Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Extending Diablo Canyon's operating license: A fiasco waiting to happen...

August 30, 2022

Dear Readers,

Extending Diablo Canyon's operating license is a violation of carefully debated and long-established agreements to close the reactors after their design life of 40 years.

Rusted and age-worn parts are a pervasive problem at the aging plant. Numerous large structures would have to be replaced to last another 20 or 40 -- or 60??? years. And since shutdown in the next few years was an accepted and anticipated event, many parts are only being replaced if they fail (known as a "fix on fail" policy). These parts are assumed to not be "mission-critical" but not all multiple- or cascading parts failures have been evaluated. There are literally thousands of accident scenarios that are far more likely because so many parts are being neglected.

Worker shortages plague the facility, and knowledgeable employees are being paid enormous bonuses to convince them to stay until the planned closure in the next few years. After nearly 40 years of operation, there is probably not a single employee left at the plant who actually helped build the plant, and none of the design engineers are available to confer with if there is a problem. In short, no one really knows how the plant works. Seriously!

But that's only a few thousand good reasons to close Diablo Canyon today, rather than over the next couple of years, let alone, 20+ years from now (or will it be 40+ years, or 60+...or more?).

California has a state law that new reactors cannot be built until and unless there is an out-of-state permanent repository for the nuclear waste.

There's nothing of the sort anywhere, despite more than half a century of looking for such a place. After decades of searching, the federal government "finally" settled on Yucca Mountain in Nevada in 1987. Why Yucca Mountain? It's very dry there, far from population centers, and it was on Nevada Test Site land, which was already heavily polluted with radioactive debris from weapons testing.

But that didn't work out. And a nearby city -- Las Vegas -- grew from a population of around 600,000 in 1987 to nearly three million permanent residents today. Yucca Mountain is no longer "far from any large population centers" if it ever really was.

In July, 1999 the Department of Energy published an enormous document in four thick books called The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County Nevada.

I have a copy: It takes about half a foot of space on a bookshelf (see Figure 1).

The EIS lists the isotopic content of a typical Pressurized Water Reactor spent fuel assembly, such as exists at Diablo Canyon. (see Figure 2 (Table H-4), which also lists the isotopic content for Boiling Water Reactor spent fuel -- but note that the values shown are for "low burnup" fuel. Diablo Canyon has been using "high burnup" fuel for several decades).

The values in Table H-4 are enormous quantities of nuclear waste -- and that's just for one fuel assembly. A typical PWR will have two to three dozen fuel assemblies in each dry cask, and Diablo Canyon already has over 3 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel, much of it in nearly 100 dry casks -- over 2,000 fuel assemblies. Enormous amounts of additional fuel is also in the spent fuel pools and the operating reactors (approximately 2,000 additional fuel assemblies).

Of the 3+ million pounds of spent fuel at DCNPP, at least 50,000 pounds of it is plutonium -- an incredibly toxic, man-made element that is virtually non-existent in nature. Enough for approximately 10,000 nuclear weapons. Just one pound of plutonium, if divided evenly and somehow distributed into the lung of every person on earth, is enough to cause everyone on earth to be virtually certain to get lung cancer. A few millionths of a gram is a lethal dose of plutonium.

Plutonium is incredibly toxic, but it's hardly the only hazard that PG&E has created at DCNPP. Plutonium is considered an "activation product" because it was created when other elements absorbed neutrons, then decayed, creating new protons. Fission products (which result from splitting uranium and plutonium atoms) are also incredibly toxic and highly radioactive -- sometimes thousands of times more radioactive than plutonium, which in turn is thousands of times more radioactive than uranium. Many fission products, such as strontium and cesium, are "bone-seekers," others, such as radioactive iodine, are taken up by the thyroid. Tritium can end up anywhere in the human body, because it is a radioactive form of hydrogen. (Tritium is called Hydrogen-3 in Table H-4).

Fission products created within the uranium fuel pellets escape from the fuel pellets and lodge -- under very high pressure -- in the gap between the fuel pellet and the fuel cladding (a buildup of fission products is one reason the fuel has to be removed from the reactor after a few years and replaced with "fresh" reactor fuel).

The fuel cladding (usually an alloy of zirconium) is liable to catch fire if, for example, and aircraft were to crash into a dry cask (see photo (figure 3) for a comparison of the relative sizes of a large jet to a dry cask).

