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To view the entire CEP meeting from Sept. 14, visit under Community Engagement under Meetings.
A California Coastal Commission meeting is scheduled for Oct.11-13 at the Chula Vista City Council Chambers, located at 276 Fourth Avenue. Agendas for what day the Commission will discuss details of SONGS will be available at closer to the dates of the meeting.
The next quarterly CEP meeting is scheduled for Nov. 9 at the QLN Conference Center in Oceanside. The tentative topics for the meeting include the land easement and leases from the Department of the U.S. Navy and the end of using that land, once the plant is decommissioned.


By Eric Heinz

Roughly 1,600 tons of spent nuclear fuel at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) are slated to be stored onsite beginning at the end of the year, and plans for the first storage procedures are already in place.

The process, denoted as independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI), was discussed at length during the Sept. 14 Community Engagement Panel (CEP) meeting in Oceanside, particularly the safety measures that will be put in place as required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The CEP is comprised of local officials and experts in fields related to environmental stewardship and nuclear energy.

The burial grounds

Southern California Edison, the majority stakeholder and operator of the now-offline nuclear power plant, is currently finishing up the last construction of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in a “concrete monolith,” said Tom Palmisano, the vice president of Edison’s decommissioning and chief nuclear officer at SONGS.

There will also be a security building right next to the concrete monolith.

Edison already stores 50 canisters, made by the company AREVA, at an onsite ISFSI facility. But the expansion of the site will enable an additional 73 canisters to be stored a few hundred feet from the Pacific Ocean.

All plans for canisters submitted by Edison have been approved by the NRC, Palmisano said, and transportation casks for when the spent fuel could be transferred have been approved. But how and where they will go remains to be seen. Also, some of the canisters will house fuel that cannot be transported until 2030 due to the energy’s decay time and safety precautions prohibit transfer until such time.
“There are two cooling periods that are necessary before transportation: one where it’s cooled in the pools, and that takes about five years…and then there’s a cooling period before it can be shipped to an ultimate disposal storage site,” Palmisano said.

Sixty-seven of the canisters can be shipped as early as 2020, and 21 canisters can be shipped today.

All spent fuel rods that are currently in cooling tanks are expected to be offloaded to the storage canisters by mid-2019, and the process is expected to begin at the end of 2017. The NRC will conduct inspections of the facility throughout the next two years.

At the bottom of the canisters is three feet of concrete padding that protects them. The sealed canisters have another several feet of concrete on top of them.

Monitoring the fuel
Palmisano said the nuclear power plant is addressing the storage of spent nuclear fuel with “defense in depth,” a term used for the design of operating plants which includes design and construction, operations and training, maintenance and security.

Edison has touted the security and stability of canisters from Holtec International, the company contracted for the design of the units, that are made of stainless steel with corrosion resistance and are five-eighths of an inch thick. Some of the improvements in the design of the canisters include an improved welding technique as well as opportunities to fix any cracks that may occur, Palmisano said.

Some residents and activist organizations have expressed concern about this process as having the inability to inspect the canisters under the facility in the event of microscopic cracks that critics say could release hazardous radiation.

Canisters already onsite are monitored 24/7 with continuous temperature evaluation and regular radiation inspections.

Lisa Edwards, the senior project manager of the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), explained some of the new developments in technology to inspect canisters.
Edwards said some of these processes include using eddy current arrays, which use electronic indicators to look for cracks and inspect the surface of a canister. This is a “non-destructive evaluation technique,” meaning operators can look at the surface condition of the containers without damaging them. Another technology going to be used is called guided waves, which induce waves in a piece of metal, like ultrasonic but more detailed.

Some of the above-ground dry cask storage is situated on the SONGS campus. The rest of the fuel at the plant will be buried in casks in cement structures. Photo: File
Some of the above-ground dry cask storage is situated on the SONGS campus. The rest of the fuel at the plant will be buried in casks in cement structures. Photo: File

SONGS operators will use an aging management plan that outlines the lifespan of the canisters and identifies ways to address any issues. Edison will use the plan based on designs by EPRI. These plans are required by the NRC in order to store the spent fuel, Palmisano said.

During the meeting, Edwards presented a video that shows miniature robots that go into small spaces in between the canisters. These kinds of inspections are already done by other facilities by putting a small camera through an outlet vent that inspect the units, and SONGS operators will begin doing those same inspections soon, Palmisano said.

“These are not small challenges,” Edwards said. “The robots have to take the (technology) with them into small spaces and 90-degree turns.”

