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By Shawn Raymundo

A recent independent survey of the dry cask storage system at the San Onofre power plant found no evidence of contamination or radiation leakage coming from the canisters containing spent nuclear fuel.

Based on radiation readings taken at the outlet vents on the 51 storage modules where nuclear waste is being stored at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), Southern California Edison concluded that its canisters are not leaking—as purported by some members of the community. 

“No contamination was found on any of the 51 outlet vents, which indicates that there has never been any leakage from the canisters, and there is no indication of any airborne radioactivity at any of the modules,” Eric Goldin, a certified radiation protection professional, said at SoCal Edison’s quarterly Community Engagement Panel Meeting on Nov. 19.

According to a summary of the radiological survey, which SoCal Edison released ahead of last month’s CEP meeting, the dose rates measured at the outlet vents ranged from as low as 0.04 millirem per hour to 0.3 millirem per hour. The federal dose limit is 25 millirem per year to the public.

The dose readings, Goldin said, are “so low that a radiation area posting is not required according to federal regulations.” He added, “We’re way, way below federal limits.”

The survey, which SoCal Edison contracted Philotechnics Ltd. to conduct, was meant to serve as a response to concerns by San Clemente resident Donna Gilmore, who runs the website San Onofre Safety and has alleged that the Nuclear Horizontal Modular Storage (NUHOMS) canisters at SONGS are leaking.

“Gilmore has essentially postulated the NUHOMS canisters are ‘leaking,’ and that is why Southern California Edison has not surveyed the outlet vents on the top of the storage modules—only the inlet vents at the bottom of the modules,” Edison said in its summary of the survey.

While Edison touted the survey as an effort in transparency, Gilmore on Tuesday, Dec. 1, said she doesn’t trust the findings, mainly because the utility company didn’t photograph or record a video of a reading or measurement taken by a technician from Philotechnics.

“Edison at the previous meeting, they promised they would video or take pictures of the readings, as they were taking them as a measure of trust, and they didn’t do that,” Gilmore said. “There was not one video or photo of the measurements next to the vents. They showed people, but they did not show that. So, I don’t trust them.”

She also questioned why Edison would hire a third-party company, which—Edison noted—was recommended by the Radiological Branch of the California Department of Public Health.

Acknowledging that she doesn’t know much about the company and can’t state for certain whether she trusts it or not, she said the fact that they were chosen by SoCal Edison was enough reason to give her pause.

“It seems strange to me that they would hire somebody … how can somebody be independent when they hired you” to perform a job, she said.

Asked what evidence she had to support the belief that there’s a leak, Gilmore said she didn’t know for certain that there’s a leak, which is why the survey needed to be done.

But citing a report by the Sandia National Laboratory to the Department of Energy regarding the storage, transportation and disposal of spent nuclear fuel, she noted that corrosion and cracking of canisters due to environmental factors were a top priority issue that needs to be solved in the short term.

Responding to Gilmore’s remarks, Edison spokesperson John Dobken said, “The truth of the matter is we went out and hired a contractor recommended by the California Department of Public Health Radiologic Health Branch to conduct a survey with calibrated instruments. They did the survey, and we posted the results in the interest of openness and transparency.”

SoCal Edison publishes radiological data from monitoring devices on its Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation to the state’s health department.

The company explained in its summary that there are no regulatory requirement and specifications when it comes to measuring the outlet air vents, “because the canisters in the storage modules are welded closed and airtight.”

Dobken further explained that because they’re welded shut, “there’s no pathway for material to exit the canister and go through the outlet vent.” Welds, he continued, “are far better than the mechanical seals” such as bolted-lid casts, when it comes to keeping materials inside the canisters.

SR_1Shawn Raymundo
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.

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comments (4)

  • Donna Gilmore has been a huge contributor to the safety of our residents and other communities stuck with stranded nuclear waste across the nation. Her research is always backed up with scientific documents which often leads to questi0ns the industry is reluctant to answer.

    When the industry requested an amendment to switch from measuring radiation at the outlets to one that only tests the incoming air, you can understand her sounding the alarm. Undoubtedly, this request would have been just another exercise in avoiding scrutiny if Edison didn’t already know the outcome of this test, valid or not.

    I know from personal experience that this industry cannot be trusted to put public safety first. They have left us with containers that are inferior to ones used in other countries that anticipated long term storage needs by making thick casks with removable double lids. Between the lids are monitoring devices to warn in advance of any problems developing from pressure, temperature or radiation. If a problem is detected, facilities like the one in Switzerland (Zwilag) are capable of dealing with issues that will likely occur over time. Edison has given us no way out if a problem occurs with a thin welded canister, (5/8″ thick walls, not 10″ to 20″ walls in CASKS, not “canisters”.

