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The ‘fatally flawed’ nuclear waste storage facilities at the decomposing San Onofre nuclear site

Reports: San Onofre nuclear site ‘fatally flawed’, Taylor January 17, 2019,

REGION — Nuclear waste storage facilities at the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station are “fatally flawed” and could cost Southern California nearly $13.4 trillion over a 50-year period if a major release of radiation occurs, according to two reports recently published by the Samuel Lawrence Foundation.

The reports were published during an ongoing Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigation into electric supply company Southern California Edison and its contractor, Holtec International, which designed and built the storage facility.

The investigation stems from an incident on Aug. 3, 2018, when a full canister of spent nuclear fuel came within a quarter-inch of falling 18 feet.

Edison’s plan is to move 73 canisters into the oceanfront storage vault, having already moved 29 by the reports’ publication.

After the August incident, regulators stopped any more canisters from being loaded into the vault, built to hold 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste at the San Onofre site, located on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton on the coastal side of I-5.

The report notes how storage tanks at gas stations in California must be double-walled after experiencing how single-walled containers can leak gasoline into groundwater.

“With a double-walled fuel tank, if a leak occurs it can be detected and the storage container can be repaired or replaced before any gasoline is released,” the report states. “At San Onofre, we certainly should expect that some kind of leak prevention system would be in place to contain extremely toxic high-level radioactive waste.”

At an Aug. 9, 2018, community engagement panel discussing the decommissioning of San Onofre, Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector David Fritch told attendees about a near-accident at the storage facility.

When workers using a crane were moving a canister containing spent nuclear fuel, it became lodged at the top of the cavity enclosure container into which it was being stored.

Investigations revealed the operators and managers could not see the canister as it was being lowered and became stuck for nearly an hour, hanging 18 feet in the air from the guide ring along the top of the container.

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) began operating in 1968 and closed in 2012 after continuous leaks were discovered in the plant’s steam generator tubes.

The first report, titled “San Onofre Nuclear Waste Problems,” examines damage caused to the “thin-walled, steel” canisters as they are lowered into the dry storage vaults. The report refers to this damage as “gouging” and considers it the most serious of the issues facing the storage facility.,
The Del Mar-based nonprofit Samuel Lawrence Foundation’s research determined that had the canister fallen, it could have hit the steel-lined concrete floor of the facility with “explosive energy greater than that of several large sticks of dynamite.” The damage could have caused a large radiation release, according to the report, and could have ruined the facility’s cooling system.

According to the report, each nuclear storage canister contains 37 spent fuel assemblies, which generate “enormous amounts of heat” and are cooled by an air duct system, which could have been blocked by the damage from a canister falling.

If that had happened, great quantities of water would be needed to cool the reaction and prevent or control a meltdown. That water would instantly become radioactive steam, similar to wh­­at happened during the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.

In the report, retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Len Hering, Sr., who previously served as a nuclear weapons safety officer­­­­, provided a scathing assessment of the storage facility’s management practices.

“I find that virtually none of the protocols that should be expected for the safe handling of this dangerous material are present,” he states in the report. “I find that personnel and companies are being hired virtually off the street, no specific qualification standards are present or for that matter even required, training is not specific to the risks of the material involved, and there is no fully-qualified and certified team assembled for this highly-critical operation.”

The report also addresses the risk of storing them so close to the Pacific Ocean, where rising sea levels, frequent high humidity and coastal fog make metal susceptible to short-term corrosion and stress-induced corrosion cracking.

According to the report, the mean high tide level is about 18 inches below the base of the oceanfront storage facility, which means sea level frequently exceeds that height.

It states it’s likely that the present groundwater table will leach into the vault and result in damp storage, which the vault is not designed for.

Rising sea levels due to climate change could make things worse, potentially causing the bottom seven feet of the storage canisters to be submerged and possibility create a similar crisis to Fukushima, where spent fuel was exposed to moisture.

In the second report, titled “Potential Economic Consequences from an Event at the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station Interim Spent Fuel Storage Installation,” uses economic impact modeling software to estimate economic losses from diminished activities within evacuation zones of one, 10 or 50 miles over one year to 50 years.

In a scenario looking at contamination across a one-mile radius, the report states the most significant loss is likely the disruption of regional transportation for up to a year costing $266 million.

The 1-mile radius, which would only represent a minor event, would still affect I-5 and the rail line.

Looking at evacuation zones of 10 to 50 miles over a one- to 50-year period, residential property losses could amount to $11 billion to $500 billion depending on the evacuation scenario. In the 50-mile impact scenario, about $13.4 trillion in gross regional product could be at risk over a 50-year period.

The first report concludes that the nuclear waste at San Onofre requires “much better storage configuration” and needs to be moved to a “technically defensible storage facility” further away from major transportation corridors like I-5.

“If an accident, natural disaster, negligence, or an act of terrorism were to cause a large-scale release of radiation, the health and safety of 8.4 million people within a 50-mile radius would be put at risk,” the report states.

It also demands that a “complete analysis of canister loading procedure and comprehensive risk assessment” be conducted transparently by an independent party, and recommends a permanent stop to the loading of nuclear storage canisters into the seaside vault, to begin placing spent fuel into “reliable canisters that can be monitored, inspected and repaired” and to move them to a facility at a much higher elevation.

January 19, 2019 - Posted by | decommission reactor, USA


  1. The only way nuclear has ended in countries , is by people standing, up and saying no, to nuclear.

    That is the way it was in Germany and Austria after Fukushima.

