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Wavelengths By Jim Kempton
By Jim Kempton

By Jim Kempton

As the endless news cycle of television, media outlets and social media engulfs us every day, we are caught in a dilemma: ignore the information we are being bombarded with (and remain ignorant of the issues) or wade in deep and try to determine the critical concerns from the frivolous entertainments. Our attention span is our worst enemy—most coverage of any subject is only visible in the last seven to 14 days at best, then it’s on to the next “big thing.”

It may be our undoing: For the south coast tri-city residents, one would think the storage of lethal nuclear waste in our backyard and an eight-lane superhighway through the middle of our neighborhoods would be imperative emergency news topics. Yet the media, the citizens and the local municipalities seem to have contracted amnesia.

We are watching Southern California Edison put 3.55 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel rods in containers less than 100 yards from the cliffs at San Onofre State Beach—an area which just this last year lost as much as 10 yards of beach-front from erosion. The public was not informed enough despite the meetings that were held and less than a handful of news articles. The canisters are guaranteed to be safe for not more than 25 years (Edison’s estimate) before they might leak straight into one of Southern California’s premier surf and beach recreation parks visited by over a million people a year. No one will be able to tell if they might be leaking long before that because these toxic time bombs will be encased, covered and out of sight. It is literally a case of burying the evidence.

Then there is the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), the administrators of The Toll Roads, another cryptic, quasi private-public entity that seems to simply wait out the next cycle of news each time it finds massive public opposition.
With thousands of new homes on the planning board for Mission Viejo, pressure for a toll road to accommodate development has once again put eight options on the table, three of which are toll roads that would be constructed through San Clemente. While the toll road execs masterfully disappear after each show of resistance, the Orange County press barely breaks a peep.

This is not a case of conspiracy—it is our own responsibility, and we forget it at our own peril. This is a case of special interests circumventing the will of the local electorate, and using the short spin cycle of news to constantly distract us from issues that will affect our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness in this golden triangle of coastal paradise for lifetimes to come.

Our inadvertent attention to a constant barrage of ever-changing news is endangering us by allowing the truth to be covered in dirt and concrete. We are simply burying the evidence in plain sight.

Jim Kempton is a resident of this coast since 1977. His new book First We Surf, Then We Eat, will be published in June. He hopes we can all “eat, surf and be merry” without concern “for tomorrow.”

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comments (5)

  • Spent fuel is a solid and never has a canister developed a through-wall crack

    @ Jim Kempton

    Your statement, “Yet the media, the citizens and the local municipalities seem to have contracted amnesia.”

    Either you, Jim, must include yourself in these groups or your readers can conclude you never had any knowledge on the subject to forget. You continue to display an astonishing level of ignorance regarding spent fuel particularly for one so willing to share this ignorance (not stupidity).

    Your claim, “…an area which just this last year lost as much as 10 yards of beach-front from erosion.”

    Really? Now I don’t know this to be true or not but at this rate, looking back in time, the power plant would have been some 500 yards further inland than it now finds itself. Is this what you recall when you first came to San Clemente? Historic photos certainly don’t bear this out.

    Your statement, “The public was not informed enough despite the meetings that were held and less than a handful of news articles.”

    What more should have been done to inform the public, Mr. Kempton? There have been numerous meetings over the past four years discussing every aspect of the plans and progress and a platform provided for anti-nuclear zealots to lie and/or make false claims. You and others had every opportunity, and still, do, to ask whatever questions you deemed necessary. And there have certainly been more than a handful of news articles, particularly when considering all the newspapers involved. I personally have contributed at least 40 entries in an attempt to debunk the lies and nonsense foisted on the citizens by dishonest, or ignorant anti-nuke crackpots.

    Your statement, “…before they might leak straight into one of Southern California’s premier surf and beach recreation parks…”

    News flash Mr. Kempton, the fuel is a solid and whereas those fuel assemblies that have fuel defects could theoretically release small amounts of gas, this gas would have to travel through a microscopic crack and do so without any pressure driving head, ie., very slowly. Then, the amount of gas released is finite. Keep in mind that no commercial spent fuel canister has ever developed a through-wall crack and that EPRI and the NRC estimate it would take 85 years, AFTER crack initiation (it takes years to develop a crack), for a crack to go through-wall.

