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Solana Beach council takes stand on spent nuclear fuel storage

SOLANA BEACH — Amidst ever-rising tensions over the storage of spent nuclear fuel at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, Solana Beach City Council voted 4-1 at a June 12 meeting in favor of halting the current loading of radioactive waste into thin-walled canisters until the council’s safety concerns can be addressed.

Southern California Edison, which owns and operates the now defunct station, was previously in the process of transferring approximately 3.6 million pounds of spent fuel into thin-walled canisters. The process allows the fuel to be cooled, so it can eventually be transported off-site.

The transfer is a temporary solution to dealing with the quantity of fuel onsite, with a long-term solution likely requiring legislative action.

After a “near-drop” incident in August prompted widespread alarm over the way the fuel was being transferred, officials halted the process. However, it was recently announced that Edison is just weeks away from continuing the process of transferring the fuel to the thin-walled canisters.

Many believe the thin-walled canisters to be a defective method of storing the spent nuclear waste — which currently sits about 100 feet from the shoreline at San Onofre.

So far, 29 canisters have already been loaded — and Edison plans to load an additional 44.

With Edison on the verge of restarting loading after almost a year on pause, Solana Beach is taking a stand. The council’s resolution urges Edison to stop loading spent fuel into thin-walled canisters, until parties can identify a new temporary storage alternative that proves to be more secure.

In the resolution, the council expressed its support of regular inspection and monitoring requirements, that such monitoring data be made public, and that Edison develop procedures for on-site canister repair and repackaging.

The resolution also calls for long-term action: moving the waste inland away from the risks imposed by sea-level rise, as well as congressional action to open a permanent national repository for nuclear waste disposal.

The item’s public speakers were at a general consensus over the danger of the current loading system – as well as a long-term desire to move the waste as far away from the coastline as possible.

Don Mosier, a former Del Mar city official, described the thin-walled canister transfer as “a system that really dooms the waste to stay at San Onofre for literally thousands of years.”

Mosier, as well as Mayor Dave Zito, is a member of a task force assembled by Congressman Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) to address questions and help formulate solutions to the “safety challenges” of decommissioning San Onofre.

However, some urged the council to take the extra step of supporting a complete halt to loading thin-walled canisters, which it did, and to also support the use of thick-walled casks in loading the remainder of the spent fuel — which it did not.

After discussing concerns related to thick-walled casks, council opted to avoid encouraging its use in the resolution, pending further study by Levin’s task force on best practices moving forward.

Solana Beach resident Torgen Johnson, an ardent local voice when it comes to the nuclear generating station, was at the forefront of advocating for thick-walled casks at the meeting. He proposed a revised resolution to the council that would support “the exclusive use of robust thick-wall nuclear waste storage casks,” it reads.

The thick-walled casks Johnson recommends are about 20 times thicker than the current thin-walled canisters being used. He said the thicker casks are not prone to cracking and corrosion in the way the thin-walled canisters can be, and they are also able to be inspected and monitored.

“What the thick casks get us is peace of mind until we can find a long-term storage solution,” Johnson said.

Council members were concerned about the process of transferring spent fuels from the thin-walled canisters to the thick-walled casks. When Deputy Mayor Jewel Edson asked Johnson about the possible dangers of transferring the materials, Johnson responded, “nobody knows, it’s never been done before.”

Not all local parties have supported the idea of thick-walled casks. When the city agendized the issue in February, Mandy Sackett, a California policy coordinator with the Surfrider Foundation, said thin-walled canisters are “the norm” for spent fuel storage across the nation, and worried that transferring fuel to new containers could be “very risky.”

At the June 12 meeting, Johnson said that loading the remaining fuel into thick-walled casks is “common sense.” But for the already-stored fuel?

“They’ve put us in a predicament,” he said.

Citing the urgency of the issue, council opted to pass a resolution calling for the loading of spent fuel to stop, and that Edison not continue loading until the safety outlines mentioned in the city’s resolution can be met.

Councilwoman Judy Hegenauer voted “no” on the resolution.

