By Eric Heinz

It was an emotional meeting for many members of the public as well as the Community Engagement Panel (CEP).

On Nov. 29, the CEP met to discuss the next steps of enforcement related to a canister incident at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) on Aug. 3.

Going forward, Southern California Edison (SCE), the majority owner and operator of SONGS, will take part in a public hearing in Texas, where the NRC’s Region IV is headquartered, in order to determine how the operators will better train staff and ensure anyone who starts working for the contractors will have the appropriate knowledge and skillsets.

The root cause of the canister incident was identified as contractors without the proper training working on the transfer process. As the properly trained contractors left, there apparently wasn’t enough oversight to make sure the new contractors had the necessary training.

“This event was unacceptable. We failed to provide the oversight, and the contractor failed.  We own this and Holtec owns this,” Tom Palmisano, SCE’s vice president of decommissioning and chief nuclear officer, said during the CEP meeting.

Holtec International, Inc. is the designer of the latest canisters being stored at SONGS and is contracting services for the transfer process.

The violations the NRC cited related to the incident were the improper loading of the canister and SCE waiting too long to make an official notice of the incident. The canister could have dropped 18 feet due to a lack of tension in its line when the operators were lowering it into a concrete repository, which has concerned many people who follow the issues at SONGS closely.

“Once the licensee has identified the cause and the corrective actions, we will do another formal inspection, once they say they’re ready,” said Scott Morris, the NRC deputy regional administrator for Region IV. “I don’t know when that will be. We will inspect in detail the cause analyses and the corrective actions, and ideally, we’ll be able to make a final regulatory conclusion that would support the licensee continue to do what they intend.”

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Palmisano said that may be able to happen by late January. A detailed process of the next steps for SCE include committing to better training programs, more detailed procedures, more “intrusive and effective” oversight, improvements to canister loading by installing cameras and alarms, as well as creating a corrective action program.

Prior to the meeting, a man had visibly irked CEP board chairman David Victor, Ph.D., and was nearly escorted from the QLN Conference Center.

Some audience members frequently interrupted the meeting, angry about the lack of notice the operators gave regarding the incident. Many people who criticized SCE for its handling of the operations said they want the California Coastal Commission and NRC to revoke SONGS licenses to store the fuel on-site.

Multiple public speakers said they had concerns with SCE going forward with the storage of spent nuclear fuel near the San Clemente coastline.

SONGS officials said during the meeting that they could resume transferring nuclear fuel rods to dry cask storage, as long as the operators can demonstrate they can safely and effectively complete the transfer process and that certain operational procedures are improved.

At the beginning of the meeting, Victor said that next year could be the best chance advocates have at changing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, which currently doesn’t allow for temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel. Congressman Darrell Issa introduced several bills to amend it along with Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, but none of them got further than the House. Victor said the reason for that is because of the new Congress and Senate, but that if it isn’t passed next year, it could be delayed further due to 2020 being an election year.

A special extreme situation CEP meeting is still planned for the first quarter of 2019, but an official date had not yet been announced.

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comments (6)

  • Nuclear Fuel has been safely stored or used on site at San Onofre for 50 years. The dishonest attempt to alarm the public over this same fuel.

    I think the lemons Donna Gilmore is holding more accurately represent the propaganda website she maintains. Her website included a video of a group of anti-nukes lying about San Onofre’s emergency batteries claiming they were disconnected…for four years! Could you drive your car with the battery disconnected? Never has she or any of the other anti-nuke zealots that I am aware of, apologized for this blatant lie.

    Included also was an interview with an individual who claimed the Three Mile Island accident resulted in science-fiction like deformities including one of a cow born with its skeleton on the outside of its skin. She had the refueling pool mislabeled as the spent fuel pool, called the anti-nuclear activist, Helen Caldicott, an independent expert (she has zero training, education, or experience in nuclear power or engineering), had an individual on her site that claimed Pressurized Water Reactors don’t have reactor vessel level indication (they do), and her site still contains appeals to a Koeberg example of steel corrosion that has been completely debunked as she is well aware as has the exaggeration of her Diablo Canyon example. Acknowledging the truth that these examples are NOT appropriate and indeed have been refuted would undermine her narrative so she relies on her ability to hoodwink her followers and hopes the general public doesn’t notice.

    Beware of those who claim to speak on behalf of the public, have zero credentials or education in the fields relevant to an objective analysis of the issue, have demonstrated repeatedly their willingness to lie or make false assertions, and who claim all the real experts who actually do have the training and education and experience, are biased, wrong, or both.

