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By Eric Heinz

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hosted a webinar on Thursday, Nov. 8, providing more details about the Aug. 3 canister incident at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and the courses of action going forward.

During the loading process of the spent nuclear fuel canisters at SONGS on Aug 3, one canister got snagged on an outer ring of the repository, causing detected elevated levels of radiation in the area and causing one of the two redundant straps that load the spent fuel to lose tension. The fear from officials and concerned residents was that the canister could have dropped 18 feet, damaging it and causing an extremely unsafe environment.

Both the NRC and a San Diego County analysis conducted by its senior health physicist reported that the incident never created an unsafe situation, despite the procedural deficiencies that led to the incident.

Two preliminary violations have been registered with the NRC pertaining to the incident: the canister incident itself and that Southern California Edison (SCE), the owners of the plant, did not report the incident in a timely fashion. Those two violations could be elevated from a baseline infraction.

“…Apparent causes are lack of adequate training and lack of oversight for the activities. Some of the corrective actions that SONGS will do are training requirements procedures and equipment enhancements,” said Eric Simpson, the NRC’s special inspection team leader on the incident of the Region IV fuel cycle and decommissioning branch, during the webinar. “SONGS is also looking to perform improvements in oversight and SONGS must fully assess these corrective actions before storage resumes.”

Simpson said during the canister load, there was not sufficient supervision, possibly someone wasn’t paying close enough attention to the alignment of the canister, and that likely contributed to it snagging on the outer ring.

SCE stated in a press release that it will comply with the NRC’s instructions.

“The special inspection process, along with SCE’s own in-depth review, has been extremely helpful in strengthening fuel transfer operations. SCE’s findings, developed through rigorous evaluations, match many of the commission’s findings,” the release stated. “SCE looks forward to reviewing the final special inspection report when it’s completed and continuing discussions with the commission.”

SCE continued by saying the drop analysis an independent analyst conducted validates its canister’s integrity and would not have been breached if a drop occurred.

“SCE will not re-start spent fuel transfer operations until satisfied all corrective actions are in place and proven effective, the public has been briefed, and the commission has completed its onsite inspection actions,” SCE stated.

SCE stopped storing spent nuclear fuel after it loaded the 29th canister of the 73 Holtec International, Inc. canisters it expects to harbor onsite at the offline nuclear power plant. There are 51 canisters in horizontal storage that have been housed onsite in AREVA-made storage units.

“Each licensee must demonstrate the ability to retrieve (the spent nuclear fuel) and put it back in the cooling pools if available. And they must be able to cut open a canister to be able to inspect the contents inside,” Simpson said during the webinar. “Holtec has demonstrated that they can cut open a canister.”

NRC officials said they expect the full report to be published before Thanksgiving. Per a settlement agreement that concluded last year, SONGS has a California Coastal Commission requirement to inspect the condition of the spent nuclear fuel canisters in November 2020.

The officials who spoke during the webinar said the NRC does have a petition process in place if people want to petition for more regulations. More information can be found at

The next Community Engagement Panel public meeting is at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 29 at the

QLN Conference Center, 1938 Avenida Del Oro in Oceanside. Visit for information.
Councilmember Steve Swartz, the city’s liaison to SONGS’ Community Engagement Panel, reemphasized his effort to compel officials to install real-time radiation monitoring with results that can be viewed by the public.

“I’ve been hammering that now for six months, but we don’t seem to be getting the message across yet,” Swartz said during the Wednesday, Nov. 7, city council meeting. “As you see in the report, the slippage didn’t create that much of an issue and didn’t put us at risk, but it’s not impossible that it could have. The point is, it shouldn’t have taken a month and a half and an employee saying to get this out to the public.”

Swartz said based on his best guess, the spent nuclear fuel isn’t going anywhere “any time soon.”

Editor’s note: The location of the next CEP meeting was changed following the San Clemente Times print deadline. 


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comments (6)

  • Please see this update from San Clemente Green’s contrasting review of this NRC Webinar.
    The problem was not only due to procedure, but also faulty design.
    We must unite as a community to demand that there is a contingency plan for a breached canister, which many experts say was possible in the “serious near miss” on August 3. It is completely irresponsible that we don’t already have one in place. We should also demand that our property values be covered by our Federal Government in case there is an accident with nuclear waste, since there is no insurance policy for such an accident. We never consented to storing nuclear waste indefinitely, but that is where we are at today because the DOE never fulfilled its promise for a permanent repository. Maybe that would get their attention and make them be damn sure nothing bad happens at San Onofre.

    This Thanksgiving, you might want to remember the fact that we could have become the site of the world’s next nuclear disaster, had it not been for one person following protocol when she discovered unusual radiation levels which led to the discovery of the lodged canister. If not for that action the next move would have been to pull the transfer cask away when the canister was still partially inside it. That would certainly have resulted in the canister falling 18 feet to the concrete floor below. You’d have to be in deep denial if you think that a canister that is only 5/8 inch thick holding 50 tons of nuclear waste would not have caused serious damage. Instead of finding out the hard way, we got lucky, this time. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

    BTW – This article is wrong about the next CEP meeting which will take place from 5:30-8:30 p.m. on 11/29 at the QLN Conference Center in Oceanside. The main topic will be the canister downloading event and steps being taken to ensure the incident does not reoccur.

    You can get updates on this crucial matter by sending an email to asking to be put on our email list.

  • The Holtec system is a lemon and must be replaced.
    The NRC admitted in the webinar that the walls of all 29 Holtec thin-wall canisters already loaded with nuclear waste are damaged due to the defective loading system. And all future Holtec canisters loaded will also be damaged because Holtec cannot fix the problem of a steel Guide Ring that scrapes against the canister walls. The NRC admits this is a problem, but appear to be ready to greenlight restarting the loading, claiming this is not an “urgent” problem. However, they also admit the canisters cannot be inspected for cracks or repaired. They state once a crack starts in these stainless steel pressure vessels, cracks will continue to grow through the walls of the canisters. They “hope” to be able to solve this problem before it’s too late. However, they have no evidence to support this hope. They’ve had over 27 years to find and repair cracks. Even the President of Holtec says it’s not feasible to repair the cracks even if you can find them.

    This Holtec system must be recalled and replaced with thick wall transportable storage casks that don’t crack and can be inspected, maintained, repaired and monitored in a manner to PREVENT radioactive leaks and hydrogen gas explosions, as recommended by the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board.

    Each canister costs about $1 million dollars per Edison estimate. This doesn’t include labor or the concrete overpacks required to stop gamma and neutron radiation. Each total unit was estimated to be $4 million by Edison Ratepayers don’t want to pay for damaged goods that cannot even be inspected or repaired. There is $4 billion dollars in the San Onofre ratepayer decommissioning trust fund. Some of this could be used to replace this system before these canisters leak and explode. Each canister contains roughly a Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

    Learn more and what you can do to help stop this crazy plan. Go to

    Details of problems and solutions

    Share handout

  • Eric, where did you get this quote?

    “Both the NRC and a San Diego County analysis conducted by its senior health physicist reported that the incident never created an unsafe situation, despite the procedural deficiencies that led to the incident.”

    The NRC said this was a close call. The approved Holtec technical specifications state if a canister drops over 11 inches (not 11 feet, not 18 feet), the contents of the canister must be inspected for damage.

    Please share a link to the San Diego County analysis so we can see the basis for their assumptions.

  • The referenced San Diego County report. It has no relation to the incident. Please correct. Thank you.

  • The San Diego County report referenced has no relation to the incident. In fact it does not mention it. Please correct.

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