San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station located between Oceanside and San Clemente. Courtesy photo
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Opinion: A radiological disaster is possible, despite what Edison says

By Donna Gilmore

These are my comments to Southern California Edison’s Letter to the Editor in the San Clemente Times, Feb 7, 2019.

Edison admits in their letter “there may be the same amount of radioactivity in a dry cask as was released at Chernobyl” — the 1986 nuclear disaster. It is likely even more, now that they are loading 37 fuel assemblies in each canister instead of 24 fuel assemblies.

The U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) recommends all nuclear waste and it’s containment must be inspected, maintained and monitored in a manner to prevent hydrogen gas explosions. Edison is doing the opposite.

Each of the thin-wall “Chernobyl disaster cans” is welded shut with no ability to inspect, repair, maintain or monitor inside or out to prevent major radioactive releases or hydrogen gas explosions.

These are pressure vessels, yet they have no pressure monitoring or pressure relieve valve to prevent hydrogen gas buildup or explosions. The NRC gives exemptions to this and other minimum ASME requirements.

If the NRC required ASME N3 certification on nuclear waste containers, only thick-wall casks could meet those requirements. We must demand this.

Hydrogen explosions in these Chernobyl disaster canisters will disburse the fine radioactive particles and other radionuclides, wherever the wind blows. Cesium-137 and strontium are lethal for roughly 300 years.

Even small amounts of plutonium are lethal for 250,000 years. Uranium-235’s half-life is 703.8 million years. Uranium-238 half-life is 4.5 billion years (yes billions). See health risks at https://sanonofresafety.org/health-risks/

Canisters are filled with helium to prevent explosions and other fuel damage. Once air enters these canisters, we are at risk for explosions. The canisters with Zirconium fuel rods and the uranium fuel pellets are explosive.

The higher burnup fuels used by Edison damage the fuel rods (cladding) and uranium pellets. They create metal hydrides, which are explosive at lower temperatures. Zirconium hydride gas and particles explode at 270 degrees Celsius.

The NRC, Edison, Holtec and others are ignoring the operating data from over 4400 commercial rods showing the increased hydrides from moderate and high burnup fuel.

Edison’s MPR Associates San Onofre Dry Storage report claimed no explosion risks by ignoring the hydride issue and ignoring high burnup fuel. High burnup fuel is Uranium-238 enriched with up to 5% Uranium-235 and burned longer in the reactor.

It made Edison more money, but makes the fuel unstable in storage and transport. High burnup fuel rods become brittle and can shatter like glass in an accident. The fuel will continue to heat up, triggering more explosions.

The NRC, Edison and Holtec admit these canisters are vulnerable to cracking. The NRC states once a crack starts it can grow through the wall in 16 years.

Edison has accelerated this timeline by using a new Holtec system that gouges or otherwise damages the walls of all the canisters downloaded into the storage holes.

The NRC and Holtec are ignoring this problem.

The NRC has not even written this up as a problem that needs to be address before Edison loads and damages more canisters.

This Holtec system is a lemon and must be recalled and replaced with a thick-wall metal transportable storage cask system that meets NWTRB safety requirements. That is Step One. Then the thick casks must be moved to higher ground and stored in a building for additional environmental and security protection.

The older 51 Areva NUHOMS thin-wall canisters are up to 15 years old. The NRC and Edison refuse to provide radiation measurements from the outlet air vents of the concrete overpacks where the canisters are stored and where levels will be highest from radioactive leaks.

Instead, Edison wants to quit measuring radiation levels at the outlet air vents of these Areva Chernobyl cans. The NRC approved this for the Calvert Cliffs Areva NUHOMS system in Maryland, so they likely will approve this request for San Onofre. What are they hiding?

These systems need to be replace with thick-wall casks before we face major permanent evacuations in Southern California. Go to SanOnofreSafety.org for details and how you can help.

If Edison has evidence to dispute any of this, they should share that data. So far, they have not. Instead, their MPR Associates report is so bad, it recommended transporting leaking canisters to the large Test Area North “hot cell” in Idaho. That hot cell was destroyed in 2007!

Edison has no approved system in place to prevent or stop leaks and explosions. They refuse to consider building a hot cell (a large dry fuel handling facility, where fuel is handled robotically and the room is filled with an inert gas so nothing explodes).

The only other option to replace canisters is a pool. However, they are loading the new fuel so hot, Edison admits they cannot return it back to the pools, even though this is a requirement of their current NRC license (Condition 8). 

At least they are now admitting there is at least one Chernobyl disaster in each can. Now they need to face the reality this system must be replaced before it is too late. Instead they want to load 43 more thin-wall canisters, knowing they will all be damaged as they are lowered into each hole.

Donna Gilmore
SanOnofreSafety.org

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4 comments

na February 11, 2019 at 10:57 am

why is there no suit filed to compel Edison to follow safety rules

Reply
Dave February 12, 2019 at 6:58 am

Why is it that you keep running this articles geared toward generally alarming the public, and not based on facts? Facts: (1) There is not Hydrogen in these canisters – there is inert gases (Argon), (2) They could never, ever, explode and distribute nuclear waste – not ever, and (3) Keeping spent nuclear fuel in wet spent fuel pools is much more risky – it was fuel in pools that melted in Fukushima. Fuel must be placed into these canisters before it can ever be shipped anywhere. BTW – that’s the real issue; fuel is kept in dry storage around the country because there is not federal repository, even though the department of energy has collected billions (~$44B) from utilities to build and maintain one. We’re the only country in the world with nuclear fuel and no repository.

Reply
Jordan Ingram February 12, 2019 at 4:51 pm

This is an op-ed from one of our readers. I know they appreciate you reading!

Reply
Brian McInerny February 14, 2019 at 8:17 am

|Maybe we should have considered the consequences of nuclear power before we jumped on the band wagon. What are the benefits that nuclear power provides? Fueling the seemingly unlimited growth that is overwhelming the planet. Turning the garden of Eden into a desperate contest to see how fast we can consume it. Piling up tons of radiated waste with no way to dispose of it. I guess we better hope we find a new planet to exploit soon.

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