Nuclear Regulatory Commission: ‘Getting ahead of issues’

Nuclear Regulatory Commission: ‘Getting ahead of issues’
Al Csontos, center, addresses the crowd about dry cask storage, which many in the audience spoke out against for fear that the five-eighths inch thick steel casks are too thin to store radioactive material for the long term. Photo by Ellen Wright

REGION — The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held a mandatory meeting Monday night at the Omni La Costa Resort to gather public comment on the decommissioning activities at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The NRC received the Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report from Southern California Edison, which operates the site.

The document outlines the process, timeline and cost of shutting down the plant.

The NRC has 90 days to review the document but does not approve or deny it.

“We carry out our review to ensure that our regulations are being satisfied and the (report) is in fact, adequate,” Larry Camper, Director of the Waste Management and Environmental Protection Division of the NRC, said.

The NRC has the authority to approve or deny the License Termination Plan, which takes place after the decommissioning.

Over the course of 46 years, the plant has accumulated more than 3,800 spent fuel assemblies which would need to go into about 125 to 150 dry casks, Tom Palmisano, Edison’s San Onofre Site vice president said.

Spent fuel from Unit 1 already fills 50 canisters.

The remaining spent fuel is currently sitting in pools on-site and will eventually go into dry cask storage to be transported off-site by 2049, according to Al Csontos, Chief of the Structural Mechanics and Materials Branch at the NRC.

The Department of Energy has not yet committed to accept the spent fuel, but Edison officials assume so in the cost estimate citing the department’s “Acceptance Priority Ranking & Annual Capacity Report,” which was published in 2004.

The five-eighths inch thick steel casks are inserted with helium to help the cooling process of the radioactive material, said Csontos. They are then placed in concrete bunkers that are about the size of a one-car garage.

As part of the review, the casks are tested to withstand drops, vibrations, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, fires and explosions.

Csontos said the majority of casks that are rejected don’t meet the requirements for extreme cold.

The public was given about an hour and a half to speak and the majority of complaints were about the casks.

“Going forward with a plan that uses canisters that were designed for short term storage does not make sense,” Gene Stone, a member of the community engagement panel started by Edison which meets to update the public on the process, said.

Donna Gilmore, founder of sanonofresafety.org added that she doesn’t believe the casks are thick enough.

“It’s the only thing keeping us from having a radiological accident that could result in us evacuating,” Gilmore said.

Csontos addressed their concerns saying that the NRC has already spent $9 million over the last nine years researching two problems associated with dry cask storage, cladding integrity and chloride induced stress corrosion cracking.

“We have spent an inordinate amount of staff resources on these issues. We feel that we’re getting ahead of these issues now,” Csontos said.

He said that like cars, the casks aren’t expected to last forever.

“We’re trying to be proactive and have a response of aging management so if we do find anything we’ll be able to fix it or require Edison to fix it,” Csontos said.

A few in the crowd said they were nervous the radioactive spent fuel poses a security threat and they’d like to see it transported away from San Onofre as soon as possible.

Doug Broaddus, Mechanical Engineer at the NRC said there is no benefit to speeding up the process of putting the spent fuel into the dry casks and sometimes, it isn’t possible because of the heat generated by the radioactive material.

“From a terrorist standpoint, our defense in depth is to ensure that (Edison) has a good strong security program, to ensure that the terrorists are not going to be successful in whatever attack that they would do,” Broaddus said.

He went on to say that since the safety standards for the spent fuel pool are the same as for dry cask storage, one is not considered safer than the other.

Another part of the review by the NRC is the cost estimate. Officials make sure that Edison’s estimates are accurate and that they have enough funding to decommission the site, but Michael Dusaniwskyj, lead economist with the NRC points out that commerce is under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission.

“I’m going to have to say something you’re not going to like and that is the fact that if you postulate some possibilities that funds do run out, the solutions will not be popular,” Dusaniwskyj said.

“The point that must be remembered is that the NRC does not regulate commerce. It is our responsibility to make sure that all activities are done safely and completely and we recognize that safety takes money,” Dusaniwskyj said.

Edison’s San Onofre Site vice president Palmisano told the crowd it would cost $4.4 billion to completely decommission the site.

Some underground structures may remain, depending on what the U.S. Navy wants, since Edison had entered an easement agreement on the Navy owned land.

Edison officials estimate the final restoration and lease termination will take place in 2051.

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