San Onofre: Activist seeks to move spent fuel inland

San Onofre: Activist seeks to move spent fuel inland
Nuclear waste storage under construction at the decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County.

REGION — El Cajon-based nonprofit Citizens’ Oversight Projects has filed a petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to change the way spent nuclear fuel from power plants is handled.

The organization, which has negotiated a plan on how to move the radioactive fuel from the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station, says that the design life of the canisters that hold the spent fuel should have a 1,000-year life — not the current 40-year design life, which is because the fuel will remain on the surface for 200 years. It also says that the fuel should move away from the water and to a safer place, or inland and away from seismic activity.

“We are trying to chart a course for the nuclear industry for the next 200 years,” said Ray Lutz, founder of Citizens’ Oversight, in an interview. “The NRC now requires a 40-year life for the thin canisters holding the spent fuel but we would require double-wall canisters and a 1,000-year life.

“We want surface storage sites to be upgraded,” he added. “We don’t want to pawn off our problem on some other area. We want the spent fuel to be stored in a more prudent manner, which means underground and where the canisters can be monitored. The technology will allow us to do this.”

Specifically, the group is proposing changes that would involve Hardened, Extended-life, Local, Monitored, Surface storage, or HELMS. Besides increasing the design life of the canisters, the proposal suggests that the current relatively thin canisters should have a much thicker outer shell.

That would have the effect of preserving the internal canister from corrosion and other deterioration. Furthermore, the outer shell could be easily replaced and any cracks to the outer shell could be detected and fixed.

In the case of San Onofre, it will be moving the spent fuel from wet pools inside of the generators that have shut down to dry canister storage devices over the next 18 months. Citizens’ Oversight’s petition is demanding that the canisters be moved away from the water and to safer places that are inland, to which Southern California Edison has also agreed.

“The next location would be HELMS compliant,” Lutz said. “It would encourage the rest of the industry to do the same — to use thicker canisters that have longer lifespans.”

But would the process of moving the spent fuel from where it is now stored on site at nuclear facilities to a different location off site spark protests? Was not that part of the reason that Yucca Mountain — the proposed central storage site for spent fuel — failed to reach fruition?

Lutz said that the radioactive used fuel at San Onofre would be moved to New Mexico or it would stay in California and possibly placed near Camp Pendleton — not far from where it is now stored. “Some don’t want the fuel to move because they are afraid of the risk and the second reason is that they think it would encourage more nuclear plants.”

And those critics, too, have a strong voice. So, just moving the spent fuel from wet to dry storage within the boundaries of an existing plant will be an ordeal — and one that could last well into the future.

10 Comments
  1. Rose Gardner 8 months ago

    I too believe that a hardened on site storage solution for the time being is necessary. I live at ground zero a targeted site in New Mexico and Texas and I can assure you we do not consent or welcome this spent fuel that was generated at a nuclear plant. We did not benefit from any electricity generated there we do not want your waste. Let’s get the DOE and NRC to do there job. Find a permanent repository that is suitable in geology and hydrology and get the CONSENT from the population that will bear the liability and danger from this permanent storage of the waste. Nevada does not consent.

    • Ray Lutz 8 months ago

      If communities want JOBS and MONEY to safely store the waste using a good design, I think (and hope) we can find a place for it on an interim basis, i.e. the next 150 to 1000 years. Yes, I know that sounds like a permanent situation. Please take a look a the HELMS proposal here: http://copswiki.org/Common/HelmsProposal

  2. Robert Regan 8 months ago

    You can’t move spent fuel one inch offsite from the power plants as it was NOT included in the laws when Congress decided to take responsibility for its disposal way back in the 1980’s. Sure a lot of transportation recommendations HAVE been proposed every year and decade since. Because they had time to think about it for the umpteen years while Yucca Mt was to be built. But its umpteen years since we stopped Yucca and the waste continues to grow and the fear of it has made everybody jumpy since terrorism has become a factor. So far its only internal from the liberal attitude that has stopped Yucca. Remember, 0ne man undid what hundreds of engineers and scientists planned with current technology. Does that sound smack of what the Fuhrer did to the World what took thousands of thousands of people to correct? Yes Yucca is the answer and it can store all of the waste due to its geology. I spent 13 years on it after 20 years in the mining industry as a professional.

    • Ray Lutz 8 months ago

      Sorry, I disagree that Yucca Mtn is any answer, at least for the next 150 years or so, because it still has to be actively cooled, thereby leaving the waste effectively on the surface. Yucca has many severe technical problems. It is NOT just a political issue. It makes no sense to transport the waste across the country to one place only to leave it on the surface.