If the fuel cladding burns, the fission products will be released to the atmosphere. This is a very serious accident, but by no means the worst that can happen. That might come next:

If the fuel cladding burns away, the fuel pellets themselves will fall to the bottom of the spent fuel cask (see figure 4). As they pile up in a fire, they might just sit there. But whoa to the firefighters who might try to put the fire out with a stream of water! Water slows neutrons down very effectively -- it's used in PWRs and BWRs for that purpose, because "slow" neutrons (also known as "thermal" neutrons) are far more likely to be "captured" but other uranium and/or plutonium atoms, thus causing a self-sustaining nuclear reaction.

This is known as a "criticality event". Even very old fuel -- hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years old -- can "go critical" under the right conditions -- and a spent fuel cladding fire followed by water intrusion creates the right conditions for a criticality event, although there are other scenarios as well (and what if it's raining when the plane crashes, for instance)? This is all described in the 1999 EIS (see section K.2.5).

At Yucca Mountain, they had a plan to prevent such a scenario. It was two-fold: Firstly, they gambled that an airplane was unlikely to strike the spent fuel canisters (this was Nevada, after all, the gambling capital of America). Secondly, they intended to store the spent fuel canisters in buildings with very thick cement walls, so that even if a plane did strike the site, they concluded it was unlikely to cause a "significant" fuel release to the environment. And very unlikely to cause a criticality.

Their guesswork (they admit that many numbers were "rough estimates") undoubtedly minimized many potential dangers, but the most egregious was probably ignoring sabotage or terrorism in the form of an intentional airplane strike. Could that be excused since it was before 9-11? And before a GermanWings pilot intentionally flew a planeload of people into a mountain? And before MH-370 was flown off course until it ran out of fuel and dropped into the sea with all souls lost? And before a China Airways plane plummeted nearly straight down for no apparent reason a few months ago? And before Russia threatened to destroy the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor site in Ukraine, which they are continuing to threaten to do?

No, there's no excuse for ignoring intentional air crashes: In the 1970s, at least one hijacker had already threatened to crash the jet he had taken control of into nuclear facilities (fortunately, he did not follow through with that threat.)

Spent fuel at Diablo Canyon is NOT properly contained. It is NOT safe. It will NOT be going to a permanent repository any time soon -- if ever.

Can we really afford to double the amount of waste there, if we won't even properly contain what is already there, on earthquake faults, exposed to airplane strikes or other terrorism, from drone swarms to laser-guided rockets?

The longer spent fuel has been removed from a reactor, the safer it is. It's never safe, but it is several orders-of-magnitude more dangerous in the first few decades immediately after it is removed from the spent fuel pools (where it is so dangerous, if the pools drain for any reason, or circulation is stopped for too long, the worst ecological disaster in American history would occur).

We should not be making more nuclear waste, since there are clean alternatives that do not add to the risk with every kilowatt of electricity they produce.

Electricity is not, and never was, the main product of Diablo Canyon.

Nuclear waste is, was, and always will be what Diablo Canyon will be most famous for creating (see figure 5).

Do not relicense the reactors at Diablo Canyon. Enough is Enough!

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Figure 1:

Figure 2:

Figure 3:

Figure 4:

Figure 5:

Figure 5 is from:

Enough is Enough! (90-second video about Diablo Canyon):

Stop Diablo Canyon relicensing reversal! Vote due in CA state legislature tomorrow (8/31/2022)!

Dear Reader,

Please check out my short (<90 second) video on why Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant should NOT be relicensed:

acehoffman.org (top item)
or directly:

And, I appologize for the late notice, but below is an announcement of an important press conference which is coming up at noon today (PST).

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Here is a recording of the Press Conference On Newsom’s Diablo Canyon SB 846
https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/uMr2Hx9rBqFe1aUolYAm6c3FIrMIEG9QPBu0ClO9AS-rAjqxrGv7QbI24Gyh8kH4.uT_sh9cD15ixI4Ul?startTime=1661886228000 Passcode: kVn^4k89 ============================================================







Tuesday August 30, 2022 Emergency Statewide Press Conference
To Oppose Governor Gavin Newsom's$1.4 Billion Giveaway to PG&E to Keep the Unreliable Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant Open

Tuesday August 30, 2022  12:00 Noon PST
Zoom https://us02web.zoom.us/j/3290219617?pwd=OTFGZUVKcDd4bzVkVjl5ZS94QmdoQT09

 Media Contacts:
Donna Gilmore: 949.204.7794
Steve Zeltzer: 415.867.0628
Myla Reson: 310.663.7660

There is an emergency press conference on Tuesday, August 30th at 12:00pm PST to oppose Governor Newsom's SB846 scheme to change state law so PG&E can reap billions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars to keep the unreliable Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors operating well past their licensed expiration dates. The legislature is slated to vote on the bill this Wednesday, circumventing the democratic process of allowing for a full debate.

