Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Experts to talk about SanO safety; comments on the previous newsletter; health report for author

Feb. 1, 2023

1) Online forum on San Onofre safety with UCS physicist Edwin Lyman this Friday, 11:30 am PST
2) SCE's CEP is useless; citizens plan alternative meeting with highly qualified safety expert(s)
3) Paul Blanch Bio
4) Last week's newsletter refuting nuclear power as "baseload" is available online
5) A few hours after sending last week's newsletter I had a mild stroke ("mild" means no apparent lasting effects)
6)  It's always better to be lucky than smart
7) URL for this newsletter

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, California USA

1) Online forum on San Onofre safety with UCS physicist Edwin Lyman this Friday, 11:30 am PST:

As part of the First Friday series, the Samuel Lawrence Foundation is hosting a Zoom meeting 11:30 a.m. PST Feb. 3 with physicist Edwin Lyman, PhD, Director of Nuclear Power Safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists. The online meeting is free and open to the public.

Lyman, an expert on nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear power safety will address security risks at Southern California Edison's seaside nuclear waste dump at San Onofre.

Lyman argues that security at nuclear storage sites should be beefed up.

"We agree with Dr. Lyman that security is inadequate, especially at locations that are so near publicly-accessible areas, like Edison's beachfront nuclear waste dump near San Onofre State Beach," said Bart Ziegler, PhD, president of the Samuel Lawrence Foundation.

Lyman, coauthor of "Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster" and the 2018 recipient of the Leo Szilard Lectureship Award from the American Physical Society, is a member of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management and past president of the Nuclear Control Institute.

Zoom link: (this event was recorded and should be available soon)

First Fridays are made possible in part with the Coalition for Nuclear Safety.

Friday, February 3, at 11:30 a.m. PST

2) SCE's CEP is useless; citizens plan alternative meeting with highly qualified safety expert(s):

The Southern California Edison-funded-and-controlled Citizen's Engagement Panel (CEP) has been completely useless and biased, and complicit in promoting SoCalEd's propaganda while suppressing opposition viewpoints.

Paul Blanch, on the other hand, is a well-known and highly qualified expert who should have been given a voice at the CEP meetings, but has been repeatedly denied a chance.

Now, a group of local concerned citizens are organizing a meeting to give Blanch and other experts a forum the CEP will not provide. The Ocean Beach Rag has published an announcement about the upcoming event. The exact date has not been set, but it will probably be in late March, 2023. See:

Gary Headrick
Cathy Iwane
Paul Blanch

3) Paul Blanch Bio:

Paul Blanch has more than 50 years of nuclear engineering experience, including management of regulatory issues and safety concerns in the nuclear industry. He has been employed by nuclear licensees for more than 30 years. As a nuclear safety advocate, Blanch's main goal is to assure that US nuclear plants are operated safety and in compliance with federal regulations.

During Mr. Blanch's career, he has worked for the chief nuclear officers (CNOs) at Millstone, Maine Yankee and Indian Point, including both Consolidated Edison and Entergy Nuclear. He has been a paid consultant for the State of New York. While engaged with these companies, Blanch was heavily involved with decommissioning responsibilities. He has also made presentations to the Pilgrim and the Vermont decommissioning panels. Blanch has interfaced extensively with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on decommission safety issues and recently met with the NRC Chairman, Staff and NRC's Inspector General regarding San Onofre.

Mr. Blanch has provided consulting services for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). He was named Engineer of the Year by Westinghouse Electric. Blanch has been a Registered Professional Engineer (PE) by the State of California. Blanch has testified before the US Senate on NRC regulatory issues resulting in a significant change to the Atomic Energy Act.

4) Last week's newsletter refuting nuclear power as "baseload" is available online:

Here's the URL for last week's newsletter:

Thanks to Dr. Helen Caldicott, Harvey Wasserman, Jane Swanson, Jan Boudart, Judy Treichel, Bob Nichols, Michael Feinstein, Alice McNally, Joe Holtzman, Penny McCracken and others who sent this author kind words, and in some cases reposted the previous newsletter.

And thanks also to Donna Gilmore, who also doesn't like Diablo Cyn, but nevertheless doubts that offshore wind is feasible (though I never described something that hasn't already been done somewhere in the world) and who is worried about the quality of the grid in terms of reliability.

Grid reliability is certainly an important issue. But, as Buckminster Fuller showed nearly a century ago, a global energy grid can supply ALL the energy the world needs through clean, renewable sources like wind and sun. The wind doesn't always blow all the time in any particular spot, but it always blows somewhere!

On the other hand, having an enormous percentage of the "baseload" coming out of one spot and that spot requiring its own offsite power is a recipe for failure. Or for disaster.

5) A few hours after sending last week's newsletter I had a mild stroke ("mild" means no apparent lasting effects):

My first. I'm fine.  But if you want the details, read on...

Of course, a stroke doesn't feel "mild" when it's happening. You only learn that (if you're lucky) later.

A few hours after sending out the newsletter last week, I had what doctors have determined was a minor stroke in my cerebellum. I spent about 34 hours in the ER of a local hospital.