      See this link for our proposal: http://copswiki.org/Common/HelmsProposal

  3. Robert Regan 8 months ago

    My last comment. Moving it will not have any impact on the fear of starting more construction. Maybe for the rest of the world, YES. Its called ECONOMICS 101. The existing power plants have dozens of years left to operate. That alone will double what is spent to what they will continue to generate. Double again if they extend life of plant from 20 to 40 years and beyond. I and 5600 other workers were just terminated in July, 2017 on two of 4 new nuke plants under construction that became TOO EXPENSIVE to build. This Country will continue to use existing Hydro, Fossil and Nuke plants until they degrade in time and be replaced by what may be much smaller SMR’s and more efficient Fossil burners for yours and mine and our grand children’s lifetime.

    • Ray Lutz 8 months ago

      Economics of nuclear power is thoroughly broken and renewables will outstrip it at about this time, and become forever cheaper. Solar panels are a good match to free market optimization — many are made in short order and by many competing companies. Meanwhile, nuclear plants are made only very slowly and are poorly optimized. They will never keep up. See the HELMS document in my other post and take a look a the COST curves. All nuke plant owners know they are not at all viable! And that does not include the cost of the waste situation.

  4. Robert Regan 8 months ago

    California should be screaming for the restart of Yucca Mt. It is easier to transport it to the Nevada test site as the border is less than 50 miles from Gate 510 at the Nevada Test Site. 16 aging pads were drilled and soil sampled at Yucca Mt for that purpose. Take a look at the satellite pics of Yucca Mt tunnel site and you will see the network of trails and excavation pits for above ground storage. I know, I drafted the pit design and later surveyed the pit coordinates as we shut the project down.

    • Ray Lutz 8 months ago

      I agree that surface storage at YM may be viable during the next 150 years and I think YM can be utilized using a HELMS compliant design. But the law currently does not allow any surface storage CIS facilities near any planned repository. It is a mess.

  5. patricia borchmann 8 months ago

    Count me in as another public stakeholder in reactor communities surrounding San Onofre that are currently extremely threatened by unmitigated, and underanalyzed impacts that are readily foreseeable from Edison’s choice of HOLTEC Umax thin 5/8 inch signle layer spent fuel storage containers, that have zero monitoring capability (real time), and zero leak detection capability. HOLTEC Umax casks only have a warranty of up to 20 years, and have not been operational or never been accurately tested. Sandia Lab’s outdated computer simulations and forecasts have already been proven to be grossly flawed, and are an unacceptable ‘model’ that HOLTEC, and Edison, and Edison’s industry consultants place the health and safety of 8.5 million stakeholders in definite jeopardy during lifetime for this population, and future generations for at least 250,000 years. Edison’s ISFSI plans have zero contingency funds, or Emergency Response Plan that assures FEMA assistance, since Edison got NRC approval in 2015 of a series of “Emergency Exemptions”, (without any public comment consideration), despite strong public opposition. NRC’s Exemptions reduced or eliminated funding, 39 critical onsite emergency staff positions at San Onofre, and dismembered Emergency Response Plans by County of San Diego, Orange County, Riverside County, and Los Angeles County. Edison’s onsite ISFSI on exposed coastline at San Onofre are threatened by beyond design basis seismic events, tsunami threats, flooding, foreseeable bluff erosion, cask rupture, or through wall crack penetration caused by SCC Stress Corrosion Cracking caused by constant exposure to fog, and marine layer moisture, and flooding from foreseeable sea level rise.
    Stakeholders in California demand, and deserve far more rigorous technical and scientific analysis and evidence than is contained in public record for Edison’s ISFSI approvals by NRC, or CA Coastal Commission, or State Lands Commission.
    Stakeholders are eager to see ongoing followup articles published in our local newspapere(s) on the ongoing public safety risks that threaten stakeholders, and ask your reporter to undertake series of articles on Citizens Oversight’s proposal for HELMS (Hardened, Extended Life, Monitored, Surface Storage system) that Ray Lutz proposes to locate within California’s inland desert location options, removed from high population centers, seismic faults, flooding or major transportation corridors with infrastructure for freeways or high frequency rail travel.
    Thank you for thoughtful consideration.

  6. Joe 7 months ago

    The evil doers who are involved with this nuke plant ought to be put in these insufficient storage casks along with the radioactive waste they created! People need to divest from Edison and any companies involved in this. Politicians and the coastal commission need to be held accountable for selling out the best interests of the populace.

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