The Governor is pressuring the legislature to support this bill by falsely claiming that both reactors must be kept running to prevent blackouts during peak energy demand hours. The fact is that the records of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reveal that these reactors have been highly unreliable. One or both reactors have been down an average of 40 percent of the days in each of the last four years.

This bill's real impact will be to unnecessarily burden taxpayers and ratepayers across California. Ratepayers who receive their electricity from other utilities (SDG&E, SCE, PG&E, CCA's) will be forced to pay for Diablo Canyon in their electric bills, too. The bill will also continue to impede deployment of badly needed renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro technologies.

Speakers will discuss these and other problems with this bill at the statewide press conference.

Daniel Hirsch, Committee to Bridge the Gap
Donna Gilmore, San OnofreSafety.org
Andrew Christie, Director, Santa Lucia Chapter, Sierra Club
Cathy Iwane, Coalition for Nuclear Safety
Harvey Wasserman, Author, Historian
Arnie Gunderson, Fairewinds Energy Education
Steve Zeltzer, No Nukes Action Committee'

Additional Information for SB846


Senate Testimony of Kim Delfino on Diablo Extension

Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi - Statement on Diablo Extension

Testimony of Ralph Cavanagh - Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee – August 25, 2922

Testimony of Ed Smeloff, Clean Power Campaign on Diablo Extension

Testimony of Mark Tony of TURN on Diablo Extension

Final Q&A Session re PG&E Profits Assembly Hearing – 8-25-2022

Critical Reasons to Oppose SB846:
    • Distributed renewables are getting not only $50B in direct manufacturing subsidies and ~$200B in renewables supply
    • Nearly limitless tax credits are available
      • Anybody who needs tax deductions can get them from anybody who buys solar/wind/battery
      • We could literally pay zero federal tax for the next 10 years if we prioritized the energy revolution
    • Renewables can power all other priorities and revenue sources when they are not sabotaged
  • The state legislature *does NOT* need to act immediately on Diablo; rather SB846 is a bad faith deal intended to be forced on Californians secretly at the literal midnight hour end of the legislative session (Wednesday August 31)
  • This rush to extend Diablo's licensing period was pushed by non-registered lobbyists
    • Some "environmental experts" covered in the media are utility managers (one was a PG&E CEO!)
  • An existing agreement was already negotiated by major interested parties and written into law as SB1090
  • The operator of Diablo (PG&E) cannot be trusted: it is a convicted felon that went bankrupt because of its disastrous safety record
  • Diablo Canyon's poorly maintained reactors are unreliable with 40% down days every year (for one or both reactors).
  • To prevent blackouts due to shortages in grid supply
    • 1 GW of battery is already coming online to cover both peak hours and downtime of power plants
    • A massive offshore wind project is scheduled to come online at the same time as the Diablo license expires
    • The independent system operator (ISO), CEC and CPUC reports state that we won't have blackouts if Diablo is closed. Governor Newsom has provided no evidence to the contrary.
  • Rooftop solar *by itself* already generates *more* power than Diablo (by 20-40% statewide) *and* supports more good paying jobs
    • 1500 Workers at Diablo, 70,000 Distributed Renewables workers statewide
    • Rooftop solar gets cut off when rolling blackouts happen, and is not even paid its fair share for its contribution to the grid
      • Per former CPUC president (Loretta Lynch): ISO prioritizes exports to other states for profit rather than California Ratepayers for reliability
  • Nuclear power impedes the development of adequate safe, clean energy in California
  • SB846 Makes all ratepayers who are in CCA's, SDG&E, SCE, PG&E pay for Diablo Canyon in their electric bills and taxes.
  • CalPERS official position is opposed to the extension of Diablo's license
  • PG&E is demanding an Open checkbook – Repairs and upgrades needed to renew Diablo's license can be in the multiple $billions and will result in higher electric rates
  • In summary:  PG&E is panicking about facing actual competition and making a desperate grab for $3.3B in profits on a stranded monolith asset.
August 30, 2022

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Shut Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant down now. Don't even wait. Don't relicense.

August 16, 2022
by Ace Hoffman

Should the state of California and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) seek to relicense the aging Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant's two reactors, rather than shut them down in 2024 and 2025, as currently planned?