All of a sudden, the world started spinning (while I was "on the throne"). The spinning surprised me, but about once a month I see stars there anyway -- ever since I took a really hard punch right between the eyes during karate class about 15 years ago. (It was accidental, but I had eye problems and headaches for a few weeks afterwards. And the stars come out now and then ever since.)

I closed my eyes for a few seconds, but when I opened them, things were really spinning pretty strangely -- as if they were actually going round and round.

I closed my eyes again, but when I opened them the second time, things were spinning crazily, like a whirling dervish! I tried to get up a little and realized it was impossible, I was totally dizzy. I dove for the floor and yelled for my wife. By the third or fourth try enunciating the words, I managed to tell her I thought I had a stroke. The right side of my mouth just would not cooperate, which is a pretty good sign it was a stroke. When I tried to use my arms they were shaking like a leaf on a tree, pale and weak. Most of the symptoms subsided within about 20 minutes; thankfully none remain.  We've been out biking several times since then.

I saw stars once in the past week, which is not too surprising, but for the first time, they were only on one side. THAT was strange!

6) It's always better to be lucky than smart:

My late father, Howard S. Hoffman, was a veteran of World War II with a mortar platoon in the U.S. Army.

War began for Howard in Italy in March, 1944, and progressed all the way to the Elbe River in Germany, where they met the Russians coming the other way in May, 1945. His platoon was rushed up to take part in the relief of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war, with help from the G.I. Bill, dad went to college, earned a Ph.D. in psychology, and in 1957 "Dr. Hoffman" joined the faculty at Pennsylvania State University until 1970, and then at Bryn Mawr College until he retired. Prior to joining PSU, during lean years, he painted and shared a small flat in New York City with the then also-young writer William Styron (they stayed in contact later in life, and he was always referred to as "Bill Styron" in our house).

Dad taught statistics for nearly 50 years, to students from many disciplines (not just psychology students) and, after he retired, my dad, my wife and I wrote an interactive educational statistics tutorial together (he later told me she's "the best statistician he'd ever met"!).

My dad always said "it's always better to be lucky than smart." I've been very lucky. But nothing compared to what he went through during his military service in Europe! I've survived cancer twice (bladder cancer about 15 years ago, and Mantle Cell Lymphoma just after the start of the CoViD pandemic). There was a suicidal driver intent on having a head-on collision, and several dozen other "close calls." A year or so ago I actually made a list of over 30 such "Near Death Experiences" (NDEs) -- at least, all the ones I could still remember!

It may seem like a lot, but my dad probably had that many NDEs each week of combat for more than a year.

His platoon started with about twenty-four men, and by the Battle of the Bulge, had been "replaced" two or three times, and was down to about eight men, including officers. Losses include both KIA and wounded. According to dad, there were more losses from "bad ammunition"  (4.2 mortars) than from the enemy! So-called "bad ammunition" had a nasty tendency of exploding inside the mortar barrel, or just after it left the barrel.  Mortar shell problems turned out to be a huge scandal after the war.

Sometimes government regulation isn't much use. And it's always better to be lucky than smart!

7) URL for this newsletter:


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Should Diablo Canyon ever be considered "baseload"? Or: Karma is a nuclear reactor...or two.

January, 2023
by Ace Hoffman

The California Energy Commission has made it clear that their reason for advocating keeping the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station open an extra five years (or perhaps 20 extra years) has to do with rare, short-lived, peak load periods that can last from mere moments to perhaps a few hours and, very rarely, for a day or so.

The best solutions for these temporary fluctuations in power requirements are those solutions which can ramp up and down quickly. Nuclear power is not one of them.

"Baseload power refers to the minimum amount of electric power needed to be supplied to the electrical grid at any given time...Baseload power must be supplied by constant and reliable sources of electricity."
-- Source:

As I write this (late January, 2023), more than half of Pakistan is without electricity -- approximately 220 million people. It's the third time in as many years that a widespread blackout has hit that country.

When blackouts occur, hospitals immediately start cancelling all non-essential services, and begin running on emergency backup generators (if they start). Street lights, home medical equipment, phone chargers, and emergency services may have to be shut down unless they have access to backup generators or backup batteries.

If the blackout lasts longer than about eight hours, cell phone towers are likely to run out of fuel for their generators and/or battery power (not all cell phone towers have ANY backup).

Invariably, the military goes on high alert.

Being without power is a nightmare in any country. If there's anything that "must be avoided at all costs" it is exactly that.

But combine a power outage with a nuclear disaster and it gets unimaginably worse. And the one can cause the other, and vice-versa.

The relevance to granting Diablo Canyon a five-year (possibly 20-year) life extension **as baseload** power is simple:

Nuclear power should **NEVER** be considered "baseload" power. And not just because it is unreliable, which it very much is.

There's a more important reason, which is that nuclear reactors ALWAYS operate on externally-supplied power -- tens of megawatts for each reactor. Without it, they must shut down the reaction immediately, and their own backup systems have to kick in to keep the reactor cool, to prevent it from melting down.

Each nuclear reactor has its own emergency diesel generators (EDGs) or other backup power systems (some have hydroelectric backup instead, or in addition).

