Ides of March 2019 – EON’S Nuclear Update – Fukushima’s Tragic Eight Years, San Onofre, Diablo Canyon & More

Nearly 1 million tons of highly contaminated water is contained in storage tanks on the Fukushima site, increasing by over 4000 tons each month. The government, nuclear regulator and the IAEA all support discharging this water into the Pacific.

[ Correction: The graphic which originally headed this post did not portray radioactive ocean pollution. We apologize for the error and appreciate the corrective feedback from alert readers.]

The California-Fukushima Connection

When the Fukushima disaster began eight years ago, we realized that we needed to take action – and to find others who were also galvanized into action to prevent a Fukushima-like tragedy from happening here in California.  We knew the two nuclear power stations then in operation, Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo and San Onofre in San Clemente, are sited in tsunami and earthquake zones, just as in Fukushima.

Since that fateful day in 2011, we’ve been working on a documentary due to be released this year, SHUTDOWN – The San Onofre Story.   Alarmed by Fukushima, southern Californian residents win a fight to shut down their leaking nuclear power plant, but they soon discover the threat isn’t over and find themselves battling tons of nuclear waste being dumped, in damaged canisters, just yards from the rising sea.

With a cascade of scheduled shutdowns of America’s fleet of aged nuclear plants just beginning, The San Onofre Story is a preview of the issue soon to be facing other reactor communities across the country: With no national repository in existence, what do we do with decades of accumulated highly radioactive waste that will be deadly for over a million years?

Will the serious mistakes handling radioactive waste at San Onofre contribute to a Fukushima-like future for southern California?

The film website is ShutdownDoc.tv

This is the 3 minute trailer:

The Fukushima disaster is not over. It continues to unfold as tons of radioactive ground water continues to flood daily into the Pacific, hundreds of tons of irradiated cooling water accumulates per day in onsite tanks, winds blow intensely radioactive microparticles long distances and storms inevitably recirculate radionuclides recontaminating previously ‘decontaminated’ land .  Thousands of Japanese must choose between remaining perpetual refugees without support or to return to their radioactive homes.   Alarmingly, the 2020 Olympics will force international athletes and visitors to risk their lives and genetic futures in an cynical Abe government PR stunt to promote the lie that Fukushima is ‘totally under control.’


Video  – Reality of Fukushima – 2019
Manhattan Project for a Nuclear-Free World – a message from Yayoi Hitomi, March 2019




A Plea for Special Protection for Fukushima Children


Eight Years on, Fukushima Still Poses Health Risks for Children



U.S. Court Abandons Fukushima-Injured U.S. Sailors

Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and Carrier Air Wing 14 man their brooms during a countermeasure wash down on the flight deck to remove potential radiation contamination on March 23, 2011. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Nicholas A. Groesch)


San Diego judge dismisses U.S. sailors’ Fukushima radiation lawsuits, rules Japan has jurisdiction

US Naval personnel serving as part of the ‘Operation Tomadachi’ Fukushima relief mission were the first Americans to be impacted by radioactive fallout from the disaster (but probably not the last). Hundreds have experienced serious health effects, cancer ridden babies and some have died. Expectations that they could expect justice in a Japanese court is delusional.

As the article notes, “To seek remedy in Japan, the sailors would have to be able to afford the trip, be healthy enough to travel, hire a Japanese lawyer, have their medical records translated, and appear before a tribunal.

This is a deeply unjust and tragic outcome for this heartbreaking situation that we have been covering since 2012. Our video reports on the case have had thousands of views.

US Sailors Sue TEPCO for Radioactive Fallout Cover-Up

Former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi supports US sailors injured by Fukushima radiation

Former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi tears up in dialogue with audience about US sailors

US sailors’ attorney Charles Bonner gives update on lawsuit for Fukushima radiation injuries


Nuclear Scientist Speaks the Truth re the 2020 Olympics

Koide Hiroaki, Matsumoto, July 2018


Koide Hiroaki, retired nuclear scientist from the Kyoto University Reactor Research Institute (presently called the Kyoto University Institute for Integrated Radiation and Nuclear Science Research), is arguably the most celebrated critic of nuclear power and the handling of the Fukushima disaster.

