By Jake Howard

At the start of summer, exactly the time the first south swell was hitting, I headed down to San O, but instead of swinging a right into the lot I went straight—straight into the guest parking for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). By a not-so-simple twist of fate, I’d been invited to join a tour of the plant.

Apprehensive and curious, I’ve long wondered what goes on behind the walls there. I was about to find out. Our small tour group in June included San Clemente Green’s Gary Headrick, professor emeritus Dr. Roger Johnson and other locals, as we were checked in at the security office.

Once cleared, we descended into the plant along with a heavily armed security detail. Ushered along by a team of Southern California Edison employees, we were obviously not free to wander.

“That’s classified,” said the head of security when asked about the size of the omnipresent security detail.

As the tour continued and we got closer to the reactors, the conversation turned to the amount of radioactive waste that is emitted by SONGS on any given day. With air vents at the top of both reactor domes and an undersea pipeline, Dr. Johnson pressed the issue.

Southern California Edison engineers give a tour of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in June. Photo: Courters of Southern California Edison
Southern California Edison engineers give a tour of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in June. Photo: Courters of Southern California Edison

“We can’t say the number is zero,” explained one of the plant engineers, who was insistent that everything that comes out of the shuttered plant meets all Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) guidelines and rules.

On June 7, 2013, SONGS officially began its decommissioning process. Since that time, 3.55 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel rods have been left to cool in the “pools” inside reactor Units 2 and 3. The rods that are in storage casks on-site at SONGS are now somewhere in the neighborhood of a “more manageable” 400 degrees centigrade after six years. The spent fuel is in the process of being removed from “wet storage” and put into “dry-cask storage.”

The process has already begun in earnest and SONGS is filling a new storage cask at an average rate of one every 10 days. There will be 73 canisters filled and stored on site when the project is complete in 2030. Most of the fuel will be ready or cool enough to be transferred by 2020, and some of it can be transferred now.

Unit 1 was taken offline in 2001, and there are currently 51 canisters of waste from that reactor stored on site.

“There is no real-time monitoring,” we were told. “The storage units are checked for radiation once a quarter and we file a report with the NRC every year. If there was a leak, it would be very small and very slow, and we would be able to address it according to the plans we have in place.”

While we’re literally standing on the platform that will soon hold all of these canisters, the impact of what’s being done took hold.

“The reinforced concrete pad that the canisters are sitting on is about 3 feet above the water table,” we are told.

Keep in mind, the plant was designed around the mean low tideline. Edison boasts that there is a 30-foot seawall protecting the plant in case of a tsunami or other oceanic event, but that measurement is based on the water level at low tide and doesn’t take into account swell activity or sand flow.

The canisters the waste is being stored in purportedly have a shelf life of 20 years, but it was explained to us, “That’s actually just the warranty. They could last as long as 60 or 100 years.”

The biggest problem facing SONGS, as well as other nuclear plants that will be going offline in the coming years, is that there is nowhere to permanently store the radioactive waste. Talks have been ongoing about constructing a storage facility somewhere in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or Nevada, but at present nothing has been approved.

The other part of the decommissioning process is the actual removal of the two domes that house Units 2 and 3.

“By 2027 or 2029, they will be gone. All that will be left is the stored waste and some infrastructure that’s critical to the power grid,” explained an engineer.

In the short-term, concerned citizens should push for improved monitoring and more transparency, but for now, the actual process of storing the waste on site will proceed unimpeded.

Long-term, the U.S. government needs to address the situation and figure out a way to get nuclear waste out of communities and into safe, secure storage. That’s really where the fight will be in the months and years to come.

Editor’s note: To comment on the decommissioning draft environmental report, which ends at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 28, submit them to ceqa.comments@slc.ca.gov. To review the EIR, visit www.slc.ca.gov and scroll to the bottom of the page to find San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) Units 2 and 3 Decommissioning Project, DEIR (6/18). Click on that for materials.