    It has occurred when people say they do not want Fukushimas in their country. People say, They do not want the RADIONUCLIDE poisons, omnipresent in their country, killing their citizens and their children, with no appropriate way to sequester the thousands of tons of RADIONUCLIDE poisons generated.

    The nucleoapes have plenty of money, to keep keep getting corrupt politicians to subsidize and pile money into this massively-expensive, insanely-dangerous and deadly, extinction level death scam. The corrupt politicians, in their comfortable surroundings will keep funding old reactors and new reactors, as their palms are greased by criminal nucleoapes . Look at the trumpster here.
    Bolnasaro in Brazil. The Russians. Omran. The French.

    That nuclear power is uneconomical, is not even close to a sure way, for nuclear to go away. The crooked Nucleoapes in america, are using the money factor to justify keeping old reactors on the verge of failure opened.

    The crooked politicians are using the expense issue, to deregulate high level nuclear waste and call it non-lethal, not-dangerous.

    The crooked politicians allow unproven, dangerous reactors to go ahead, like the one in Idaho with multiple small reactors that generate as much waste as a regular reactor. Waste that is impossible to dispose of safely.

    The crooked politicians and nucleoapes will always have new and improved reactors on the back burner.

    The nucleopes and their corrupt politician-monkeys, will simply deregulate nuclear waste and say they have cheaper new improved reactors that make nuclear energy so much cheaper now. They will say the combined cost savings from deregulating hi level waste and calling it lo level and, the new improved reactors make the deadly game worthwhile now.

    They will say its too expensive to close 40 yo death-trap reactors. Trump this excuse has used every step of this playbook along the way.

    The people have to say enough is enough and force their governments to stop subsidizing it.

    That is the way it has been in Europe in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, italy and the devils continue to push back.

    Australia and New Zealand are committed to no nuclear, yet some of Australia’s crooked politicians are successfully getting nuclear waste, from places like sellafield to be dumped in Australia now.
    The slippery slope begins in Australia.

    Comment by Doug | January 19, 2019 | Reply

    • Actually about nuclear wastes from Sellafield – this is a complicated story. Australia is bound by contract to “take back” its wastes reprocessed at Sellafield – wastes that originated from Australia’s nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney. In fact, at Sellafield, the reprocessing operation means that wastes from various origins are mixed together, so that some of this mix is sent to Australia. Australians believe (incorrectly) that its “Australian” wastes coming back. I guess that this could be used as a toehold for the nuclear lobbyists who want to get Australia to import nuclear wastes.

      Comment by Christina MacPherson | January 19, 2019 | Reply

      • I hope they do not start moving more nuclear waste into Australia.

        According to mining awareness and other sources I know of, trump is allowing high level waste from Japan and others places to come in here.

        The fake antinuclear trumptrolls maintain that nuclear will eliminate itself in america because, it is so expensive and trump will starve it too death.

        In reality just the opposite is happening.

        Many of the grass roots people I know who are fighting Holtec, fighting to not have high level nuclear waste stored dangerously on concrete pad by their communities, or those fighting to get nuclear reactors in their communities closed, do not even pay attention to the internet. They do not know about sites like this. This is a very good site, by the way.

        Grass roots communities follow local newsletters . they follow status of local petititions, local nuclear court cases and the status of the case they are working on.

        I guess it does not really matter what the fakes , trolls and political operatives on the internet say except about nuclear or trump.
        It might however, affect people who want to learn new information about fukushima and the nuclear messes going on.

        We all agree Trump and Perry are frauds and crooks . We agree they are selling us down the sewer at this point. Especially on the nuclear waste issues in Texas, Hanford and San onofre.

        People I know who live in communities with rickety old 30 or 40 yo reactors, whose fuel pools are choked with high level waste rods, simply want the reactors Closed and trumps is not doing that.

        The concentrations of dangerous radionuclides in drinking water, IN america are unacceptably high all across the US. See EWG.

        People ralleyed together, to send sixty thousand comments to the epa under obama to get the epa, to not allow more radiation in drinking water IN 2015

        It was a proposed increased-allowance for radiation in drinking water, under Obama . it was one of the few good things that occurred.

        They did not change the standard because of the outpouring of concern. Now thAT Trump and Perry are in power, there will be no standards soon. They are designating high level waste as Low level. Hi level waste will probably be in the water soon as well as the unacceptable amounts of uranium, thorium and radium that exists in so much water across the United States.

        Trump and Perry are deregulating nuclear. They are allowing high level nuclear waste to be imported, while not dealing properly with our high level waste. They are storing high level waste in unsafe , flakey, Holtec casks all over the United States by reactors around the US, on pads outdoors in San Onofre, Texas, and New Mexico.

        Trump is also setting off a protracted, expensive, unnecessary nuclear-arms race.

        What a sad state America is in these days. Trump is deregulating nuclear here. The nuscale reactor is a dangerous boondoge for states with low power demands, lots of wind, geothermal, solar and hydroelectric potentials. Its all a money game with the crooks here. Marco kaltofen is coming back with high readings from socal after the Woolsey fires many areas at 100mS and above. Will be interesting to see composition. This shows Santa Susana was heavily contaminated. This is another major nuclear catastrophe.

        A major high level nuclear waste accident at San Onofre will be a double whammy for the 20 million people of southern California.
        There are reactor problems and fuel pool problems in several reactors, in america every week.

        There have been unprecedented numbers of hurricanes in america recently. Only a matter of time.

        Comment by Doug | January 20, 2019

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