Absolutely not! Consider the nuclear dilemmas France is in right now:

France's electric supply is in deep trouble as a result of relying on the most unreliable source of energy ever invented: Nuclear Power. France's government-regulated national utility company, EDF, has just declared bankruptcy and been "taken over" by the French government. And what is the French government going to do with a bunch of broken reactors and a bunch more that cannot get enough water to operate because of a continent-wide drought?

The French would be better off turning to BOTH of the following: Better efficiency and more renewables.

Any other choice is bound to result in more expense and more problems later. Renewables are fully ready to take over, at lower cost and with much higher reliability.

Yes, higher reliability. Renewables, combined with battery storage (in electric vehicles (EVs), for example) and other forms of electrical energy storage (such as pumped hydro) is the *most* reliable energy system possible today, because it is distributed and very predictable.

The nuclear industry claims to have a >90% "reliability" factor. But they don't want you to consider the impact of sudden unexpected long-term shutdowns. And they'll even take a reactor "off the books" during extended shutdowns to maintain the appearance of higher capacity factors and reliability factors. And many natural disasters (fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake, etc.) require taking nuclear power plants offline just when electrical power is needed the most.

Currently, approximately half of France's nuclear reactors are shut down. At least eight of those are shut for stress corrosion cracking of the reactor pressure vessels, which can lead to a catastrophic accident far worse than Chernobyl, Fukushima AND Three Mile Island combined. Those RPVs were built by Creusot Forge, which was discovered to be corrupt, didn't work the metals properly, and failed to do proper testing before shipping the forgings to the reactor sites. Many other French reactors were built by the same company and if they're not suffering from stress corrosion cracking yet...they will.

Stress corrosion cracking is the same sort of cracking that has been found on one of the Diablo Canyon's reactor pressure vessels. And it's the same sort of cracking which plagues the entire nuclear industry. And one key fact about stress corrosion cracking is that it is difficult to find, even more difficult to repair, and almost impossible to predict how quickly it will spread from a small problem to a catastrophic one.

Stress corrosion cracking also affects the thin-walled spent fuel canisters Diablo Canyon uses -- the same kind used throughout the nuclear industry in America. The fewer of those there are in existence, the safer we all are.

DCNPP supplies only a single-digit fraction of California's electricity needs, and a far smaller portion of our total energy needs. And on top of that, for years the large utilities have been "fudging the books" to make the percentage supplied by nuclear power seem larger than it actually is. For example, anyone who manages to disconnect from the grid completely...is completely removed from the accounting. Even those who power most of their electricity themselves often have that portion removed. So things are not as they seem, and California is a lot further along to energy independence than the large utilities want to admit.

Perhaps more importantly, the technologies needed to transition already exist. EVs exist in abundance now, and can power a typical house for days if needed. Highly efficient solar panels and wind turbines exist. Wave and tidal systems also exist and can be utilized as well. Geothermal systems have barely been tapped in the state. Electricity transmission can and should be a two-way street: Solar rooftops take up zero ground space that isn't already being utilized, and sending excess power to the grid should result in healthy payments. (PG&E should be required to sell ALL their transmission lines to a third party, and just operate large non-nuclear and non-fossil fuel power generating systems.)

Replacing Diablo Canyon's sporadic output with clean and reliable renewable systems is only part of the battle, of course. DCNPP's power output can be completely eliminated with greater efficiency and NO additional capacity.

It takes a bit more effort on the part of the consumer, but not an undue amount. However, some things might require subsidized assistance to make it happen: For example, homes made of adobe, which is mostly quartz (silicon dioxide) are far better insulated than homes made of gypsum (calcium sulfate). Homes built with adobe walls last longer too -- hundreds of years. They keep you cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. So what's the problem? Quartz is much harder, making it harder to work with, and harder to dig out of the ground. We have few, if any, adobe manufacturing plants in California. But tax breaks could change all that. Building an efficient home that lasts should be cost-effective for the original builder, so that generations of people who live there can save on electricity bills.

Electric vehicles can communicate with each other to reduce traffic congestion by taking alternate routes and by safely squeezing more cars at higher speeds into the same lanes. But that takes a lot of regulatory help, including pushing out the older, inefficient ICE cars that spew toxic vapors and are not significantly computerized with modern interconnected systems. Human-operated vehicles would be kept out of the high-speed, dense lanes, and eventually from all the main highways and byways. Sorry, but technology MUST move forward if civilization is to survive!

