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.