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comments (2)

  • Things Edison apparently did not tell you.
    1. Holtec warranty is only for manufacturing defects. Does not cover environmental cracks and leaks caused by corrosion. Concrete structure sitting in soggy corrosive soil only has 10 year defect warranty. If it fails after 10 years, canister defect warranty is void.
    2. When 5% air enters canisters, fuel will explode.
    3. Each can holds roughly a 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
    4. When unborated water (e.g. rain), enters canister it will go critical (an uncontrolled nuclear fission reaction).
    5. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission the Koeberg nuclear plant had a similar component (a tank) that leaked in only 17 years. Cracks were up to 0.61″ long. San Onofre thin-wall canisters are only 0.625″ (5/8″) thick. The oldest San Onofre canisters are 15 years old. There is other evidence for premature cracking risks, but Edison doesn’t mention this.
    6. Canisters cannot be inspected or repaired.
    7. Edison has no plan in place to stop or prevent leaks.
    8. Edison is planning to stop reporting radiation levels from the outlet air vents in the older Areva canisters. This is where radiation levels will be highest from through-wall cracks.
    9. Edison hid from the public for 17 days that reactor steam generator leaks went into the environment. We’ll never know how much.
    10. Edison was responsible for the first commercial nuclear meltdown (Santa Susana in Simi Valley, CA) and purposely released and hid radioactive releases into Southern California for 20 years.
    11. Even if a reactor doesn’t meltdown, it must release highly radioactive radionuclides into the environment just to operate. Edison refused to tell us when these releases happened and continues to not tell us when they make radioactive or toxic releases into the water or air.
    12. The NRC is trying to hide the fact San Onofre canisters are vulnerable to corrosion and cracking by claiming there is not enough humidity at the beach for metal corrosion. NRC salaries are mostly funded by the nuclear facilities.
    13. Edison does not have evidence for their claims of safely managing these thin-wall “Chernobyl cans”, but credible evidence to the contrary is at SanOnofreSafety.org.
    14. Canisters have not and cannot be inspected.
    15. Holtec President, Kris Singh, stated even if you could find cracks and find a way to repair them, in the face of millions of curies of radionuclides being released into the environment from even microscopic through-wall cracks, it’s not practical to repair them without introducing another area for cracking. (Edison has provided no evidence to contradict this, after multiple requests).
    16. Edison’s white paper written by MPR Associates cherry picked data in their report to reach safety conclusions. For example, MPR said the Idaho National Lab Test Area North hot cell facility could be used to replace a leaking canister. Their reference for this said that hot cell was destroyed in 2007. It was the only one large enough to replace canisters.

    Go to SanOnofeSafety.org for more information and what you can do to help. Share this information and this Fact Sheet. The problem is now. It will be decades or longer before another location can be found for this waste and it’s not safe to transport in cracking canisters. And in spite of claims to the contrary, no one wants our highly radioactive Chernobyl cans.
    https://sanonofresafety.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/spentnuclearfuelfactsheet-short2018-07-11.pdf

  • More examples of Donna’s dishonesty vis a vis San Onofre and spent fuel canisters, these from previous posts I’ve made refuting her claims:

    Your statement: “Even Entergy won’t use that experimental unproven below ground system.”

    This is simply a lie. First, it is NOT experimental, Humbolt Bay has had the underground system for years and the system is approved by the NRC, something the casks you prefer DO NOT HAVE. Second, it is another lie to claim Entergy won’t use this system, they have simply chosen a cheaper option by the same manufacturer. In addition, in a previous statement, YOU said Entergy claimed the system Edison chose was “unproven and too complicated and too expensive” a statement they never made at least in the document you provided as a reference.

    This is what Entergy actually said in the reference YOU provided: “It is my understanding that San Onofre selected an underground system based on site-specific conditions that are not applicable to the VY Station, such as site space limitations and tsunami protection, as well as commercial considerations.” This is just another example of why YOUR summaries, conclusions, and statements cannot be trusted, you have a habit of not being truthful with the information.

    Your (Donna Gilmore) personal statement: “Edison wanted to restart Unit 2 without fixing the design flaws.”

    Repeating a false statement over and over is tantamount to lying and the Unit 2 generators DID NOT show decades worth of wear, you’re deliberately confusing problems in the Unit 3 generators with Unit 2, this is dishonest. Potential problems in Unit 2 were, contrary to your false statement, fixed when all tubes in the areas where Unit 3 had problems, were staked and plugged (so that they couldn’t leak even if a breach occurred). As a further conservative measure, SCE decided they would limit plant power to 70% for the summer, shut down, inspect the tubes and proceed based on these findings. The NRC, who was carefully monitoring the situation, was happy with this solution and green-lighted the startup. Had your statement been true, they would not have given SCE this approval, but again, your claim is false.