    Instead, our country decided to go the cheap route based on the unrealised promise that our DOE would be picking up the thin canisters we are using by 1998. That time has long since passed and no permanent disposal site is on the horizon. It is our DUTY to protect our community and future generations for the long haul. If we need to replace aging canisters, much prep is required before that time.

    That is one of the biggest issues we will need to tackle at San Clemente Green over the coming decades. We can’t allow “out of sight, out of mind” mentality to squander our fleeting opportunity to get this right. Stay informed on this critical issue by subscribing to SanOnofreSafety.org and SanClementeGreen.org for updates and events.

    FYI – These thin canisters each hold as much radiation as was released in the Chernobyl accident which still contaminates parts of Europe 34 years later. We have 124 of them at San Onofre right now. The world can’t afford to ignore this inevitable crisis any more than we have been fooled about the climate crisis. Question the “experts” the industry provides and support other organizations, like Surfrider, who are calling for independent water testing (https://us-p2p.e-activist.com/1963/ourradioactiveocean/92864/san-onofre) during batch releases into our oceans.

    Much more work still needs to be done, but this is a good start. We must continue to challenge data produced by those with a financial interest at stake. We owe Donna Gilmore a debt of gratitude for all she does in that regard.

    Thank you Donna!

  • Gary Headrick is mistaken in his comment above. The industry did not request an “amendment to switch from measuring radiation at the outlets to one that only tests the incoming air.” We would ask that he provide the source to support this statement.

    What we did do was make a request through storage system vendor Orano to -add- a new dose-rate technical specification for the doors and inlet vents of the NUHOMS storage system.
    There was no substitution as there was never a requirement for surveying the outlet air vents.

    In correspondence with Donna Gilmore (posted to the NRC website June 11, 2019), the NRC states in response to Gilmore’s similar claim about an amendment change:

    “Amendment 4 of CoC 1029 ADDED the requirement to measure dose rates for the Advanced Horizontal Storage Module loaded with either a 24PT1 or a 24PT4 DSC (dry storage canister).” (emphasis added)

  • The previous and original technical specifications for the Orano (formerly Areva) canisters was to measure inlet and outlet air vents and report the highest peak level. The license amendment request from Orano (for Edison) changed the license to only measure the door and inlet air vents. In essence eliminating the requirement to measure the outlet air vents. These word games played by Edison are another reason to not trust Edison. More reasons not to trust Edison:
    Lied about steam generator radiation leaks into the environment for 17 days.
    Lied about almost dropping two Holtec canisters almost 18 feet.
    Hid the fact every Holtec canister is scratched, scraped or gouged as it is lowered into storage holes (even though the approved Holtec license said there would be no contact between the canister walls and inside cavity of the storage holes.
    While the reactors were operating had the worst safety complaint record in the nation from their own employees.
    Redesigned the steam generators and promised they would last 40 to 60 years. Instead, one leaked radiation into the environment after 11 months and all four steam generators showed decades of wear after less than one and two years of service. Worst safety record in the country for replacement steam generators.

    These are just some of the problems, incompetence and deceit from this mismanaged company. Why would anyone trust them to manage the most dangerous material on the planet?

    Edison was also part of the coverup of the Santa Susana reactor meltdown in Southern California. They hid this for over 20 years. The site still hasn’t been cleaned up. There is still plutonium in the water wells and other contamination. You cannot really “clean up” radiation. You can only move it somewhere else. Therefore, it’s critical the 124 unsafe thin-wall canisters be replaced with thick-wall casks asap. Congress should pass legislation to make this happen — before it’s too late. With over 3200 of these unsafe thin-wall canisters around the country (and more being added every year), this is a national emergency.
    SanOnofreSafety.org

  • Donna Gilmore wrote: “The previous and original technical specifications for the Orano (formerly Areva) canisters was to measure inlet and outlet air vents and report the highest peak level.”

    Below are links to all the amendments for the TN-NUHOMS storage system in use at SONGS, including the original. None specify the outlet air vents be measured for radiation levels.

    1. We loaded the 24PT1 canisters to Amendment 0 (“original”):

    https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML0301/ML030100468.pdf

    2. Amendment 1 added the 24PT4—we loaded the 24PT4s to Amendment 1 (“original” in the context of the 24PT4):

    https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML0515/ML051520131.pdf

    3. Amendment 2 was withdrawn by the vendor:

    https://www.nrc.gov/waste/spent-fuel-storage/designs.html

    4. We did not use Amendment 3, which added the 32PTH2 canister (which is not used at SONGS):

    https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1505/ML15054A513.pdf

    5. The 24PT1 and 24PT4s have all been recertified to Amendment 4:

    https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1903/ML19036A558.pdf

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