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and the Tokyo Olympics




Fairewinds Report – Atomic Balm Part 1

Prime Minister Abe Uses The Tokyo Olympics As Snake Oil Cure For The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Meltdowns



Fairewinds Report – Atomic Balm Part 2

The Run For Your Life Tokyo Olympics



Fukushima Update

SimplyInfo.org 2019 Annual Report On The Fukushima Disaster



Nuclear Beadgame:

An autoradiograph image of a radioactive cesium microparticle, which shows the relatively high levels of radioactivity contained in the particle. Credit: Dr. Satoshi Utsunomiya

 

Radioactive Glass Beads May Tell the Terrible Tale of How the Fukushima Meltdown Unfolded



Nuclear Hotseat #402

Fukushima Anniversary UPDATE SPECIAL #2: Activist Misao Redwolf, Journalist Carole Hisasue, Simply Info’s Nancy Foust, Nuclear Lecturer Dr. Caitlin Stronell, Filmmaker Tsukuru Fors Lauritzen

Nuclear Hotseat #401

Fukushima Update SPECIAL: Microparticles, Medical Data Manipulation, More! Simply Info’s 2019 Fukushima Report w/Nancy Foust

 

Beyond Nuclear
Beyond Nuclear on the Thom Hartmann Program re: Fukushima nuclear catastrophe

Meanwhile at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon…California’s Other Fukushima-in-Waiting

Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel 2/22/19 and 2/23/19: Spent Fuel Workshops

Setting an important U.S. precedent, a San Luis Obispo citizen group organized a special two-day workshop on how to deal with their about to be de-commissioned nuclear reactor’s  high level radioactive waste.  The Decommissioning Engagement Panel’s Dry Cask Storage subcommittee, chaired by Linda Seeley, brought government
agencies, vendors and speakers from Germany and the U.S. to present options to the group.  The advisory panel is under the auspices of PG&E, Diablo Canyon’s operator. 

Day One: PG&E, Government Agencies,Vendors and Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps. 
U.S. nuclear vendor Holtec, whose flawed engineering of canister downloads at San Onofre damaged all the irradiated fuel filled canisters and required a major investigation by the NRC, hired as their representative to the San Luis Obispo panel, former PG&E employee, Jearl Strickland.

Strickland explained that he’d been tasked by Holtec to help with the San Onofre snafus and major mishaps.  He was grilled by the panel on the San Onofre problems.  Holtec is also the vendor chosen by PG&E to provide dry cask storage for their high level radioactive waste.

Strickland assured the Diablo Canyon panel that San Onofre was now ok.

Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear presented information to the group that emphasized the concept of HOSS: Hardened Onsite Storage as being recommended by the nuclear safety community. 


Day Two: Concerned Citizens
Molly Johnson of Mother’s for Peace, SLO, presented Nuclear Radiation 101 for the workshop.

Concerned residents from southern California working on the severe safety risks at San Onofre, Donna Gilmore, of San Onofre Safety and Torgen and Lindsay Johnson and their children, Layse and Enzo Johnson, Samuel Lawrence Foundation, made the long drive up to the workshop .  They all warned the panel of their experiences with lies told and safety violations at San Onofre.  They advised their northern neighbors to be wary of Holtec.  The children made a plea for their future safety.
 
Day 1 Video
Day 2 Video



Nuclear Hotseat #403

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Dangers: Solartopia’s Harvey Wasserman, Mothers for Peace Linda Seeley, Molly Johnson

 


San Onofre Update


Chernobyl Cans-by-the-Sea

Nuclear waste solution remains elusive amidst polarized debate



San Onofre Safety


Thin-wall 1/2″ to 5/8″ nuclear waste cans contains roughly a Chernobyl nuclear disaster. They can’t be inspected, repaired, or maintained to prevent major radioactive leaks. They can crack and leak in the short-term


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) allows highly radioactive nuclear fuel waste to be unsafely stored in thin-wall canisters, with no plan to prevent or stop leaks and explosions. This is a nationwide problem with all thin-wall canisters


They’re lemons, send ’em back! – The San Onofre beachside nuclear waste storage facility is DEFECTIVE and must be RECALLED to prevent nuclear disaster in Southern California and beyond.



