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Humboldt Bay – a case study in how not to involve the community in cleanup of a dead nuclear reactor nuclear

         
The audience found it noteworthy that no seats had been assigned to tribal representation.
 
the public has known very little about the decommissioning process. No seats on the CAB were given to the media, no one on the CAB thought it was their job to speak with the press, PG&E did not speak with the press, and the NRC has a very hands off approach to the decommissioning process and the utility’s relationship with the CAB. 

Input from the public included a strong sentiment that this was a very poor storage location for the spent fuel. 

Laird went on to say that while there’s already been half a meter of sea level rise, a meter more, which is predicted to occur within 40 years, will fully inundate the generation station, 101 in that area and cause the dry cask storage area to become an island, until it is eroded away.  

Notably, PG&E’s Decommissioning Fund will run out in 2025, a mere 5 years from now, the casks the waste are in only have a shelf life of 40 to 50 years, and the half life of the waste in storage in those casks in PG&E’s custody, is 24,000 years.  

NUCLEAR WASTE BEING STORED 115 FT FROM HUMBOLDT BAY AS SEA LEVEL RISES

Bruce Watson the Branch Chief in charge of Reactor Decommissioning at the NRC led the meeting. He instructed everyone that the sole purpose of the meeting was for him to collect their input on the best practices of the Citizen Advisory Boards. He said, “We are not here to talk about other issues related to decommissioning.” The speakers allowed some of their remarks to drift over to address what should be done about the spent fuel rod still being stored at the King Salmon site.

On January 14th, the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) was signed into law. According to Jurist Legal News and Research website, NEIMA makes several changes to the licensing process for nuclear reactors. The NEIMA gave the NRC less than a year to “develop and implement a staged licensing process for commercial advanced nuclear reactors.” NEIMA gave the NRC two years to

develop and implement strategies for increasing the use of risk-informed, performance-based licensing evaluation techniques and guidance for commercial advanced nuclear reactors….[and] for licensing research and test reactors.

Additionally, §108 of the NEIMA, requires the NRC to submit a report to Congress identifying best practices for establishing and operating CABs to foster communication and information exchange between a decommissioning licensee and the local community. §108 reads in part,

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) shall submit a report to Congress identifying Best Practices with respect [to]the establishment and operation of a local Community Advisory Board to foster communication and information exchange between a licensee planning for and involved in decommissioning activities and members of the community that decommissioning activities may affect, including lessons learned from existing CABs.

The NRC scheduled 11 meetings nationwide. Eureka was the second in the series. The other meetings, held in quick succession from August 21 to October 10th, will also be held in communities near nuclear power plants that have been or are in the process of decommissioning. Those locations include: Palisades in Michigan, Diablo Canyon and San Onofre in California, Vermont Yankee in Vermont, Pilgrim in Massachusetts, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, Zion in Illinois, Indian Point in New York, Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Crystal River in Florida.

The Humboldt Bay Power Plant was the first commercial power plant to operate in the United States and it has been among the first nuclear power plants to be decommissioned. And it has one of the first Citizens’ Advisory Boards (CABs) in the country.

The Humboldt Bay Power Plant’s CAB membership has consisted of stakeholders with seats for “community leaders,” local elected officials, a state representative, the utility, environmental and community groups. The audience found it noteworthy that no seats had been assigned to tribal representation.
According to the NRC, Citizen Advisory Boards have been used since the 90’s in the decommissioning process to establish communication with the local area residents. However, while Humboldt Bay has had its very active CAB, the public has nonetheless known very little about the decommissioning process. No seats on the CAB were given to the media, no one on the CAB thought it was their job to speak with the press, PG&E did not speak with the press, and the NRC has a very hands off approach to the decommissioning process and the utility’s relationship with the CAB. 

The NRC report to congress on the CAB Best Practices shall include the discussion topics CABs have considered, the recommendations they have made, and how the CABs might best offer an opportunity for public engagement in all phases of the decommissioning process.

Before the public input comments began, PG&E’s Sr. Director responsible for the decommissioning process at Humboldt Bay and Diablo Canyon, Loren Sharp, gave some background on the Humboldt Bay Power Plant. He said in 2008, PG&E completed moving all the spent fuel rods into onsite dry cask storage, that PG&E then built and began using the new natural gas generators nearer the freeway in 2010, the old fossil fuel generators were then decommissioned and by 2018 the Humboldt Bay Power Plant demolition was complete.

Sharp said, after the fuel rods and reactor core pieces were put into dry cask storage, and the new generators were online, the two fossil fuels generators, that had been built over the nuclear reactor that was underground, were demolished and removed. Then, he said, “Demolition of the nuclear plant was complete at the end of 2018. We finished the remediation of the plant in July 2019. So we are currently in demobilization of equipment and doing the final permit sampling. We are really are at the end.”

Sharp said all that remains of the former nuclear power plant on the PG&E site are six multi-ton casks of nuclear material in a cement and steel vault being stored buried at the top of the utility’s property in King Salmon until the time the Department of Energy takes possession of them. Sharp said,

Those 6 casks are the ones subject to conversation with the [Department of Defense.] DoD’s function is to pick up those casks whenever Yucca Mountain or whatever end result occurs. [The casks] are still here only because DoD hasn’t executed their contract.

There are three parts to PG&E’s license at Humboldt Bay. PG&E will continue to hold a license to operate the natural gas generators. It will request to terminate its license to operate a nuclear power reactor, and it will retain a license to store the spent nuclear fuel and contaminated material from the reactor vessel.