The robots were shown testing mock canisters at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, which showed the robot accessing the outer shell of the canister and recording cracks, made by the inspection team as a test, and the surface condition of the casks. It can also identify levels of radiation and canister temperature, according to the EPRI video.

The video can be viewed at about the one hour and 20 minute mark of the CEP recorded meeting.

Palmisano said the aging management plan will include the plans for seismic activity resistance.

Even with these inspection requirements in place, Edison officials said were a small crack to occur in a canister, there would be “minimal to no impact” to the site or the public. Palmisano said there are multiple barriers in addition to the concrete overlay that would prohibit any radiation from escaping.

That said, he acknowledged any cracks must be dealt with.

Why spent nuclear fuel at SONGS can’t be moved today

David Victor, Ph.D., the chairman of the CEP, said he was optimistic about the progress of a Congressional bill that would amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to allow for temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel at other facilities.

The act currently does not allow for temporary storage, but without any permanent facilities available—nationwide—the fuel has to stay at San Onofre. The Department of Energy (DoE) is the ultimate authority on where the fuel will be permanently stored.
Victor said the bill’s passage looked promising, but its progress has become stagnant since it was slated to reach the House floor in July, as larger bills have taken priority and the effects of health care repeal and revision laws have eclipsed nuclear energy policy.
“Moving the spent fuel out of here almost certainly requires a change in federal law,” Victor said, adding he has heard people trying to find ways to move the fuel without those changes, but he also said it’s “very difficult” to see how that would legally transpire.

Victor said there is another bill in Senate that has not developed much. He also said he plans to travel to Washington, D.C., at the end of the month to testify at the House Oversight Committee and could possibly discuss the prospects of reopening Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where the spent fuel was originally planned to be stored.

“At the beginning of this year, a lot of us thought the odds of getting the laws changed in Washington,( D.C.) were high because we had one party controlling Congress and the Senate,” Victor said. “But I think those odds are going down because Washington has gotten nothing done. The DoE is in a degree of chaos because there are key political appointments that have not been made.”
State Assembly Member Bill Brough, of Dana Point, introduced a bill that would look into safe transportation of the spent fuel, and that bill passed the Assembly on May 31. However, Victor said it’s likely to be held until 2018. The bill is currently in the State Senate Rules Committee.

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comments (7)

  • This article is totally misleading and puts us all at great risk. The CEP meeting never even got around to the part about Defense In Depth (DID), which was the point of the whole meeting. If you think these canisters that were made for temporary use don’t pose a threat to us, then listen to the CEO of the company who makes them tell you there is no practical way to repair one of his leaking containers, each of which holds the same amount of radiation that was released in the Chernobyl accident.
    As soon as Edison puts the last canister in the ground 108 feet (not hundreds of feet) from the waters edge in an earthquake/tsunami zone and rising sea level, they will tell the Department of Energy that it is their problem now. By then, it may be too dangerous for these cans to be moved at all. We could be stuck with them until they start leaking, destroying much of California’s wealth and environment and genetic make up. All because NEWS outlets like this were too afraid to confront the truth while we still had a chance to get better containers.

    • @ Headrick

      I see you haven’t lost your desire to lie to the public and present demonstrably false statements.
      Have you no conscience? Are you not embarrassed for yourself? Have you no shame at all?
      And your addiction to hyperbole? Pathetic.

  • Many thanks to Eric Heinz for his willingness to cover this complex and ugly issue in the midst of a virtual media blackout on the dangers at San Onofre. However, I wish Mr. Heinz would use the more precise term “Beachfront Nuclear Waste Dump” instead of the euphemistic term “Independent Spent Fuel Installation (ISFSI).

    The cans that will be used to store lethal wasteb at the Beachfont Nuclear Waste Dump are being portrayed as a technological marvel. Even though they are made of delicate narrow-gauge stailnless steel that’s only 5/8ths inches thick, these “robust” cans will hold hundreds of thousands of pounds of red-hot nuclear fuel, that is deadly to all human life for at least a quarter million years in a harsh saltwater environment on top of an earthquake fault and in a tsunami inundation zone.

    It is important for the public to understand that each of the 73 twenty-four-foot high cans of nuclear waste at this dump contain more deadly radiation than what was released at Chernobyl,

    Edison’s claims that these cans are robust are betrayed by the guarantees offered by the manufacturer. The warranty states that the system is only guaranteed to last ten years, and the fragile cans themselves are guaranteed to last no longer than 25 years.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    • @ Charles Langley

      “I wish Mr. Heinz would use the more precise term “Beachfront Nuclear Waste Dump” instead of the euphemistic term “Independent Spent Fuel Installation (ISFSI).”

      ISFSI is the correct term, your choice of words is incorrect AND inaccurate.