People who want DCNPP to stay open complain loudly that some of these technologies suggested here (and many others) don't exist in fully deployable form right now. This is largely completely false, but for those items for which it might be somewhat correct, I'd like to know why those same pro-nukers ignore the fact that the nuclear power industry has STILL not even begun to solve the nuclear waste problem. Letting the waste sit in deadly piles at widely scattered locations in California is a recipe for disaster: That waste is vulnerable to airplane strikes (accidental OR on purpose), other acts of terrorism, war, earthquakes, and many other hazards (including, for the coastal nuclear waste sites, tsunamis that could be hundreds of feet tall).

Nuclear waste takes millions of years to decay to less toxic, or non-toxic, isotopes, but the rate of decay slows greatly over time. So the sooner California stops making new nuclear waste, the better by far.

Do NOT relicense the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. Doing so is a recipe for disaster. It sets the stage for a prolonged extreme risk. Although the current "offer" (or rather, "devil's bargain") is that the plant will only remain open for an extra five to seven years so that renewables can "ramp up" in the meantime, that's NOT what the license would be for: That would be 20 years, with another extension possible after that, according to the biased, industry-funded and industry-lapdog federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has already licensed some reactors for an incredible 80 years of creating nuclear waste (and electricity), with talk of going to 100 year extensions.

Embrittlement, rust, stress corrosion cracking -- call it what you will, an aging reactor is a dangerous reactor (so is a new one).

Lastly, it must not be ignored that PG&E has been deferring numerous maintenance issues they would have resolved by now if they had expected to keep the reactors operating beyond their current close dates. These repairs will cost downtime and ratepayer money and add to the reactor's accident risk potential unless they are properly handled in a timely manner. The costs of any repairs will be paid with money that would be far better spent building up California's renewables portfolio. And after they are done (at great expense) one can completely expect PG&E to apply to keep the reactors operating for the rest of the license period -- and beyond. PG&E has proven their dishonest intentions time and again. Don't be fooled this time.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, California

The author is an independent researcher. Hoffman has studied nuclear power for more than 50 years and has interviewed, and/or worked with, and/or been educated by, dozens of leading experts in and around the nuclear industry, including John Gofman, Ernest Sternglass, Karl Z. Morgan, Marion Fulk, Helen Caldicott, Arjun Makhijani, Arnie Gundersen, Judith Johnsrud, Rosalie Bertell, Daniel Hirsch, Stanley Thompson, Ed Siegel, Kay Drey, Pamela Blockey-O'Brien, Carrie Dickerson, Cecile Pineda, and many others, as well as attending lectures and presentations by Timothy Mouseau, Kate Brown, Mary Olson, Ian Fairlie, and at least a dozen atomic bomb test veterans...the list goes on in an endless quest for information and explanations. Hoffman has a collection of over 500 books on nuclear technology, weapons, regulations...and failures, from 1945 to the present. He has attended over 100 NRC and State of California hearings on nuclear topics, as well as related hearings in New Mexico and Connecticut. All views expressed here are his own.


As Paul Dorfman wrote on Twitter:

"Gosh, there's quite a lot of FR EDF nuclear reactors 're-fueling'.

I'm sure it's nothing to do with the corrosion safety problems the FR regulator, ASN, has outed.

Also nothing to do with climate impact river heating, compromising reactors cooling/discharge.."

The following statement was submitted to the Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Panel of "experts" on Wednesday, August 24, 2022:

Diablo Canyon's lifespan should NOT be extended.

August 24, 2022

Regarding DCNPP and the proposal to extend the life of the reactors, first of all, we need to admit that everything is guesswork. Will there be a catastrophic accident? Nobody knows. But meanwhile, Fukushima proved that as long as there are "beyond design basis" accidents, there are NO experts. Beyond design basis accidents are unevaluated, unexpected, unnatural, and hopefully unlikely -- but they might happen tomorrow, and no one will be able to stop it.

And in fact, so-called "solutions" for beyond design basis accidents are actually just mitigation of the catastrophic effects. How quickly can people be informed of the danger? How far from the plant must they be evacuated? When (if ever) can people go back to their homes? All of these (and many more potential actions) are mitigations after a catastrophic beyond design basis accident. They do not prevent that accident.

Shutdown does.

Also, to make the right decisions for future generations, we would need to know what to do with the nuclear waste it generates. While we might get some electricity today, future generations will have to manage the waste without getting any benefit, but with great risk and cost all their lives.

The less we leave them, and the cooler it is, the better for them.