4 comments

Donna Gilmore July 14, 2019 at 7:44 pm

The thin-wall canisters are already gouged and cracking and are uninspectable and unmaintainable. We have two options. Wait until they explode, or repackage the fuel waste into thick-wall casks that are designed to be maintained and monitored in a manner to PREVENT radioactive releases and explosions. This can be done in a hot cell (dry fuel handling facility). Even though this has never been done before, it’s the only option the NRC and Edison have left us with. Unfortunately, there are no other options.

Other countries use thick-wall casks. Fukushima thick-wall casks survived the tsunami and 9.0 earthquake. Thin-wall canisters with partial cracks HAVE NO SEISMIC RATING.

The NRC states once cracks start in these thin-wall canisters they can grow through the wall in 16 years. Some of the older San Onofre thin-wall canisters are already 16 years old and the NRC refuses to share radiation readings from the concrete overpack outlet air vents where these canisters are stored. What are they hiding?

Claims these hot cracking canisters can be stored inside thick-wall metal casks are not true. They will overheat due to the loss of the required convection cooling system. The NRC has not approved any such thick metal casks for this purpose.

Hopes that these thin-wall canisters can someday be inspected and repaired are false hopes, not based on science. Even Holtec President Kris Singh, admits even microscopic cracks in Holtec thin-wall canisters cannot be inspected or repaired. Canisters must be replaced.

See his statements and other evidence at SanOnofreSafety.org.

Unsubstantiated hope is what put us in this nuclear waste mess in the first place. Don’t let unsubstantiated hope destroy our communities.

Governor Newsom must take the lead and stop releasing ratepayer funds to Edison until they agree to store all their highly radioactive nuclear fuel waste in thick-wall casks that have ASME N3 nuclear pressure vessel certificates.

We cannot trust NRC management. They give numerous exemptions to ASME standards and ignore many of their own regulations. Only thick-wall casks can meet ASME N3 certification. NRC engineers who try to do the right thing are overruled at higher NRC management levels.

This problem must be solved at the state level with the help of cities like Solana Beach.

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Gary Headrick July 15, 2019 at 5:29 pm

The NRC admits openly that the condition of fuel after the postulated drop would not meet the licensing requirements for storage or transportation. But they approve resuming moving nuclear waste without this basic level of protection.

DETAIL: Restarting the process for unloading nuclear waste from pools to dry canisters is fundamentally wrong, even though the NRC has approved everything proposed by Edison.
On page 30, in the recent NRC Supplemental report, (https://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML19190A217 ), concerning the nearly dropped canister incident, “The inspectors concluded that expected temperature and pressure limits would have remained under the accident limits described in FSAR, criticality safety would have been maintained since the confinement boundary was not breached and the system remained dry, and external radiological dose rates of the canister, located in the vault, would have minimal increases. However, the condition of fuel after the postulated drop would not meet the licensing requirements for storage or transportation. The licensee would be required to perform either significant evaluations or supplemental operations to ensure the safe retrieval, unloading, and re-packaging of the fuel while minimizing the dose to personnel.”

So how can the NRC approve a system that is not capable of storing or transporting a dropped canister?
Are they telling us not to worry when we already had such a close call? They should be required to have a solution before the process is allowed to continue, but such is not the case in this upside-down world in which we live.

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Bryan July 17, 2019 at 3:51 am

In 1956 I worked at the Dounreay Reactor which achieve criticality in 1958 I remember the talk from the time that there was a problem with storage of radio active waste but that within 10 years they would have solved it, so much for the reality it seems if they still have problems over 60 years later what future is there for the future. just another nail in the coffin for future generations to cope with.

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Frank Henry July 17, 2019 at 10:02 pm

“…NRC engineers who try to do the right thing are overruled at higher NRC
management levels…”

……the above quote is the same problem that occurred in NASA….in every
incident of death to astronauts ….it was found that lower level engineers
inputs were ignored by upper level management…….solution in this nuke
waste problem is to …(1) get rid of upper management or …(2) GO AHEAD
and KILL the local population…..!!! [ choice (2) is a very sad option ]

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