    Your (Donna Gilmore) claim: “Now Edison has picked the worst possible storage containers…” Your opinion is noted and noted also is the fact that you insist on attempting to pass your opinion off as fact. The NRC, SCE, independent investigator and chairman of the CEP, David Victor, and the entire US nuclear industry, disagree with your opinion, an opinion of a layman with no formal education in the fields relevant to making an accurate assessment of these issues. Why should, why would, a member of the public take the opinion of an activist over the professional judgment of those specifically trained to make these assessments?

    Regarding Dr. Singh’s statement, you continue to engage in deliberate deception because you fail to report what Dr. Singh’s point was. He said (at about the 45-second mark) “you can EASILY easily isolate that canister” words you choose to ignore and not report on. His company prefers to simply place one canister inside another should a theoretical crack occur vice repairing the canister. Either option provides a solution, solutions you pretend don’t exist. You also conveniently ignore his statement about how unlikely an event of this nature is (it has thus far NEVER occurred) and exaggerate, indeed it’s hyperbole, the effects if it does; another Fukushima as you claimed, really? From one canister?

    Your (Donna Gilmore) statement: “…and potentially explode when air reaches the high burnup fuel.” More hyperbole on your part for as has already been pointed out to you, indeed it was in the study YOU referenced, when a canister was pumped full of air (as this phenomenon was not well understood 35 years ago), not slowly leak in over a period of weeks or months, it only resulted in further fuel damage, not the explosion you keep trying to frighten the public with.

    Independent investigator and chairman of the CEP, Dr. David Victor, wrote a report where he discussed the issue of canister longevity. He said:

    “Based on an extensive review and re-review of all the evidence I don’t see any support for these rapid corrosion, cracking and through wall penetration scenarios. Moreover, I note that EPRI has recently released a report that examines exactly this scenario. That report looks at the scenario that would unfold after conditions for cracking had been established and after a crack had initiated. How long would it take for a crack, then, to travel through the walls if the crack were not detected and stopped? EPRI’s answer is about 80 years.”

    This is in agreement with the clip Donna posted elsewhere where in answer to her question, the NRC representative stated that AFTER the initiation of a crack (it takes years for crack initiation), it would take 86 years as a “most conservative” estimate, to go through-wall. Begin at 29:15 for the relevant portion of this discussion. http://youtu.be/ZpT_fHNnfc0

    On page 21 of the MPR study linked at the top of this post we find that the designed life of these canisters is 60 years and that designed life is “based on the canister being exposed to the assumed worst case environmental conditions and represents the shortest expected canister lifetime.” Service life is listed as 100 years.

    So, contrary to Donna’s dishonest claims, the NRC actually told her that once a crack begins (it takes years to begin if it occurs at all), it would take 86 years as a “most conservative” estimate to go through-wall. View the NRC telling Donna this in the Youtube clip above.

    Independent investigator and chairman of the CEP categorically stated in his report that after reviewing EPRI documentation, AFTER crack initiation, it would take about 80 years to go through-wall.

    In the MPR study found in the link at the top of this post, they conclude these canisters will last 100 years and that the new Holtec design, because they were laser peened to reduce the stress associated with CISCC, will likely NEVER undergo CISCC corrosion.

    The manufactures of these canisters state that under the “worst case environmental conditions”, they will last 60 years.

    The NRC, EPRI, MPR & Associates (who performed the MPR White paper), and the manufacturers of the canisters all have expertise in stainless steels and corrosion mechanisms. Engineer, Dr. David Victor, reviewed the literature and concurs with their findings. Then we have Donna Gilmore, with no formal training (that I am aware of) in the relevant disciplines necessary for an accurate assessment of canister longevity, claiming, based on a debunked report (the Koeberg Tank), that the canisters can fail in as little as 16 years.

    The unbiased can make up their own mind on who has the credibility and the educational gravitas to best inform the public on these issues. For my part, it is an easy choice.

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