Regarding the money Joe Biden has offered the nuclear industry, it is blood money. It is a bribe. Don't accept it. Let some other state take it if they want it, let them be the sucker.

Regarding the embrittlement of Unit 1, while it might be true that the steel pressure vessel is "ductile" when it is very hot, the question is: Can it be cooled properly? Nobody knows. But we do know that at Fukushima, they decided to pour ocean water on the reactor. Cold, salty, and millions of gallons were needed. Can Unit 1 survive that?

Regarding earthquakes, for some reason the "worst case scenario" is being considered in isolation. It is just a guess. It does not consider what happens if, say, the San Andreas fault causes the Hosgri fault to also snap. The reactor might be only slightly damaged from the first quake -- but will be hanging by a thread when the second quake happens, from another fault line, in a different direction.

Lastly, there is no reason to consider Diablo Canyon to be a good "baseload" system. Unscheduled shutdowns in older plants are far more common than in the middle of their lifespan. Diablo Canyon has already entered that phase.

Shut it down and keep it shut. Don't tempt fate.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, California

Friday, August 5, 2022

A response to pro-nuker James Conca by Ace Hoffman

A response to pro-nuker James Conca's highly biased opinion piece posted at the Southern California Edison web site July 26, 2022 (shown below)

by Ace Hoffman
July 29, 2022

Nuclear proponents are eager to denigrate the SCIENCE and the SCIENTISTS of the opposition.

They are equally eager to believe their own dogma, such that they'll misread their own studies and make claims those studies don't support! Dr. James Conca, in his letter to the Voice of OC from July 26, 2022 (posted at the SoCalEdison web site, I don't know if VOC published it), makes this mistake with his very first footnote, which he uses to claim no harm, while the footnoted document itself states very clearly that the interaction between ionizing radiation and living tissue "can cause damage."

Dr. Conca claims that low levels of nuclear radiation are harmless, using "oxidation" as some sort of analogous proof, by claiming that radioactive emissions do "exactly" the same damage. But there are a number of crucial additional considerations, most importantly, where inside the body the effects might take place. There are also physical differences between an oxidizer and a radioactive emitter (a point Conca seems to have missed completely). Both oxidative stress and radioactive stress are underlying factors in heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disease. Oxidative stress can and should be reduced by changing one's diet, stopping smoking, and many other ways. Radioactive elements, once they are in the environment, are essentially impossible to avoid.

Mysteriously, Conca ignores thousands of studies that have proven him wrong, starting with Alice Stewart's research in the 1950s, showing that even ONE x-ray of a pregnant woman increased the risk of leukemia later in the life of the fetus. Just one. Not a cumulative effect of a hundred or more x-rays over a lifetime.

Modern dental x-ray equipment creates about 1/5th of the radiation per x-ray that older x-ray machines created. Thus, they are much safer.

To "prove" radiation is safe, Conca describes a few unnamed random scientists he has known who have *not* died of provable radiation exposures they received during their lab work. That's not how statistics works (what he's doing is called "confirmation bias"). In most cases it is nearly impossible to prove that radiation caused a particular cancer. Nuclear proponents get enormous political mileage from this fact.

Conca completely dismisses the thousands of studies done in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine that show unequivocally that hundreds of thousands of people have already died because of the Chernobyl accident -- even Russia has admitted that dozens of "first responders" have died.

Conca should read Manual for Survival, by MIT historian of environmental and nuclear history Kate Brown. She writes that the National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimated that fallout from Nevada weapons testing "caused an extra 11,000 to 200,000 thyroid cancers among Americans." This was due to the release of approximately 20 billion Curies of radioactive Iodine, about three times *more* radioactive Iodine than was released by the Chernobyl disaster, and which was hardly the only hazardous radioactive substance released from either the Nevada tests, the Chernobyl disaster, or any other accidental or intentional release.

(I could recommend hundreds of other professionally researched books if space permitted.)

Conca dismisses Chernobyl because -- he claims -- it was a "weapons reactor" with electricity production only as a side business. Although it was undoubtedly a dual-purpose reactor, Conca doesn't mention that it was based on stolen U.S. designs for reactors, nor does he mention that early U.S. reactors at Hanford were of the same design. In particular, the doomed Chernobyl reactor was "a close replica" of the N-reactor at Hanford. The Department of Energy closed the N-reactor permanenetly a few months after the Chernobyl disaster began (see page 291 of Plutopia by Kate Brown).