Sign the San Onofre Petition





More Resources

Citizens Oversight

San Diego (2019-03-12) — Citizens’ Oversight, the organization that sued the Coastal Commission and Southern California Edison to stop the use of the coastal facility only 100 feet from the ocean and move the waste to a safer place, today sent a letter to the six-member expert team which was formed nearly a year ago as the result of the settlement agreement reached in 2017.This letter

• asks for the status of the expert team,
• requests a review of the canister drop mishap,
• broaches the possibility of using a new “deep borehole” option,
• and makes note of the new CASTOR cask system, which appears to be compliant with the dual-wall design concept as raised in the HELMS proposal.

Public Watchdogs
Public Watchdogs launches hard-hitting TV ad campaign

Samuel Lawrence Foundation
Safe Storage of Nuclear Waste
Nuclear expert presents paper at Waste Management Symposium
Nuclear experts: San Onofre officials ‘downplaying risks’

Flawed nuclear storage exposing economy to $13.4 trillion in losses
Economic Report
Waste Problems Report

Cecile Pineda Newsletter – March 8, 2019
“Two for the price of one”

NIRS
Don’t Let Congress Waste America




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Shutdown Diablo – No Fukushima in California!


Tests for Safety Demanded During Re-Fueling Shutdown

Jane Fonda, Ed Asner, Dr. Helen Caldicott & 1000s of other Californians want the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant to go through rigorous safety testing following Fairewinds 2017 report showing that PG&E is deferring millions of dollars of vital maintenance work.  This Fairewinds Report by Chief Nuclear Engineer Arni Gundersen tells why.

Diablo Canyon Defers Millions Of Dollars Of Maintenance

An Analysis By Fairewinds Associates, Inc for Mothers For Peace

 By the Fairewinds Crew

Deferring maintenance of critical energy infrastructure can lead to death and devastation as evidenced by two major episodes in California.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has a history of deferring maintenance, most notably of gas pipelines that led to 8 deaths in the San Bruno suburb of San Francisco September 9, 2010, and more recently, it was PG&E’s lack of maintenance on electrical wires that likely sparked California’s deadly Camp Fire Blaze in November 2018 that led to the deaths of at least 85 people.

In 2016, Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates Inc was retained by Mothers For Peace in San Luis Obispo to analyze documents presented by PG&E regarding the condition of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant and to write a report for the California Public Utilities Control (CPUC) assessing its current condition for continued operation. Diablo Canyon was designed, built, and operated by PG&E beginning in 1965.

Fairewinds identified numerous examples of dangerously deferred maintenance for critical mechanical portions of the Diablo Canyon atomic power plant that were submitted in Mr. Gundersen’s testimony to the CPUC on January 27th, 2017. The Fairewinds’ report was submitted today as part of a petition, endorsed by Jane Fonda, Ed Asner, as well as numerous other celebrities, academics, and activist groups, that was sent to California Governor Gavin Newsom asking that Diablo Canyon undergo rigorous safety testing to ensure it is as safe as PG&E claims.

Now that PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection on January 29th, 2019, it is likely that new cash constraints will further delay critical plant repairs. Delay of these vital repairs at Diablo Canyon further exacerbates the ongoing danger of operating an aging nuclear power plant that has severe mechanical deficiencies and is located on numerous earthquake faults.

Read More

Sign the Petition:

Gov.Newsom,Test Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant for Safety

To be delivered to Michael Picker, Pres., Public Utilities Commission, Liane Randolph, Commissioner, Public Utilities Commission, Martha Guzman Aceves, Commissioner, Public Utilities Commission, Clifford Rechtschaffen, Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission, Governor Gavin Newsom, The California State House, The California State Senate We, the people of California, ask Governor Newsom and other state leaders to order the controversial Diablo Canyon nuclear plant tested for potential dangers involving seismic vulnerability, pressure vessel damage and nuclear waste leakage before the reactor is allowed to re-open after being shut down for refueling in February.