Input from the public included a strong sentiment that this was a very poor storage location for the spent fuel. . Humboldt Baykeeper’s Jennifer Kalt invited Alderon Laird to share his group’s findings that Humboldt Bay is sinking at about the same rate as the sea is rising.

When the State permitted onsite storage of the dry casks, Kalt asserted, it drew its sea level rise predictions while disregarding the tide data from Humboldt Bay. Because that one data point was such “an outlier,” State employees looking at the data assumed it was the result of a flaw in the equipment.

Laird showed pictures and explained that Humboldt Bay has seen 18 inches of seal level rise in that last century. He noted the current natural gas generators are on a low-lying area susceptible to inundation. Among his slides was a picture of the waves overtopping the railroad bed that doubles as a levy against the bay on the property just north of PG&E.

Laird went on to say that while there’s already been half a meter of sea level rise, a meter more, which is predicted to occur within 40 years, will fully inundate the generation station, 101 in that area and cause the dry cask storage area to become an island, until it is eroded away.  

Before Laird even discussed sea level rise, he remarked on the history of Buhne (Booner) Point upon which PG&E’s property sits. He showed an historical drawing of it as a much larger outcropping into the bay than it is currently. Laird said major erosion of Buhne Point, located directly opposite the mouth of the bay, began after the Army Corp of Engineers built the jetties in 1890. Laird said,

[The jetties] funnel all the energy to the east side of the bay. That’s where your land is.

He explained that from 1890 until a sea wall was built at the bottom of Buhne Point in 1950, that Buhne Point eroded nearly 1500 linear feet, at an average rate of 24 ft a year. As that wall gets hammered by a rising sea, Buhne Point once again may begin to erode away according to Laird.

The fuel rods are supposed to stay in PG&E’s possession until the Department of Defense “executes their contract” and takes possession of the spent fuel after they have a national repository. Yucca Mountain was supposed to become that repository, but many believe that neither Yucca Mountain, nor any other site, will ever gain approval and permitting. Whether a national repository is eventually found or not, the fuel will sit where it is on Buhne Point in dry cask storage, for the foreseeable future.

Laird concluded his presentation with the recommendation that PG&E no longer needs to have this generation station located near water, that PG&E should find another place further from potential inundation, and that PG&E should take their nuclear waste to that new location as well.

Notably, PG&E’s Decommissioning Fund will run out in 2025, a mere 5 years from now, the casks the waste are in only have a shelf life of 40 to 50 years, and the half life of the waste in storage in those casks in PG&E’s custody, is 24,000 years.  

The majority of the message on CAB Best Practices from Humboldt Bay’s CAB members, who spoke at the meeting, is that there needs to be a communication plan from the utility to the community at large, the CAB needs to continue meeting with PG&E until all phases of decommissioning, including the removal of all fuel from the site, has been completed; a defined education plan for CAB members by the utility needs to be developed; and the law should put teeth put into the direction CAB’s give utilities in the decommissioning process.

Mike Manetas, has been on the CAB since the beginning in 1998. He indicated that the CAB would have been more efficient had they been educated on nuclear power rather than getting information piecemeal as a member would bring up a question or topic here and there over time.

He also noted that 16,000 trucks of lower grade waste and water from the pool storage, was trucked out of Humboldt County to long term storage in places like Texas and Utah.

The majority of the message on CAB Best Practices from Humboldt Bay’s CAB members, who spoke at the meeting, is that there needs to be a communication plan from the utility to the community at large, the CAB needs to continue meeting with PG&E until all phases of decommissioning, including the removal of all fuel from the site, has been completed; a defined education plan for CAB members by the utility needs to be developed; and the law should put teeth put into the direction CAB’s give utilities in the decommissioning process.

Mike Manetas, has been on the CAB since the beginning in 1998. He indicated that the CAB would have been more efficient had they been educated on nuclear power rather than getting information piecemeal as a member would bring up a question or topic here and there over time.

He also noted that 16,000 trucks of lower grade waste and water from the pool storage, was trucked out of Humboldt County to long term storage in places like Texas and Utah.

Scott Rainsford told a story from long ago that clearly still bothers him. Rainsford said he had been in the Coast Guard in 1978 when he was asked to inspect PG&E’s “contingency plan.” When he did, he learned they had to use it once on July 17, 1970 when a power failure caused the Operator on Duty to release steam, to reduce pressure in the nuclear reactor’s cooling system, at a rate of 400,000 lbs of steam per hour, which Rainsford said equated to about 800 gallons a minute. When the power still did not come back on and so much water had been released, in the form of steam, that the reactor was in danger of becoming dry, the Operator closed off the steam emergency release valves and pressure built up in the system and caused pipes and baffling to rupture.

Rainsford said that he has checked the weather for July 17, 1970 and the breeze was blowing from the W and NW carrying the released vapor from the core straight toward the elementary school and Humboldt Hill residential area.

Rainsford concluded by saying he finds there is a “big issue of needing to resolve the description of the incident at the NRC and what I saw in the report marked ‘Confidential.’”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will take the remarks made at these 11 public meetings, and the written input of CAB members from around the country, and will make a report to Congress on the best practices to use with future CABs. You can add your remarks until November 17, 2019 through the NEIMA website or at www.regulations.govuse docket number NRC-2019-0073-0001

Other Resources:

Below is video livestreamed from the August 26 meeting by Redheaded Blackbelt’s Ryan Hutson: [on original]

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September 22, 2019 - Posted by | investigative journalism, Reference

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