Conca also completely ignores the harm and the risk of nuclear catastrophes that might occur in the future, due to sabotage, war, airplane impacts, maintenance failures, operator error, or even asteroid impacts. Too rare? Maybe you can make that claim for asteroids, but all of the others are closer to "inevitable" than to "impossible."

Claiming no one died because of Three Mile Island or because of Fukushima defies logic and all the statistical evidence which highly qualified scientists have uncovered.

Conca claims that Gregory Jaczko was "put on the NRC by the late Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada to kill the Yucca Mountain Project." Jaczko was appointed head of the NRC after being carefully scrutinized by the nuclear industry and by Washington. Yucca Mountain killed itself with technical problems that remain unsolvable to this day: Approximately 300 of them!

And Dr. Jaczko was *removed* from the NRC's board of commissioners after Fukushima because his recommendations terrified the nuclear industry in America, so they pressured the NRC to have Jaczko removed. Jaczko was being reasonable in light of what we were learning as Fukushima unveiled numerous fatal flaws in reactor backup plans, government and industry response plans, and control systems, training, and equipment. For example, ALL GE BWR Mark 1 reactor designs should be closed permanently and immediately. We already knew that because of two whistleblowers, but Fukushima drove the lesson home. Yet more than a dozen BWR Mark 1 reactors are still operating in the U.S.A..

Dr. James Conca is a highly biased supporter of nuclear power. That he should be so dismissive of the numerous scientific studies that have proven him wrong about nearly everything he claims should give everyone pause.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

The author has studied nuclear power and nuclear weapons for approximately half a century as an independent researcher.

Below is Dr. Conca's "guest editorial" posted at the Southern California Edison web site:
With Nuclear Waste, Science Matters

Guest editorial by Dr. James Conca

The following is a guest editorial written by Dr. James Conca in response to an Op-Ed that appeared in the Voice of OC by an anti-nuclear activist.

Dr. James Conca

I read with interest an Op-Ed this month in the Voice of OC on nuclear energy and San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). Having recently retired from 35 years in nuclear, mainly as a research professor at New Mexico State University and Washington State University, and as a scientist at National Laboratories like Los Alamos, Pacific Northwest National Lab, and Lawrence Livermore, I was struck by the technical errors in her discussion. I was also impressed by how well she understands and executes obfuscation. In the following discussion, my references and links will not be to anti-nuclear activists or YouTube videos, but from the scientific literature and official reports from CDC, IEA, EIA, IAEA, UN, EU, DOE and NRC.

Repeated claims that nuclear energy and its waste is dangerous are not true, these claims from another anti-nuclear activist notwithstanding. No one has ever been harmed by nuclear energy or nuclear waste in this country (1,2,3,4). No one was harmed by Three Mile Island. No one was killed from radiation from Fukushima (5), though Fukushima was listed as the cause of death for a worker who, sadly, died from a lifetime of heavy smoking. Few remember that Chernobyl was a weapons reactor that could also produce lots of power, and that was the reason for its failure (the reactor had no containment structure like Western reactors).

Nuclear workers throughout history have had a lower cancer rate than the general population (6,7,8,9). People living near nuclear plants show no effects from living near them (10,11). This really says it all about safety.

Further, nuclear is the safest form of energy. Its death print is the same as wind and solar (12) which are very low globally (0.04 deaths per terawatt-hour of electricity production for wind, 0.03 for nuclear, 0.02 for solar). In the U.S., nuclear and hydro are the lowest (13).

I have handled and disposed of nuclear waste for 35 years. Disposing of nuclear waste of any kind is simple and safe. We are just not allowed to do it, in large part because of the fear generated by anti-nuclear activists, case in point the piece in the Voice of OC. Contrary to its assertions, there are no technical hurdles to disposal of spent nuclear fuel, only political ones.

In fact, we have an operating deep geologic nuclear waste repository in New Mexico, called WIPP, that has shown it is safe and cost-effective to dispose of nuclear waste. It takes both high and low-radioactivity waste. WIPP was designed and built to dispose of all nuclear waste from any source. Later, it was only permitted to dispose of nuclear weapons waste, called TRU, and that was because of politics. WIPP is ten years ahead of schedule and a billion dollars under budget, a testament to how well this facility is working and how thoughtfully the host rock was selected.

In its 23-year history, there was only one event, in 2014, not caused by WIPP itself, that released the Am-241 equivalent of 100 smoke detectors. SONGS' waste should eventually go to WIPP or a WIPP-like repository, we’ve already designed it. But no politician wants to touch this issue. These activists' efforts should be to champion WIPP or a WIPP-like repository so that SONGS waste could be removed from California, as it was always intended. Instead, they are slowing that process down.