1,025 signatures. NEW goal – We need 2,000!

Sign Here





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DIABLO CANYON UNIT #1 MUST BE TESTED BEFORE REFUELING



DIABLO CANYON UNIT #1 MUST BE TESTED BEFORE REFUELING
Harvey Wasserman for PG&E Shareholders for Diablo Safety (PSDS)
[ also posted on LA Progressive ]

PG&E Shareholders for Diablo Safety (PSDS)

We ask that critical safety tests be done during the upcoming refueling outage at Diablo Canyon Unit One, currently scheduled to start February 3, before new fuel is loaded into the core.

This shutdown provides the perfect opportunity to examine the facility without unduly halting operations. We do not ask that the reactor be permanently closed – only that it be tested to prove it is safe to restart, The proposed insertion of a new fuel rod assembly at Unit One will cost PG&E an estimated $50-100 million. 

If tests prove the Unit unsafe, this expenditure will waste millions to which, by law, creditors and catastrophe victims now have claim in bankruptcy court. Before Unit One is reloaded with nuclear fuel, the key evaluations must be finished and subjected to public hearings.

The final restart decision must be made by the state. 

The state, CPUC, unions, local community and some environmental groups recently made a deal with PG&E that it would not seek license renewals for Units One & Two in 2024-2025, thus guaranteeing the plant would then shut.  PG&E agreed to retrain many of its workers, and admitted that the power could be replaced with renewables.

Here are several key issues that arise with this refueling outage:

1. EMBRITTLEMENT:  In 2005 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission warned that Diablo Unit One was among the five most embrittled reactors in the US.  Because the internals of all atomic reactors are subjected to intense intense heat, pressure and radiation, critical metals and welds can lose their resiliency.  Should cold water be poured in to contain a runaway reaction, embrittled components can shatter, leading to catastrophe.  The degree of embrittlement at Unit One can be easily and cheaply tested while it is down for refueling using “coupons” (bits of metal inserted into key parts of the reactor for precisely this purpose) for destructive analysis.  Note that Unit One was built with an inordinate amount of copper, which may make it more vulnerable than most to embrittlement.  The test results must be made public and subjected to a public hearing. 

2.   COMPONENT CRACKING:  All reactor pressure vessels and other key components can develop cracks under the high temperatures, pressure and radiation involved in a fission reaction.  Unit One’s age makes it imperative that ultra-sound devices be deployed to inspect the reactor’s internals.  Such tests can be done relatively easily and cheaply while the reactor is shut.  Again, the findings must be made public and subjected to open hearings. 

3.  DEFERRED MAINTENANCE:  Since perhaps as early as 2010, PG&E has been deferring key repairs and component replacements on the assumption that Diablo would close no later than its 2025 license expiration.  It’s imperative the state, bankruptcy court and public see exactly what PG&E has not done and does not plan to do in the six years remaining on its license.

4. WASTE MANAGEMENT:  Cracking and mishandling of dry casks and other issues at other nuclear sites, including San Onofre, make essential a full evaluation of waste management issues at Diablo.  In particular, it appears PG&E plans to store Diablo’s extremely radioactive spent fuel arrays in Holtec casks that are less than one inch thick.  By contrast, Germany stores its spent fuel assemblies in casks that are 19 inches thick.  This demands public scrutiny. 

5.  SEISMIC VULNERABILITY:  A dozen earthquake faults have been discovered surrounding Diablo since Unit One was designed.  NRC site inspector Dr. Michael Peck, in residence at Diablo for five years, has warned the reactors might not withstand a credible quake.  Dr. Peck’s initial memo was buried by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and he was transferred to Tennessee.  However, he has written publicly about his concerns.  Note that Diablo is half the distance from the San Andreas fault as was Fukushima from the epicenter of the quake that destroyed it.  Dr. Peck must be publicly debriefed and the seismic issues at Diablo subjected to an open hearing before Unit One is reloaded.

