they start to leak all around the country.

Not only do the dry casks allow them to not build additional spent fuel pools, SanO and every other PWR started replacing their steam generators and applying for (and getting) additional decades of licensed operation. And we know how that went for SanO. (Crystal River didn't have any luck with it, either.)

Helping SanO solve its waste problem helps the nuclear industry keep making more waste.

Insisting SanO's experts (such as they exist, which is basically not at all) propose a safer solution would make a lot more sense. Thicker casks. A better sea wall. An ISFSI further back and higher up from the coast.

And we are able to testify that Diablo Canyon should be closed TODAY because the waste it generates TOMORROW might be in the cask that a plane crashes into, or that a terrorist is able to get to, or that an earthquake crushes. Or that fails during transport. Or that fails 1000 years from now. Or 100,000 years from now.

SanO should be the most vocal voice telling PG&E to shut that dangerous behemoth.

SanO just wants to destroy the evidence of their failures. How worn are the main steam pipes? How close to failure were they? SoCalEd doesn't want to know. The industry doesn't want SanO to study it and find out. How close did we come to a meltdown because the reactor pressure vessels themselves have degraded and the steel isn't as strong as it used to be? SoCalEd doesn't want to know.

There are no interim storage locations and there is vigorous local opposition to every one that's ever been proposed. But it takes years to decide it won't work -- about 20 years before Yucca Mountain was discarded for scientifically sound reasons that scientists knew about years before the final decision (but "politics" are always blamed for its failure, which is a myth).

Not only is there vigorous opposition to all the interim ideas, they are dangerous and barely kick the can down the road, other than to move the waste from one person's problem to somebody else's problem. And the transport, which would presumably have to happen at least twice, is extremely dangerous, especially over America's decaying infrastructure. Moving the waste even half-safely will not be cheap. And then: 10,000 thin-walled canisters in one place is incredibly dangerous.

SanO should be investigating neutralization (as I wrote about several years ago) which destroys about 99% of the fissionable material in the waste. Neutralization (which can be done with lasers) destroys the U-235 and Pu-239, which would make the nuclear industry cry (proving it's a good thing!) because they want to REPROCESS all that waste -- so any interim waste site won't be an interim waste site for long. It is absolutely planned to become a reprocessing center at some point in the future. It is NOT a stopping point between the reactors and a permanent repository, it's just being sold to the public as that. No way is that the real plan. No way at all.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Previous related essays:

Nuclear wast management through the years:

Can spent nuclear fuel be transported?

What is spent fuel neutralization and why is it the best solution?

External link:
New Mexico’s nuclear rush
A massive nuclear waste site near Carlsbad is seemingly on a fast track. Can the company behind it be trusted?
By Sammy Feldblum and Tovah Strong|February 3, 2021

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The nuclear industry won't admit they have a problem they can't solve.

If you have a problem, the first step towards solving that problem is to admit you have a problem.

The nuclear industry hasn't done that. They won't admit that nuclear waste is an UNSOLVABLE problem. SoCalEd won't admit that the nuclear waste at San Onofre poses an unsolvable problem for California, for America, for the world, and for all of humanity AND ALL LIVING THINGS for all time to come.

So for them, this is all a game to get the local activists (that's us) to support "solving" the waste problem HERE, by giving it to someone else THERE. And they don't care where "there" is, and neither do most of the local citizens.

What they should be doing is going bankrupt and telling the rest of the nuclear industry that they cannot solve an unsolvable problem and they wish they had never made the waste in the first place. That is what activists in SoCal should be pushing for. To get SoCalEd to tell PG&E and all the other nuke blowhards that they messed up, and very badly at that.

Until SoCalEd and the nuclear industry admits they have an expensive, dangerous mess that CANNOT be solved safely AT ANY PRICE, instead of blaming the Feds for not simply taking the waste off their hands and off their lands, nothing good can be gained from helping SoCalEd solve THEIR problem alone, without consequence for the nuclear industry. Their statement even starts by saying they want the problem solved cheaply. They want the impossible and have always wanted the impossible.

Just beefing up the nation's infrastructure alone so that we can "safely" (sort of) transport the waste will cost trillions of dollars to strengthen bridges and underpasses nationwide. Recall several instances of bridges falling down in the past few decades, including the Mianus River Bridge in Connecticut (which I was going over twice a day at the time and HEARD the destruction of the pin that held the bridge several times before it fell). Also I-35 West. Also recall the Baltimore Tunnel Fire, which burned so hot and for so long, that any nuke waste containers that might have been being transported at the time would have burst and released ALL of their contents.

Some of the best scientific minds in the world have struggled with the nuclear waste problem since the dawn of the nuclear age. I outlined their decades-long failure in a newsletter from October, 2017:

Nuclear Waste Management: The view through the years...

Probably the best thing to do with nuclear waste is to neutralize as much of it as possible on-site, a concept developed and patented by Dr. Peter Moshchansky Livingston and described in this newsletter from November, 2017:

What is spent nuclear fuel neutralization and why is it the best solution?

Even neutralization won't be cheap, won't be easy, and won't be 100% successful. But it's still the BEST solution for the reasons outlined in the newsletter.

To pretend that there will ever be a solution is a fantasy -- a denial of science. A pipe dream. And helping SoCalEd solve THEIR problem without solving the REAL problem (the continued production of nuclear waste) is counterproductive in the extreme.

Ace Hoffman
March 17th, 2021


Why does the nuclear industry want to store its highly toxic radioactive spent fuel in "below grade" storage facilities, even though they believe it will be moved to a consolidated interim storage facility soon?

Out of sight, out of mind!

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:


Ace Hoffman
Author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download:
Carlsbad, CA
Email: ace [at]