Examining the “Facts”

Most facts presented by the writer are not facts, but rather anti-nuclear dogma. The claim that “Inhaling just a tiny speck of dust containing plutonium can kill you” is absurd. I have worked with many scientists who have inhaled many particles of Pu, and U, and many other radionuclides. They never showed any effects, and many have died of old age from health issues irrelevant to radiation. The others are still alive. I was Director of the CEMRC facilities near WIPP for six years. We had the instrumentation to track inhaled radioactive particles and detect them in the body, and we often detected them, including Pu, Am, U, Cs and Sr.

Harold McCluskey, nicknamed the “Atomic Man” up here at the Hanford Site in Washington state, is the person who has inhaled the most radioactivity in history. In 1976, he was blasted by an enormous amount of Am-241, which is much more dangerous than Pu, breathing in so much he had to be handled by medical personnel in rad suits. But he lived to a ripe old age and died of a heart attack, something radiation does not cause. It just takes a huge amount of radiation to kill anyone.

But even minor facts presented in that Op-Ed were off. The claim that the water table is 18 inches below the waste pad at SONGS is incorrect. It’s twice that. Maybe that’s minor, but it is an easily-obtainable number from the SONGS website if one had bothered to look.

Similarly for their claims of thin-walled canisters at SONGS. These are the thickest-walled canisters in the industry. They were definitely designed for long-term storage and are not easily susceptible to stress corrosion. The writer continues to confuse these with France’s recycling canisters, which are thicker but built for a completely different purpose, that of storing waste prior to reprocessing.

The most egregious claim is that there was “the blockbuster joint statement issued in January by nuclear authorities from the United States, France, Germany and Great Britain detailing strong opposition to any expansion of nuclear power as a strategy to combat climate change.” First, the people cited were not nuclear authorities from these countries. They are avowed anti-nuclear activists. I know Greg Jaczko, he was put on the NRC by the late Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada expressly to kill the Yucca Mountain Project. The same with the others: they do not represent the nuclear authorities nor the governments in those countries, as cleverly implied by the author.

And all leading climate scientists from Jim Hansen and Kerry Emanuel on down, forcefully speak for nuclear, saying we cannot achieve our climate goals without it. Plus, the European Union just categorized nuclear as clean in order to meet its climate goals.

Finally, the health effects from radiation are not cumulative. Again, the writer can be forgiven for not doing her homework, but she confuses global regulations developed during the Cold War, primarily to stop America’s above ground nuclear tests, with actual science. We adopted LNT, ALARA and Cumulative Effects to be conservative, not to reflect the scientific knowledge, even at that time. Those hypotheses assumed we did not have an immune system. But our immune system effectively repairs all radiation damage up to about 20 rem (0.2 Sv) acute. Radiation does not cause inheritable genetic effects, it is not a mutagen.

For clarity, radiation acts as an oxidant in biological systems. Either as a gamma ray, a beta particle or an alpha particle, radiation acts exactly as oxygen in the body, by knocking an electron off a molecule, usually water as that is what we are mostly made of. But oxygen is a thousand times more effective at oxidizing than radiation, so our immune system can handle it easily since our cells (as with all eukaryotic cells) evolved about 2.3 billion years ago when oxygen first entered the atmosphere and background radiation levels were ten times what they are today. This is why we have become focused on anti-oxidants in our foods.

And this is why it takes an acute dose of over 20 rem (0.2 Sv) to have any health effects—our immune system is very efficient—until it is overwhelmed.

But the idea of cumulative effective dose is especially weird and has been used in areas outside of radiation, such as in medicinal drugs. Cumulative effective dose states that the risk of death from one person taking 100 aspirins a day is the same as 100 persons taking one aspirin a day. Anyone knows this is absurd, but it is ingrained in our radiation regulatory institutions, along with the false assumption that we don’t have a functioning immune system.

Again, this is not intuitive stuff, and takes years of study in these areas of science. Absent that, one gets what one would expect: unsupported claims not based in science.

Dr. James Conca is Trustee of the Herbert M. Parker Foundation, Richland, Wash. He is a retired scientist and research professor with a master’s and PhD. from the California Institute of Technology (CalTech).

The opinions expressed are those of the author.

(The above opinion by James Conca was posted at the Southern California Edison web site July 26, 2022)