    Your claim, “No one will be able to tell if they might be leaking long before that because these toxic time bombs will be encased, covered and out of sight. It is literally a case of burying the evidence.”

    This, Mr. Kempton, is just pure crap. The canisters are monitored continuously for temperature and radiation surveys are done regularly.

    Rather than inform the public of a danger to be avoided, you simply repeat the fear mongering hogwash spread by anti-nuclear zealots. Thus, you do the public a disservice.

  • Regarding David Davison’s comments to Jim Kepton:
    David knows none of the San Onofre or any other thin-wall canisters have been inspected for cracks. He has no evidence these canisters (the 51 that have been at San Onofre as early as 2003) have no partial cracks. The NRC says once a crack starts, it can grow through the wall in only 16 years. San Onofre has one of the major environmental conditions for stress corrosion cracking — moist salt air. The EPRI report David believes (and I think he really believes what he is stating — he tends to believe whatever the nuclear industry tells him and filters out facts that don’t fit what he wants to believe). I believe David’s intentions are good, just misguided. And he’s under a lot of stress, since once Edison destroys the empty spent fuel pools, he said he will lose his job. The spent fuel and transfer pools are the only method Edison has on site to replace cracking or leaking canisters. But because of overhead costs, Edison will risk our safety for short-term profits. Edison stated in trade publication that is the reason they are getting rid of the pools as soon as possible.

    Regarding the EPRI report that claimed 85 years before leaks, EPRI excluded the marine environment at San Onofre in their analysis. They exclude their own data of a 2-year old Diablo Canyon canister (also located near the Pacific Ocean) that has all the conditions for cracking. It was loaded with high burnup fuel, which is twice as hot as lower burnup fuel and over twice as radioactive, yet the temperature of the canister was found to be low enough for moisture to dissolve salt particles found on the canister. PG&E doesn’t know if the Diablo Canyon canister has cracks, because they have no method to inspect for cracks, let alone depth of cracks.

    EPRI ignored the Koeberg nuclear plant tank that leaked in only 17 years, with cracks up to 0.61″ long. The NRC said this is a comparable container and in a similar marine environment as San Onofre. In the industry, they call this cherry-picking data to reach the conclusion you want. Since EPRI is the electric power companies’ research institute, this is not surprising. SCE is trying to claim the author of the Koeberg evidence didn’t mean what he said in the technical documents, yet has refused to provide any written evidence of that. More unsubstantiated propaganda.

    San Onofre has high burnup nuclear fuel. Both medium and high burnup fuel (fuel that has burned much longer in the reactor) damages fuel rods. It can cause the fuel cladding to become brittle and fragile. The NRC engineers said before transport the high burnup fuels in dry storage must be inspected. SCE has no way to do this in welded shut canisters without destroying the canisters.

    Medium and high burnup fuel also creates hydrides in the fuel cladding (rods), uranium pellets and even the aluminum alloy fuel assembly baskets. If even 5% air enters the helium filled canisters, this could trigger hydrogen explosions from the metal hydrides, sending radioactive particles into the environment. The report Davison is referring to regarding minor impact from leaks, excluded evaluation of high burnup fuel.

    Also, Holtec and the NRC admit, if unborated water enters the canisters through cracks, they will go critical.

    I asked Tom Palmisano (SCE VP) if they planned to put all San Onofre high burnup fuel in damaged fuel cans before loading inside the canisters. Palmisano told me SCE has not made a decision yet. Maybe David can find the answer to this, since Tom isn’t answering this question and they’ve already started loading. NRC requires each damaged fuel assembly to be stored in damaged (failed) fuel assembly cans before placing in the canisters. They do not require this for high burnup fuel even though they know it can become damaged during dry storage. Zion and Maine Yankee canned all their high burnup fuel assemblies. Is SCE doing this at San Onofre?

    Regarding transport, other states (Nevada, New Mexico and Texas) are all fighting to prevent taking this waste. Why would they want our waste in these cracking Chernobyl disaster cans?

    The CEP meetings David refers to are just a propaganda arm of SCE. SCE hand-picked the panel and continually misleads the public about the safety of these canisters. I’m not surprised David believes everything SCE tells him. It’s unfortunate that a basically good person is so gullible.

    I have given David NRC and national lab documents on these issues, but he continues to discount the information.

