REGION — Scientists who authored two Samuel Lawrence Foundation reports claiming that nuclear waste storage at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is “fatally flawed” have released a rebuttal to Southern California Edison’s claim that the reports are “misleading and untrue.”
Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Onofre officials quickly released a response stressing that there is “zero possibility” of a radiological catastrophe that would affect anything outside of the plant’s boundaries.
According to Edison, after fuel spends several years in a cooling pool, the fuel decay heat of the plant’s hottest fuel is “roughly equivalent to a hair dryer” at about 1500 watts and “does not pose any danger to the general public.”
“SCE is downplaying the risk by comparing the heat load with that of a hair dryer,” the Samuel Lawrence rebuttal states. “There is no literature that states there is ZERO risk in this process, contrary to what SCE has stated.”
“It would be nice if these guys (referring to SCE) would even put some of their evidence out there,” said Thomas English, an expert on high-level spent nuclear fuel and one of the authors of the original reports.
English founded a group of people from Caltech, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Scripps Institution of Oceanography to analyze issues with high-level nuclear waste.
The group went on to advise the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during four presidential administrations and the Swedish government.
English called himself the “architect” behind the Samuel Lawrence Foundation reports on canister damage and storage issues, and designed the economic study before turning it over to economists.
In addition to English, Subrata Chakraborty, a project scientist at the University of California San Diego’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Len Hering, who previously served as a nuclear weapons safety officer, co-authored the reports.
Hering was recently appointed to Rep. Mike Levin’s (D-San Juan Capistrano) new task force addressing “safety challenges” at San Onofre.
One of the reports, published by the Samuel Lawrence Foundation, examines damage caused to the “thin-walled, steel” canisters containing spent nuclear fuel as they are lowered into the dry storage vaults as well as how rising sea levels could affect the oceanfront storage facility, and criticizes management practices at the facility.
The reports was published a couple months after an Aug. 3, 2018, incident when a full canister became stuck at the top of the cavity enclosure container as it was being lowered into dry storage.
The operators and managers could not see the canister and it became stuck for nearly an hour as it was being lowered, hanging 18 feet in the air from the guide ring along the top of the container.
The second report calculates that if a major release of radiation occurs, it could cost Southern California as much as nearly $13.4 trillion over a 50-year period.
Southern California Edison and SONGS released a response disputing the reports, calling the $13.4 trillion figure “misleading” and stressing that there is “zero possibility” of a radiological catastrophe that would affect anything outside of the plant’s boundaries.
Southern California Edison also calls out the Samuel Lawrence Foundation reports for using “extremely pessimistic projections” for sea level rise.
According to the Samuel Lawrence, the report used the latest reference for the prediction of sea-level rise by the Working Group of the California Protection Council Science Advisory Team. The rebuttal statement also notes that the authors used two intermediate emission scenarios as adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Samuel Lawrence called sea level rise “a real threat” and noted the mean water table is 18 inches above the base of the nuclear waste facility, “which is a matter of great concern with the integrity of the storage.”
Edison’s response claims that should the groundwater rise, “the reinforced concrete monolith (3’ thick) and stainless steel liner of the cavity enclosure container will prevent the canisters from becoming wet.”
But the original report’s authors noted that while concrete functions as a radiation shield, it suffers significant damage by radiation.
The dry storage vault’s concrete sits underground in a “salty and moist marine environment,” the rebuttal explained, and stated there is no way to inspect the integrity of the concrete. If the concrete is compromised, there is a risk for future water seepage into the vault, thus exposing the canisters to more corrosion.
Edison and SONGS officials further argued that the Samuel Lawrence reports used documentation for completely different canisters when they question the robustness of the Holtec canisters. They also noted that a “non-proprietary drop analysis” is available on the SONGS website that demonstrates the canister would not fail if it were dropped.
Samuel Lawrence responded by pointing out that Southern California Edison referred to a “theoretical” analysis without providing any analytical or technical details, and claimed that there is “no evidence or data to show or prove the 18 foot drop of a fully loaded canister is safe.”
Edison also disputes the Samuel Lawrence report’s use of the word “gouge” when describing damage to the outside of the canister as it connects with a guard ring during its downloading into the vault, and claims “scratches are normal and expected.”
But the report author’s fired back, stating, “there is no normal” when it comes to the canisters’ scratches and gouges, and a newer, safer system must be designed to prevent such damage from occurring.
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son