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Wavelengths By Jim Kempton
By Jim Kempton

By Jim Kempton

Out of an inescapable curiosity, I attended a forum about the current state of the waste storage for the radioactive fuel rods that have been untreated since the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) has been shut down. It was an illuminating experience, even if some of the speakers had conflicting positions on how great the danger is and what the best solution should be.

One of the most critical issues facing San Clemente and the entire Orange County area, this dilemma of how to deal with the spent fuel rods from our nuclear power plant is perhaps the most important decision the region will make for our children and all future history. These highly toxic, potentially lethal rods now lie in open pools of water in what most parties agree is a vulnerable and dangerous state.

The rods are currently planned to be buried on the bluff next to the retired plant, just a short distance from the edge and near the beach at San Onofre itself. Without defending or attacking the claims or validity, it should be noted that these are also near a vital military base on an earthquake fault line and on a dramatically eroding coastal ridgeline. Whether there is high likelihood or little, the fact is that if a catastrophic event was to occur it could render large potions of this region uninhabitable for the foreseeable future—as in millennia. One would think that this would be a point of concern for those of us living in this shadow.

And yet when I bring this subject up to surfers at San Onofre, citizens in San Clemente or political leaders in Orange County I get a shrug or a glazed look.

I am always amazed. We are able to bring thousands of determined citizens to protest the extension of a toll road though our town. But burying thousands upon thousands of pounds of radioactive waste material 50 yards from the beach in canisters that only guarantee the lifetime of 30 years, which if exposed incorrectly could be catastrophic to the entire region, brings barely a yawn.

It is not that we might be in incalculable peril that worries me. It is that for the most part, the entire populace including most of the decision-makers seem only minimally informed.

I am not going to get into the heavy debate about how critical the various risks are. But we do know at least a few things:

Southern California Edison, the majority owner of SONGS, has not been forthcoming in its communication with the public about this issue—they have a long record of repeated dissembling of inaccurate and incomplete information about the risk, the responsibility and the reasoning behind the proposed plans. Neither, it seems, have any of the auxiliary entities involved. And experts disagree strongly.

I am not advocating any position on this issue. I am suggesting that educating oneself from a variety of sources should be a paramount priority for anyone who owns property here or is planning to live in the area for any length of time.

Jim Kempton is a writer and surfer who has learned the hard way that education has a price, but it is not nearly as costly as the consequences of ignorance.

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comments (6)

  • Thank you Jim Kempton for bringing awareness to this vital issue. Making the public aware that nuclear waste that’s deadly for 250,000+ years is being stored in a in beachfront system that’s only guaranteed to last 10 years is the first step. The next step is safer containers further away from the beach, away from earthquake faults and tsunamis.

  • @ Jim Kempton

    “…the entire populace including most of the decision-makers seem only minimally informed.”

    Well that would certainly include you Mr. Kempton because you’ve made a number of false statements.

    “…rods now lie in open pools of water in what most parties agree is a vulnerable and dangerous state.”

    This is a false statement unless you include in your definition of “most parties” anti-nuclear activist groups that have always been opposed to nuclear power and have demonstrated their willingness to lie and make their own false claims; and/or other uninformed groups or peoples, like yourself who think they know more than the experts. Remember your article on experts? Now you can include yourself in that criticism of those who think they know more than the experts, those who have spent a career in engineering, monitoring for safety, and managing commercial nuclear power.
    Just keep in mind, the NRC through many engineering studies have verified the safety of commercial spent fuel pools and never, in all of commercial nuclear power history, has a spent fuel pool failed.

    Another false statement by you: “The rods are currently planned to be buried…”

    NO, not a grain of sand will be placed atop these state of the art containers. The NRC, whose job it is to insure nuclear plants are operated safely, has placed their stamp of approval on these stainless steel containers for both storage and shipment. The containers the anti-nukes (who you appear to have become a mouthpiece for) want San Onofre to use, have neither the NRC’s approval for shipment or storage. Indeed, when a license was sought for shipment using these containers, the NRC refused citing their fear that cast iron casts might shatter if dropped in cold weather. In addition, the casks are too heavy for SONGs’ crane equipment, something the leader of this dishonest anti-nuclear group continues to ignore. These casks (the ones anti-nukes desire) are appropriate for plants that reprocess fuel and is why they have a mechanical seal, not a double welded head. This allows for easier retrieval when it is time to remove the fuel for reprocessing. Ask any engineer which is better for permanent sealing, a mechanical seal, or a double weld.

