By Eric Heinz

Although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has already levied penalties against the operators of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) for the August canister incident, it is still looking at potential problems before allowing the energy provider to continue on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel.

At the Community Engagement Panel (CEP) meeting on March 28, Scott Morris, an NRC region IV administrative director, said the overseeing entity will examine the potential for scratching on the canisters as they’re downloaded and will look at the aging management plan of the canisters; however, Morris said the event that took place Aug. 3, in which a canister was lodged along a guidance ring due to inadequate training, was not a threat to safety.

The NRC still gave majority owner Southern California Edison its second-highest degree of offense for the problems it says it’s correcting.

Tom Palmisano, the vice president of external engagement, said Edison made a “senior error” at the CEP meeting following the incident when a whistleblower who was working on the project came forward.

“We made a serious error at the Aug. 9 CEP meeting, and six days off the event, we had an opportunity to address the event, and I did not discuss it,” Palmisano said. “It took a courageous worker (coming forward), and we have committed to a sense of transparency. That was a serious error on our part, and we take responsibility for that.”

Morris said there are only a “handful” of independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) inspectors at the NRC; even so, he said the commission has paid particular attention to this matter.

“So much so that (they’ve called) the other regional offices to do the other inspection work at the other 11 power reactor sites in region IV,” Morris said during the CEP meeting. “So I want to assure you we’ve been very focused on this and working with folks in our regional office.”

Morris said the storing of spent nuclear fuel cannot resume until the NRC has sufficiently examined the analyses from Edison and Holtec on the scratching that took place on the canister in the Aug. 3 incident and then only if those analyses hold up to scrutiny. The commission will also look at the safety plans and procedural changes Edison has made.

Scott Morris, an NRC region IV administrator, said the commission will continue to examine and analyze portions of the spent nuclear fuel canisters at SONGS before allowing the offline power plant operators to continue moving the fuel to dry-cask storage. Photo: Eric Heinz
Scott Morris, an NRC region IV administrator, said the commission will continue to examine and analyze portions of the spent nuclear fuel canisters at SONGS before allowing the offline power plant operators to continue moving the fuel to dry-cask storage. Photo: Eric Heinz

CEP Chairman Dr. David Victor also said during the meeting that he hopes to accomplish at least one of the main strategies to get the spent nuclear fuel moved off-site at SONGS: One is to change federal legislation and the other is to get the Department of Energy to open an interim storage site. Two interim sites are currently going through the application process in New Mexico and Texas.

“If we are successful in getting one of these sites open, we need a strategy as to how to do that,” Victor said. “The plan to find the way in which to ship the fuel is now the burden of SONGS because of (a legal settlement).”

Rep. Mike Levin said on Monday, April 1, that he and other members of Congress are seeking $25 million in appropriations for a consolidated interim storage program that would take fuel from all decommissioned sites.

Current law, however, does not allow for temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel—only permanent storage.

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comments (1)

  • The NRC and Edison admit every canister downloaded in the storage holes is unavoidably damaged the entire length of the walls of the thin-wall (only 5/8″ thick) canisters. The NRC rejected Edison analysis as to the extent of the damage. Neither Edison nor Holtec have been fined for this outrageous serious problem.

    The approved Holtec technical specs say the canisters will never touch the storage hole steel interior. However, due to the defective Holtec downloading design that lacks a precision canister downloading system, every 54 ton canister scrapes against a steel canister guide ring.

    Edison and Holtec loaded 29 canisters before they got caught. Edison wants to load 44 more in spite of knowing these canisters will also be damaged. Scratches is a misnomer. These canisters likely have gouges. However, even microscopic cracks will lead to failure in these stainless steel pressure vessels. The NRC states once a crack starts it can grow through the canister wall in 16 years. In hotter canisters, such as those at San Onofre (200 to 300 degrees Celsius per SCE Tom Palmisano), crack growth rate doubles for every 10 degree increase in temperature. This is the story the SC Times needs to report.

    Edison needs to recall this system and get our ratepayer Trust Fund money back. This Holtec system is a lemon and must be replaced with a proven thick-wall cask system similar to those used in the rest of the world. The 10″ thick Fukushima casks survived the 2011 tsunami and 9.0 earthquake. Other thick wall casks are up to 19.75″ thick.

    Cracking thin-wall canisters can no more be safely transported than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic would have stopped it from sinking. Details and sources at SanOnofreSafety.org

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