6. PG&E’S COMPETENCE:  PG&E is entering bankruptcy while implicated in eight deaths in San Bruno, unimaginable destruction in northern California, and much more.  The company’s financial and managerial abilities to operate a large nuclear facility like Diablo are in serious question. The imminent $50-100 million installation of  a new fuel rod assembly must be stopped, at least until there is proof Unit One is safe, to protect the legitimate claims of the bankrupt utility’s shareholders, creditors, and catastrophe victims.

The company must now depend on the state for massive legal and financial assistance. In return, the state has every right and responsibility to take charge of the safety challenges at Diablo, and to make the final decision as to whether it is safe to re-start after the upcoming outage. 

The above-mentioned issues do not relate to whether one supports or opposes nuclear power.  They simply address the mechanical ability of the state’s largest power generator to operate safely. 

7. USEFUL?  At this point California is awash in electric power supply and probably does not need Diablo’s capacity.  Nor is it likely the electricity produced at Diablo can economically compete with the onrush of renewables.  In fact, PG&E has admitted all Diablo’s power can be replaced with available renewables.  Furthermore, because it cannot easily shut and restart to meet fluctuating demand, Diablo’s presence on the grid can be a burden, resulting in the shutdown of renewable facilities from time to time.

Before Unit One is re-loaded with fuel, the state and bankruptcy court must hold public hearings to evaluate whether there is any economic need re-start Unit One.

We have written Governor Newsom with these concerns, and are contacting other elected officials, the California Public Utilities Commission, state commissions, the bankruptcy court and others.

The decision on loading new fuel into Diablo #1 must be made by the public and its representatives in a way that best serves all of our long-term interests.  We are dedicated to making that happen.

Harvey Wasserman for PG&E Shareholders for Diablo Safety (PSDS)
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Woolsey Fire Fallout – 60 Year-Old Meltdown Rides Again

Prevailing wind patterns carried smoke from recent CA fires across the country.  Fallout from a nuclear reactor or radioactive waste storage accident at San Onofre or Diablo Canyon in CA could follow a similar path. – Image adapted from a NOAA animation.


What Goes Around, Comes Around

The recent disastrous Woolsey Fire just north of L.A. started near a Southern California Edison electrical substation adjacent to the site of America’s first  – and possibly worst – nuclear reactor meltdown at Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) in 1959.  Ironically, the company that operated that faulty experimental reactor whose secret  meltdown spread deadly radioactive fallout across the surrounding population, was…Southern California Edison.

The radioactivity from that 1959 event, together with toxic chemical pollution from extensive rocket testing at the site was absorbed into the local soil, vegetation and structures.  Radioactive and toxic contaminants were then re-released by the Woolsey fire into smoke that NOAA maps show traveled around the region, up and down the coast and then across the nation as far away as New York. 

It was a graphic illustration of how a nuclear disaster on the West Coast can impact the whole country.

For 30 years thousands of nearby residents have demanded cleanup of the 2,849-acre Santa Susana site currently owned by Boeing to prevent ongoing disasters like the recent fire.  Boeing refuses to cleanup saying there’s no problem.

In the following videos journalist Harvey Wasserman and Denise Duffield, Associate Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility- L.A. discuss the implications of the Woolsey Fire with regional residents in these excerpts from the December 2018 meeting of Americans for Democratic Action – Southern California, in Culver City.

Part 1 of 2



Part 2 – Q&A

Fairewinds Energy Education is collecting dust and air filter samples from local citizens to be analyzed for radioactive contamination.  Citizens are invited to learn how to submit samples for analysis.

For more information:

After The Dust Settles:  A Woolsey Fire Sampling Update
By Arnie Gundersen – Fairewinds Energy Education

Critique of DTSC “Interim Summary” of Woolsey Fire 12 – 18 – 18 PDF
Prepared by Daniel Hirsch, the retired Director of the Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and President of the Committee to Bridge the Gap.


adasocal.org

PSR-LA 

Solartopia.org

Denise Duffield  PSR-LA Associate Director dduffield@psr-la.org

Legacy of a Meltdown  – By James Heddle & Mary Beth Brangan – EON

Watch Smoke From CA Fires Disperse Over U.S.  NOAA Animation

 

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Legacy of a Meltdown

Did the 2018 Woolsey California fire recirculate radioactive fallout from a covered up Southern California Edison partial meltdown in 1959?  Can that same company now be trusted to safely operate a nuclear waste dump on the beach by the rising sea?