    Independent investigator and chairman of the CEP, Dr. David Victor, after reviewing all the literature on the subject of possible cracks, 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.”

    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.”

    So, Mr. Kempton, you and the anti-nukes, according to Dr. David Victor’s statement above, are doing the public a disservice by your hyperbole.

    Did you bother to listen to Tom Palmisano state (at the 9/15/16 community engagement meeting) that the design life of the canisters is 60 years, not the 30 you claimed?

    How about the 2/16/17 meeting where “the experts” stated that SONGs was not in danger of tsunamis because of the shape of the sea bed floor off of San Onofre AND Palmisano state, in regard to earthquakes, “the casks were analyzed for an earthquake
    scenario. The peak ground acceleration input to the canister system was analyzed to withstand 1.5 G in the horizontal direction and 1 G in the vertical direction, and shows that the fuel assemblies would stay intact inside the canisters.” 1.5G is a huge amount of movement, perhaps greater than has ever been experienced in this state.

    Jim, you reference a San Clemente Times article that has the wrong location for the spent fuel pools, just like the anti-nukes in their official website initially did until I corrected their blunder. Here is the quote from the 10/5/17 article in question: “The SONGS spent fuel is currently in cooling tanks within the protective domes of the now-offline nuclear power plant…” That is NOT where the spent fuel pools are.

    “And yet when I bring this subject up to surfers at San Onofre, citizens in San Clemente or political leaders in Orange County I get a shrug or a glazed look.”

    Perhaps they are better informed than you Mr. Kempton and thus don’t share your hysteria.

    Lastly, it is another false statement to claim SCE has not been forth coming on this issue. They hold regular meetings to which you, John Q public, can ask questions or make statements. It has become a platform for anti-nuke bloviation and lies. The article you cite, a 7/28/16 San Clemente Times article, makes this following assertion: “…that proves the power plant operators pushed the system past its capacity.” That is a lie. I AM one of those operators and to exceed the licensed power limit is to bring in an alarm that would be recorded and visible to all. NO operator is going to violate the licensed power limit regardless of who directs him to do so nor would any management personnel ever do so. Even if they could be assured of successfully getting away with it, the amount of extra MWs gained before automatic plant trip on overpower is negligible.

    The fuel is safe in the pools, will be safe in dry cask storage and at some later date, will be safely transported to a more permanent facility. Fuel has been onsite for just shy of 50 years and in all that time Mr. Kempton, did you feel unsafe or fear surfing off the coast?

  • @ Charles Langley

    “The next step is safer containers…”

    These are state of the art canisters, the most appropriate for the storage of used nuclear fuel. The casks your group of anti-nuke zealots wish San Onofre to use are NOT licensed for storage or shipment and are too heavy for SONGs’ crane equipment. They also have inferior mechanical seals, more applicable for those countries that reprocess fuel, not permanent storage as is the case for SONGs’ fuel.

    10 years? Really? Next you’ll be claiming 10 weeks. Apparently, you’ve either been hoodwinked by the liars in the local anti-nuke group, or you’re just another liar yourself. Which is it Charles?


  • @ kevin blanch


    Wow Kevin, you may want to share your long experience and wizdumb with the NRC because this is what they say about SFPs and Dry Cast Storage:

    All U.S. nuclear power plants store spent nuclear fuel in “spent fuel pools.” These pools are robust constructions made of reinforced concrete several feet thick, with steel liners. The water is typically about 40 feet deep, and serves both to shield the radiation and cool the rods.

    The NRC believes spent fuel pools and dry casks both provide adequate protection of the public health and safety and the environment. Therefore there is no pressing safety or security reason to mandate earlier transfer of fuel from pool to cask.

    When you correct the NRC, informing them it’s illegal to store spent fuel in SFPs or Dry Cast Storage, perhaps you can send them a clip of your blog, I’m sure they’ll be impressed.
    BTW, what do you think is supposed to be stored in the spent fuel pool?

  • Kudos to Jim Kempton for identifying a local issue with a 10,000 year half-life! In the spirit of Jonathan Swift, I would like to put forward a Modest Proposal:

    Since the TCA is determined to put an extension of the 241 Toll Road in or near San Onofre, San Clemente should allow them to do this IF and ONLY IF the TCA takes full legal and financial responsibility for the safe relocation of the SONGS nuclear waste. This might kill 2 birds with one stone…

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