  • The lemons represent the defective Holtec system that must be replaced. The NRC admits in their written inspection report all canisters downloaded are damaged from the defective loading system. This is an engineering design problem. It cannot be fixed with procedures and training. There is only 1/4″ clearance between the steel canister walls and a steel guide ring located about 4 feet down in the storage hole. The rigging system is so flawed, the canister works more like a pendulum, banging and scraping against the sides of each canister as they are lowered below this guide ring. The only option is to recall this system and replace it with a proven thick-wall transportable storage cask system that can be maintained and monitored to PREVENT radioactive leaks and explosions. The Holtec thin-wall canisters likely have gouges, and Holtec President, Kris Singh, says its not feasible to repair canisters even if you could find cracks and in the face of millions of curies of radionuclides being released into the environment from through wall cracks.

    A November 29, 2018 NRC inspection report on Holtec says the defective fuel basket shims have the potential to damage the fuel cladding and result in radioactive releases into the environment. This is only one of the problems identified in this report. Holtec made critical safety changes without NRC approval. Don’t belive Edison’s propaganda. Listen to whistleblower at SanOnofreSafety.org

  • The lemons represent the defective Holtec nuke waste storage system – not frustration. If a car had as many unfixable and potentially harmful features as the Holtec system does, it would be RECALLED and the buyer would get its money back. The Lemon Law.
    Everyone wants the waste moved off the beach. But if you do the deep dive into NRC, Holtec and Edison documents (see SanOnofreSafety.org) you realize the waste is not going anywhere, until it is repackaged.
    People can support the call for safer nuclear waste storage by signing this petition. http://bit.ly/SaveSanO

    • @ Kalene Walker

      All US commercial nuclear power plants use the canister based system that SONGS is using. It is the best system for the intended purpose thus far devised.

      “The lemons represent the defective Holtec nuke waste storage system – not frustration.”

      How are they defective? If they are so defective, why do so many plants around the world employ them? How can you say they’re defective when they’ve never failed?

      “…unfixable and potentially harmful features…”

      Such as? Name the car that will last 100 years…the time professional engineering firms state these canisters can last.

      “Everyone wants the waste moved off the beach.”

      I’m part of “everyone” and I don’t care if it remains on site or is moved to an interim or permanent site. I am, however, willing to support its removal if that is what the public really desires.
      One should be careful about who you believe on the issue. because most of what has been promoted by Donna and her followers is demonstrable bunk.

      Storage at San Onofre IS safe and is licensed including for transport contrary to the casks Donna prefers which were refused a license for transport by the NRC and are too heavy.

      If you really want to move the fuel out, then focus on the political angle of providing an interim site, not naive complaints about the canisters SONGS is using.

  • What are your credentials Mr. Davison? Who are YOU?

    Donna Gilmore has been an invited speaker on panels at Nuclear Regulatory Commission meetings, and is one of America’s foremost lay experts on nuclear waste. To suggest that San Onofre has been “storing nuclear waste safely for 50 years” is disingenuous. The waste is deadly for millions of years and is being stored on a beach that won’t even be there in 100 years. The system they are using to store the waste is only guranteed to last ten years, and the complex is located 108 feet from the beach. Common sense suggests that this entire plan is reckless and irresponsible.

    • @ Charles R. Langley

      It is NOT a suggestion that nuclear fuel has been stored safely at San Onofre, it is a fact.

      Your statement, “…and is one of America’s foremost lay experts on nuclear waste.”

      According to who? If she is so credible, why do the ACTUAL experts disagree with her claims? How could she claim that the heavy casks she prefers can be inspected on the inside when that is totally false? Why would a “lay expert” rely on debunked reports? Why would her propaganda website contain so many falsehoods and lies some of which are still there? Why does she consistently mischaracterize the statements by others?

      Your statement, “The waste is deadly for millions of years…”

      It’s only deadly if you’re directly exposed to it and hence why the fuel is stored in these state of the art canisters…a design ALL US commercial nuclear plants use as does a number of countries outside the US. These canisters have NRC approval for storage and transport, an approval conspicuously lacking for the casks she prefers. Did she tell you that the NRC refused to license her preferred casks because they feared they would shatter if dropped in cold weather? That they are too heavy for SONGS crane equipment? That one of them experienced a leak which was allowed to continue for two years, a leak never experienced in the canister types SONGS is using?

      Your statement, “…on a beach that won’t even be there in 100 years.”

      Really? The plant has been there for 50 years, why didn’t they have to move it if the beach is going away?

      Who told you the system is only guaranteed to last 10 years? The first canisters at SONGS were loaded 15 years ago and they’re doing fine contrary to the prognostications of all the anti-nuclear alarmist hysteria. Under the worst conditions, these canisters will last 60 years and most likely 100 years. That is the conclusion of real engineers, real experts, not so-called “lay experts” who have never worked in the field.

      “Common sense suggests…”

      Common sense can only apply when one has accurate and truthful information, the kind Donna doesn’t have.

      “What are your credentials Mr. Davison? Who are YOU?”

      I’ve worked in nuclear power for 40 years, most at SONGS but also in the US Nuclear Navy. I don’t like it when zealots deliberately misinform the public, this describes Donna. I have nothing personal against her, but she is wrong and appears determined to hoodwink the public. It would be wise to be careful about believing anything she claims.

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