By James Heddle & Mary Beth Brangan – EON

[ An earlier version of this article was published on Reader Supported News ]

Path of smoke from CA fires shows how fallout from West coast disasters can impact the country. Photo: NOAA


What Goes Around, Comes Around

The devastating Woolsey Fire officially started at 2:24pm on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.  

By November 18, it had burned 96,949 acres, caused three deaths, the evacuation of over 250,000 people and destroyed 1,452 structures from Thousand Oaks to Malibu.

A traffic jam from citizens evacuating Malibu. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images


Southern California Edison (SCE) reported to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that at Nov. 8 at 2:22pm – two two minutes earlier than when fire started – its Chatsworth substation suffered an outage.  According to a CPUC document, that substation is “within the larger Boeing Rocketdyne Santa Susana complex.”  


Edison equipment
’s role in possibly sparking the fire is now being investigated.  And thereby hangs a tale.

Chatsworth substation, between apparent site of start of fire to the right and location of the 1959 SRE reactor partial meltdown to the left.


Just Over the Hill from LA

Just a 45-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles, that Santa Susana Field Laboratory complex also happens to be the site of America’s first and worst partial nuclear meltdown…so far, only about 1,000 yards away from where Southern California Edison’s currently suspect Chatsworth substation is now located. “Though we must wait for fire authorities to conclude their investigation,’ says Denise Duffield, Associate Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA), “it is ironic that an electrical substation built for a reactor that melted down six decades ago now may now be associated with a catastrophic fire that began on the SSFL site that is still badly contaminated from that accident and numerous other spills and releases.” 


In an irony of history, the reactor that partially melted down nearly 60 years ago was operated by… Southern California Edison.

The Santa Susana Field Lab’s (SSFL) Horrendous Legacy



In 1947, fresh from WWII successes and record profits, giant weapons-maker North American Aviation opened an experimental facility for rockets, missiles and nuclear energy just miles from the San Fernando and Simi Valleys. 

The Santa Susana Field Lab was home to the SNAP-10, the first nuclear reactor to be launched into space.  Intense toxic and radioactive contamination pervades the site that had ten nuclear reactors and multiple rocket experiments.  (It was closed in 1996.)

In 1956, the company’s Atomics International division signed a contract with Southern California Edison to construct and operate an experimental sodium graphite-cooled reactor for electricity production.

In 1957, Edward R. Murrow narrated while more than 20 million CBS viewers watched as Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss threw the switch and electricity generated by the new reactor lit up the nearby town of Moorpark…but not for long.

In 1959, that sodium reactor became America’s first partial nuclear meltdown when Southern California Edison operators pushed it beyond its limits.

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Daniel Hirsch is a nuclear policy consultant who directs the Committee to Bridge the Gap (CBG) and until recently was Professor of Nuclear Policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  For decades, Hirsch has been working to document the tragic impact that meltdown continues to have in communities throughout the region from cancer clusters and environmental damage.  He has spent years advocating for a cleanup of the site that has yet to happen.

“When I began this work,” he says, “I had no preconceived notions regarding nuclear power. My views of nuclear power have changed by decades of interaction with the operators of nuclear facilities and the regulators. My view of the technology has been shaken by the incapability of these institutions to be honest.”

For Hirsch, his long years of experience with the Santa Susana facility are a perfect case in point.

Southern California Edison operated the Sodium Reactor Experiment, or SRE, on contract with a management style that Hirsch says was a preview of future developments.

One of the Worst Nuclear Accidents 

“They ran this reactor; they knew that they had leaks.  They had a power excursion, meaning that the power runs out of control exponentially in fractions of a second. They could barely shut the reactor down. They were jamming control rods in and the power was still going up because the reactor was badly designed.

“They looked to figure out what had caused the accident; they could not figure it out.  And two hours later, they start up again not knowing what had caused the problem. They ran it for more than a week and then eventually when they shut down, they found that a third of the core experienced melting – one of the worse accidents in nuclear history.  And the reactor had no containment structure so they vented the radioactivity directly into the environment.”