    Our only safe option is:
    STEP ONE: Load all San Onofre fuel in thick-wall casks that can be inspected (inside and out), maintained, monitored and repaired to PREVENT leaks. If we don’t do this, nothing else matters.
    STEP TWO: Relocate fuel to the nearest safer environment away from the beach on higher ground. Store the thick-wall casks in hardened buildings for additional environmental and security protection.

    Learn more at
    Read High Burnup Handout

    I wish there were other options, but the NRC and SCE left us in this mess with no other options. The US Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board December 2017 “Report to Congress and the Energy Secretary, regarding Management and Disposal of U.S. Department of Energy Spent Nuclear Fuel”, reaffirms my concerns. They discuss the hydride explosion risks, stating fuel assemblies must be monitored and retrievable to avoid explosions. The NWTRB is one of the most independent entities. I highly recommend this report for those who want to study this issue deeper.

    I appreciate the work David Davison has done to help keep us safe, and the other employees at the plant who do what they can to keep us safe. But there is nothing safe about SCE management’s decision to store lethal highly radioactive nuclear waste in ticking time bomb thin-wall Chernobyl disaster cans that cannot be inspected, maintained, or monitored to prevent leaks. And SCE has no approved plan in place to stop leaks. They also plan to hide the peak radiation levels, so we won’t know when these start leaking. They asked their older Areva vendor to amend the NUHOMS canister license to only report peak levels from the inlet air vents, knowing that if there are through wall cracks, highest levels will be from the outlet air vents.

    Currently, dry storage radiation monitoring is only done once every three months (David knows this if you look closely to the wording in his comments). Regarding temperature monitoring, this isn’t going to stop the cracks, leaks, explosions or criticalities. It’s designed to monitor heat level of the canisters. Too high temperatures can damage the canister and fuel assemblies. However, SCE decided to more than double the heat load in each canister, in spite of NRC staff concerns that Holtec provided no evidence this won’t overheat the canisters and fuel. NRC management approved the higher heat loads anyway, because of nuclear industry influence over our government. This occurs in both Democratic and Republican administrations, so this is a non-partisan issue. Our elected officials, regulator and the public are not told the truth about what is really going on and they are trusting the wrong “experts”. Learn more about the Holtec system loading at the beach and the one proposed for consolidated interim storage in New Mexico. You won’t find this information in a CEP presentation. Source links are on this page.

    David, where are your independent source links? Don’t bother replying if you cannot include them — and I don’t mean nuclear industry propaganda pieces.


    • The service life of the fuel canisters is 100 years, the Design life is 60 years

      @ Donna Gilmore

      Contrary to the fear-mongering Donna engages in at the prospect of a canister through-wall crack, the MPR White paper above states there would be NO significant release of radioactive material, no spread of contamination offsite and therefore no radiological exposure to the public. It goes on to state that the consequences of a leak have been evaluated by tests performed by the DOE and by extensive NRC analysis. The report provides a technical basis for its findings on pages 13-18 discussing the three barriers as the cladding, the canister, and the concrete overpack structure.

      The fuel is a solid and most of the radioactive elements remain solid at room temperature. Inert gases such as Xenon and Krypton would quickly dissipate in the atmosphere and are not retained in the body. Solid particulates must first pass through the microscopic crack which has no pressure head to force them out, ie., most would remain in the canister, and much of the rest would then settle in the CEC as the vents (the exit) are at the top.

      No leak has been detected in welded commercial canisters but a DOE demonstration cask with a bolted head (like the ones Donna wants SONGS to use) developed a leak in the mechanical seal between the cask and the lid. It took between 1 and 2 years for sufficient air to leak in to replace the Helium. Small amounts of radioactive Krypton gas were released (not a dose hazard to humans) but there wasn’t any of the pyrophoric reaction and subsequent “accident worse than Fukushima” nonsense Donna attempts to frighten the public with. Indeed, some 40 years ago when this phenomenon was not well understood, a canister was pumped full of air vice Helium as is done today. The canister contained damaged fuel which was exposed to this air and it experienced further fuel damage but NOT the catastrophic scenario Donna is always hawking. The canister was later decontaminated and reused.

      Independent investigator and chairman of the CEP, Dr. David Victor, said:

      “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.”

      The emotive language and the public disservice comment are directed at people like Donna if not her specifically.