Any disruption to the incoming "offsite" power supply to a nuclear reactor will cause the reactor to have to shut down. Shutting down a commercial nuclear reactor is not just expensive, disruptive, complicated and damaging in large and small ways to the reactor itself -- it's also risky. A LOT can go wrong during a shutdown. In fact, if any reactor has more than a couple of unplanned shutdowns in a year's time, it is subject to intensified inspections by federal regulators. But one or two unplanned shutdowns happen at most nuclear reactors almost every year. And suddenly, a thousand megawatts of so-called "baseload" power is gone!

The backup system of last resort for all nuclear reactors in America is called the Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS). But here's the thing: The ECCS has never been tested in real conditions. Small models have been tested, with artificial heating units to replicate the core of the reactors. Why have they never tested a full-scale ECCS under realistic conditions? **Because it's too risky.** Think about that.

(At Fukushima, the valves to open additional cooling water failed because the power was out, and by the time they realized they needed the valves to open, it was too radioactive in the area where the valves were for humans to go without sacrificing their own lives -- and the valves remained closed, and the reactors melted down. Or something like that. Reports have varied, as with most tragedies.)

What are our alternatives? Are wind turbines reliable? Yes, very. The wind isn't, but the turbines are, and that's a key factor in reliability -- it's a much simpler technology than a nuclear reactor (which includes one very massive turbine, which occasionally fails in various ways, causing unplanned shutdowns). A fleet of just 70 wind turbines (15 Megawatts each) would be orders-of-magnitude less likely to all fail at once, but can provide the same amount of electricity as one nuclear reactor. One point of failure.

Are solar rooftops reliable? Yes, very. No moving parts, for one thing. But mustn't we turn to fossil fuels if it's cloudy on a windless day?

No, not at all -- there are numerous backup options: pumped storage, compressed air, lifted weights, fleets of electric vehicles, and industrial-sized battery storage are all available (or can be). And all are far more reliable than diesel generators. And because they come online far faster than gas "peaker" plants, battery backup allows system operators to "cut it closer to the edge" when deciding if they need to resort to more expensive and/or less clean energy alternatives.

And not having to worry about losing 1,000 megawatts in a single instant, for an undeterminable amount of time, also makes it much easier to manage the grid -- with greater reliability for everyone, at far lower cost and less damage to the environment -- let alone, potential damage.

When nuclear power plants are considered baseload, system operators have to be much more careful.

Oregon has identified two potential significant offshore wind locations that could supply ALL of California's energy needs. The two areas are along the southern edge of Oregon (close to California!) and could be developed to the extent of completely replacing both nuclear units at Diablo Canyon within two years. Similar offshore wind farms have been built that quickly elsewhere in the world. California has lots of offshore wind options available as well. So why can't California build offshore wind? The seventh largest economy in the world -- like all large economies -- depends on cheap, clean, reliable energy to grow, thrive and produce.

Baseload power refers, by definition, to things that MUST have power for society to function even in an emergency situation. And the #1 thing that NEEDS baseload power -- is a nuclear power plant.  And the worst source for reliable baseload power -- is a nuclear power plant. Just about any distributed renewable power source, combined with any assortment of clean energy storage solutions, would be better.

For example, the Los Angeles area could -- quickly, while boosting the local economy -- have a million more solar rooftops than it currently has. These could power electric vehicles, AND be available (either directly or through those vehicles) as emergency backup or "baseload" power for hospitals and other critical infrastructure in the rare event where other power sources are lost for some reason: a downed transmission line due to a wildfire, or a leak at Diablo Canyon requiring a "SCRAM" (where one or more reactors shuts down unexpectedly ("unplanned")). SCRAMs occur, on average, once or twice a year. But for how long? Could be days, could be months, could be forever, like what happened to San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station near San Diego over 10 years ago.

What are the chances that ALL the solar panels in the Los Angeles area would ALL fail all at once? It would NEVER happen! And would ALL the cars instantaneously, in unison, all discharge and never work again? No. Massive distribution of energy sources, including storage, is the most reliable system possible. Nuclear power, on the other hand, is the LEAST reliable energy system possible!

So nuclear power doesn't fit ANY of the definitions of "baseload": It is not reliable, it requires massive amounts of offsite power itself, it is far too expensive (baseload should be the cheapest source of power, NOT the most expensive!). And last but far from least:

We still don't know what to do with the waste. All the waste from San Onofre, long closed, is still at San Onofre. The federal Department of Energy (DOE) is so desperate to find a national solution to the waste problem that, today, they upped the "reward money" available to communities that simply are willing to **DISCUSS** siting a permanent repository for the nation's nuclear waste in their midst -- from $16 million to $26 million.

They (the DOE) are desperate, because nuclear waste is so toxic. And after 70+ years, who wouldn't be? California?

Can we face reality? It's time to stop making nuclear waste, it's time to stop thinking of nuclear reactors as "baseload", or as "reliable", and it's time to get serious about renewable energy.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

The author has studied nuclear issues as an independent researcher for more than 50 years. He has a collection nearly 600 books on nuclear war, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, nuclear engineering, including several dozen on nuclear waste issues alone.