CEO Krishna Singh Says Broken Canister Ventilation Pins ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ Cites Problems with Industry at Violations Hearing 

By Eric Heinz

Krishna Singh, Ph.D., defended his company’s response and corrective actions with every breath during a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 9 intended to examine two violations alleged by the commission. The meeting was broadcast from the NRC’s headquarters in Maryland.

Singh, the president, founder and CEO of Holtec International, Inc., which is providing the dry-cask storage canisters at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), addressed what happened when it was discovered some of the pins that help with helium circulation system that keep the canisters temperatures lower had been bent and one had broken off.

The violations stemmed not necessarily from the shim pins breaking off or being damaged but the designs the NRC officials said were not submitted when it made the change to its canisters in 2016. The older canisters have the circulation designs but not the additional pins, which Singh said are not required by the NRC but do give the repositories an added benefit.

Holtec came to the table ready to accept most of the terms the NRC’s violation findings but not that they merited major enforcement. Singh said Holtec submitted reports but did not put the shim pins through a final development phase.

Singh directed the blame on this process on a “nexus between design and manufacturing”—not just at Holtec but industry-wide.

“Learning from this episode, Holetc has performed processes and made numerous improvements to prevent damage to equipment during handling and manufacturing and transporting to the side, which are typically in excess to safety standards,” he said

But Singh went to quoting William Shakespeare as to the severity of the problem.

“It’s much ado about nothing,” he said during his presentation. “The SSOs (shim pins) play no role in the safety performance…they can be correctly characterized as a not-important-to-safety piece.”

So, then why bother putting in the shim pins?

“We wanted (to harness) the same kilowatts out of one canister and that motivated us to build the shim stand-off,” Singh said, describing in jest that the design is engineering “greed” to get the most out of the canisters, but he also said consideration would need to be taken with the shim pin design if Holtec were to construct canisters that would hold more of the spent nuclear fuel. In total, the canisters at SONGS weigh about 50 tons each with dozens of spent fuel rods a unit.

Although the damaged shim pins did not cause one of the canisters stored at SONGS to exceed maximum temperatures, the canister did get hotter, according to Holtec’s own analysis of the situation.

Holtec also rejected the NRC’s statement that the shims help support the fuel baskets that hold the spent fuel rods from resting on the bottom of the canister; they are intended for circulation only.

Singh also blamed social media posts for distorting what the shim pins are intended to do.

Toward the end of the hearing, NRC officials said that there is no public safety issue with canisters at this time taking place at SONGS.

Activists and concerned citizens who called in during the hearing questioned the validity of Holtec’s claims. Public Watchdogs director Charles Langley said he had not been given a copy of the root cause determination report, and claimed that it had been deemed proprietary information at the time of his request. The report is intended to show what caused the incident in the Holtec case.

Enforcement options include findings of no violation, a warning of violation or a civil penalty or order that can include specific actions required to take. It depends on the specifics of the case. Despite the outcome of the cases, the NRC can use discretion for enforcement depending on the severity of the violations, and this process can take 30 to 60 days.

On Thursday, the NRC announced that it would discuss preliminary findings on the Aug. 3 incident involving a canister at SONGS that was stuck on an outer ring while being loaded by contractors with Holtec during a webinar on Jan. 24. The meeting will not make an enforcement determination.

SONGS is currently on hold with transferring its spent nuclear fuel following the discovery and enforcement process.

To register for the Jan. 24 webinar, click here.

To watch the entirety of the Jan. 9 Holtec-NRC hearing, click here, although it may not yet be available on the NRC archive page.

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comments (2)

  • This is only one of many Holtec violations. Holtec’s design caused all 29 loaded canisters to become gouged, yet the NRC refuses to give Holtec a notice of violation for this major safety problem. The license for the Holtec system should be revoked. It’s a lemon. The NRC admits this system is so bad it unavoidable gouges the walls of every canister downloaded in the storage holes. Instead, the notice of violation is given to Edison for mismanaging the Holtec project. Both Edison and Holtec should be sited. Edison cannot fix this problem with training and procedures. The entire system must be replaced.

    Regarding Kris Singh’s claims at the meeting, he ignored Holtec’s NRC approved technical specifications that state the shims are REQUIRED for cooling the canister and fuel. They allow circulation of the helium for convection cooling. Without this the fuel can become damaged, overheat and go critical (an uncontrolled nuclear reaction). Each canister holds roughly a Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Singh’s b.s. doesn’t match his own approved technical specifications. A safety system requires NRC approval. Singh knows better and has had numerous violations over the years, but is still allowed to sell his defective nuclear waste storage systems. Congress needs to put pressure on the NRC to stop Holtec and Edison from destroying Southern California and beyond. Michael Layton, NRC Director of Spent Fuel Management, made it clear during the public comments he was not going to cite Holtec for his bad design of gouging canisters.

  • More lies from the chief anti-nuke zealot, Donna Gilmore, lies she doesn’t even bother to support.

    I’ve asked Donna twice to support her claim that the loaded canisters are “damaged” or “gouged” as she claims and thus far she hasn’t stepped up; perhaps she’ll comply now…perhaps not. She needs to provide the link and the actual quotes she is basing her claims on so that the dispassionate observer can make up their own minds as to the trustworthiness of her statements.

    “Without this the fuel can become damaged, overheat and go critical (an uncontrolled nuclear reaction).”
    Her statement quoted above betrays a basic misunderstanding of reactor physics. Without a moderator (in this case water), there is no neutron source for the fuel to go “critical”. In addition, as fuel heats up, it adds negative reactivity tending to prevent criticality and not the reverse as Donna mistakenly asserts. Also, criticality is NOT “an uncontrolled nuclear reaction” as Donna naively assumes. When the plant was online producing electric power, the reactor was critical…no electric generation occurs with the reactor subcritical.
    Again, the canisters are specifically designed with neutron absorbing materials (metamic) that prevent criticality, even if the canister were full of unborated water AND the control rods that assist in controlling and shutting down the reactor are stored in these canisters. Finally, the heat load generated by the fuel is far below (about 40% below) the designed heat load for these canisters. If memory serves me, there are over 80 shims in each canister and having one broken shim has zero effect on the ability of the helium to remove heat.

    “Michael Layton, NRC Director of Spent Fuel Management, made it clear during the public comments he was not going to cite Holtec for his bad design of gouging canisters.”

    Donna has failed to support HER claims that the canisters are a “bad design” or that they are “gouged” or “damaged”. The entire US nuclear industry, as well as plants around the world, use the canister based system she decries and describes as lemons. This state of the art system has NRC approval for both storage and transport, an approval conspicuously lacking for the casks she prefers.
    On one side of this equation we have the NRC, the Electric Power Resource Institute (EPRI), the engineering firm MPR & Associates, the entire US nuclear industry, and a number of plants around the globe, all of whom have the skill, expertise, and experience to weigh in on this issue. Then we have anti-nuke alarmist, Gilmore, with no particular training and zero experience in the fields relevant to the topic who has no understanding of basic reactor physics, claiming they’re all wrong.

    For the objective, concerned citizen, the choice seems rather obvious on who to believe.

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