      Page 18 of the report describes how a compromised canister would be repaired or replaced. That’s right, contrary to Donna’s assertions and her continual mischaracterizations of what Dr. Singh (Holtec owner) said, canisters can be repaired (or replaced or shipped off) and this would be done with remote welding just as is done when welding shut the canister following fuel insertion.

      The key takeaways, considering my earlier post on Donna’s hyperbole regarding CISCC and the service life of a canister, is that:

      1)Canister life far surpasses the pessimism Donna displays and indeed, her estimates are based on faulty information.

      2)In the unlikely event that a canister develops a crack, it can be repaired, or placed inside a larger canister, or shipped off to be repackaged.

      3)If the canister should experience a through-wall crack, it is NOT the doomsday event Donna portrays it as. There would be no danger to the public and there would be ample time to implement any repair/replace/ship off plan developed.

      4)Take everything Donna claims with a large grain of salt.

    • The canisters SONGS is using are state-of-the-art

      @ Donna Gilmore

      Donna continues to peddle her Koeberg Tank as the basis for her 16-year estimate for a canister crack to go through wall even though she knows this scenario was debunked over a year ago. Through wall cracks occurred after 16 and 17 years (Unit 1 and Unit 2) but only in piping 5mm thick, SONGS’ canisters are 16mm thick. As of the end of 2016 (32 years), no through wall cracks have been observed in those sections 13mm thick. This info can be found in the White Paper done for the CEP by MPR and Associates, page 23, Table 3 and it is reference 10 of an EPRI document (found on page A-51, Table A-35 which for some reason I can’t paste).

      At the top of page 22 of the MPR report, it describes the relative susceptibilities to CISCC between stainless steels, 316L, 316, 304L, and 304 in ascending order of susceptibility, 316L being the most corrosion Resistant. Canisters at SONGS are made from 316L, the most corrosion resistant and the Koeberg tanks are made of 304L, 2nd to the worst resistant (of the four). In addition, Koeberg tanks don’t have a heat source (important in preventing corrosion) and have no air flow past them as canisters do. The latter is important in reducing the deposition of salts whose presence is required to facilitate corrosion, ie., salts are bad.

      There has been no indication of CISCC reported in canisters and there is a great amount of experience in the nuclear industry with stainless steels exposed to a marine environment. As described at the bottom of page 22 of the above report, there are “literally miles of stainless steel piping” that have NOT experienced this corrosion so the few examples, such as at Koeberg (and San Onofre), represent a tiny fraction of the whole. The conclusion on page 25 which takes into account the fact that canisters are made of the more resistant 316L, is of a projected lifetime greater than 100 years for SONGS’ canisters. It adds that because the new Holtec canisters have been laser peened to reduce stress (one of the components in CISCC), they will “likely never develop CISCC.”

      On page 21 we find that the designed life of these canisters is 60 years and that designed life is “based on the canister being exposed to the assumed worst case environmental conditions and represents the shortest expected canister lifetime.”

      Independent investigator and chairman of the CEP, Dr. David Victor, wrote a report where he discussed the issue of canister longevity. He said:

      “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 Donna posted elsewhere where in answer to her question, the NRC 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.

      Exaggeration and hyperbole are the go-to tools for Donna. Reader beware, verify every claim she makes.

  • David,

    Ignoring some of the false logic used in this article I have to beg the question,

    How long does that spent fuel have to live there? The answer to that question is the only truly foundational fear one could have if they understood the science.

    I am personally bothered most by the fact that we will have to monitor this “mess” for a period of time that no one can predict what can happen with any fair level of certainty.

    Noting, we do live one of the most potent and potentially violent tectonic subduction zones on the planet, if the geologic record is of any fair indication. Can we say with any certainty that this contained “mess” we have created would survive an 8.0 or less Earthquake? Is that not a real concern we have and should be addressing as a real public safety hazard?

    What guarantees can we provide our to our near-term (< 20 years) or real long-term (5k+ years) relatives that this "mess" will not be the source of a new mistake because we decided to bury our nuclear waste near our playground of life?

    By begging these questions and hoping for encouraging answers over the past several years as you mentioned, there are many in the public that take no comfort in the responses thus far. I myself am obviously one of them.

    Break this problem down for the lamen and you will win your messaging.
    That has not been done up to now and it will continue to foster distrust in a company that has screwed many of people over the years. The public will not let them get away with trashing their mess near our homes.

    The waste needs to move away from our homes and our ocean. Period.


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