      The canisters ARE state of the art, that’s why most of the world (that isn’t reprocessing) uses these types of canisters. They are NRC approved, unlike the casks anti-nukes wish Edison to use. They are approved for storage AND transport, unlike the casks anti-nukes wish Edison to use. In fact, when a license was sought to transfer fuel in one of the casks anti-nukes want Edison to use, the NRC denied them one fearing they might shatter if dropped in cold weather.
      In addition, the casks the anti-nukes desire are too heavy for the crane equipment at San Onofre. The anti-nukes know this but are dishonest in their attempts to hoodwink the public.

  • Edison does not have inspection technology now. Their Holtec canister vendor President, Kris Singh, admits even a microscopic through wall crack will release millions of curies of radionuclides into the environment and even if they could find a way to repair them, in the face of this, it will only introduce another area for cracking. I and other have repeatedly asked Tom Palmisano for evidence the impact would be otherwise, but he as yet to provide any evidence.

    The existing 51 canisters (51 not 50) are stored by the beach, some already 14 years old. A two-year old Diablo Canyon canister (located by the Pacific near San Luis Obispo) was found by EPRI to have all the conditions for cracking (moist salt air and a temperature low enough for the moisture to dissolve the salts) which starts the cracking process. The NRC said once a crack starts, it can grow through the wall in 16 years. There are many causes of cracking. Even microscopic scratches from critters crawling on the surface of the canister can initiate cracks.

    Your report says heavy concrete on-top, but it doesn’t mention the air vents in the lid. This means all that prevents us from having one of these Chernobyl disasters in a can is a 5/8″ thick stainless steel wall. There is no redundancy. The air vents for convection cooling will act as a distribution system for the radioactive gases and other materials. Since many of the San Onofre fuel assemblies are damaged and the high burnup fuel causes damage to the fuel assemblies and a buildup of gases, there is a potential for explosions and release of lethal highly radioactive materials and gases. .

    Palmisano admitted the existing 51 canisters are not rated for any earthquake. Canisters with even partial cracks have no seismic evaluation and he doesn’t know if any of the canisters have cracks BECAUSE THERE IS NO TECHNOLOGY TODAY TO FIND CRACKS OR DEPTH OF CRACKS. The utility funded lab, EPRI, provided misleading information. Unless you have studied methods to inspect for cracks and depths of cracks, you would not know this. Read this report

    Edison plans to destroy the spent fuel pools, the only NRC approved on-site method to replace cracking canisters. They have also requested (via their Areva NUHOMS canister vendor) to only check radiation levels at the inlet air vent. When there is a through-wall crack, the radiation levels will be highest at the outlet air vents. Why would Edison not want to measure radiation levels where they will be highest from leaking canisters? Why is Edison down playing the impact of a leaking canister? Is their real plan to hide leaks from cracking canisters, since they have no way to inspect or repair them and are eliminating the pools, leaving no current method to deal with leaking canisters?

    Get the facts, substantiated with government and scientific documents. Don’t listen to Edison’s promises of future solutions and misleading statements. Go to

  • @ Donna Gilmore

    Donna, you are such a liar. I’ve repeatedly corrected you on Dr. Singh’s statement yet you continue to peddle your horse manure claims. Are you hoping your readers won’t recall the last three or four times I’ve corrected your false statements?

    Here is one of my corrections of your false claims:

    Regarding Dr. Singh’s statement, you are again engaging 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 chose 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.

    In addition, independent investigator and chairman of the CEP, David Victor, after reviewing all the literature on this subject, had this to say:

    “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 you posted elsewhere where in answer to your question, the 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.

    Furthermore, David Victor says:

    “Results from an actual cask that has been allowed to leak slowly for 2 years show, as well, that intrusion of water and the formation of hydrogen gas can’t reach explosive levels (section 4.4.3, page 4-25). I learned two things from this work. First, there is simply zero basis for the highly emotive statements that I have seen in the press and various other locations for the view that long-term storage of the fuel on site at SONGS has put “another Fukushima” or “another Chernobyl” in our backyard. We do the public a disservice with such emotive language since it creates images that are not in any way rooted in the technical assessment of the real risks.”

    It is YOU and your followers who use the kind of “emotive language” that independent investigator, David Victor, decries.

    It is important for the public to know that NEVER has a commercial canister leaked and should one do so, it is NOT a danger to the public.

    The only thing one finds on your website is propaganda. Truly disappointing to see you continue in your efforts to misinform the public. You’re the one who will have to live with the knowledge that you have engaged in deliberate deception and provided information you know is false or misleading.

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