A Pattern of Cover-ups

For over a week, the reactor’s damaged fuel rods spewed radioactive particles and gases into the atmosphere – by some estimates, many hundreds of times more than from the Three Mile Island partial meltdown 20 years later.  In both cases, the cover-ups began at once.

The Santa Susana release was covered up for two decades, then falsely minimized – a now-familiar pattern with nuclear events.

Nuclear Pioneer at San Onofre

Southern California Edison advertises with pride being a ‘pioneer’ of nuclear energy.  Not mentioned is its role in the landmark Santa Susana meltdown event.

Despite its involvement in the Santa Susana disaster – which is still exposing local residents to harmful radionuclides – the very next year, 1960, Edison announced its ‘belief in the efficacy of nuclear power’ and its intention to build a full-scale nuclear plant for commercial service at San Onofre in a section of the Camp Pendleton Marine base.  The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was euphemistically called “SONGS.”

Public opposition to Edison’s San Onofre project appeared at once – when Time Magazine reported that the contractor, Bechtel Corporation, had installed a 420-ton nuclear reactor vessel backward.  Public opposition is continuing today.

Another Leak

On January 31, 2012, less than a year after the still-ongoing Fukushima disaster started, a radioactive leak occurred at San Onofre and both reactors were forced into an emergency shutdown.  Edison didn’t admit to the public for over 17 days that radioactivity was released into the environment and then insisted that it was a ‘small’ leak.  Activists began intense work to shut the plant permanently.

On June 7, 2013, threatened with staunch regional opposition, official public hearings and mounting costs, SCE announced it would permanently shutdown and decommission SONGS.

Elated activists celebrated a victory but elation soon faded.  They realized that over 3.6 million pounds of high level radioactive waste in the form of used or ‘spent fuel’ assemblies had accumulated on-site in the SONGS’ 30 years of operation and – in the absence of a federal radioactive waste repository – was likely to be stored there for an indefinite period…possibly permanently. 

Used fuel, misleadingly labeled ‘spent fuel’ is exponentially more radioactive when it comes out of the reactors than when it went in.  This is highly unstable radioactive material that will be lethal more than 250,000 years – far longer than any civilization has yet existed.

Nuclear-Waste-Dump-by-the-Sea for “Chernobyls-in-a-Can”

To activists’ dismay, further research and investigation revealed that SCE’s on-site storage location was only 108 ft. from the beach and 31 inches above the ground water, over an earthquake fault in a tsunami zone with rapid sea level rise predicted by some to be more than 10 feet in coming years. 

Yet, despite strong concerns by both public and experts, on October 6, 2015 the California Coastal Commission approved the SCE radioactive waste storage plan using thin Holtec canisters which cannot be checked for the condition of the fuel inside, monitored for cracks or repaired in the event of damage. 

The 5/8 inch thin stainless steel canisters are subject to corrosion in the damp sea air, which can cause through-wall cracking.  Studies indicate that air or water entering through a crack could cause a canister to have a hydrogen explosion.  Each canister contains roughly a Chernobyl’s-worth of radioactive Cesium contamination.  Yet SCE is rushing to move these canisters of deadly radioactive waste into the concrete vaults on the beach by early 2019 to save money, shift liability and to decrease the security required.

Blowing the Whistle on Incompetence and Illegality

“I may not have a job tomorrow for what I’m about to say,” the young man at the public comments microphone said, swallowing hard, “but that’s fine.  Because I made a promise to my daughter that if no one else talked about what happened on Friday, that I would.” 

With those words, David Fritch, a safety observer of issues related to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at the San Onofre nuclear power plant site began his statement at the August 9, 2018 Southern California Edison-sponsored Community Engagement Panel meeting in Oceanside, California. 

Mr. Fritch went on to describe an incident he had observed on August 3rd during the loading of the 5/8 inch thick stainless steel canister, containing 49 tons of deadly radioactive fuel rods into a concrete vault a few yards above the beach at the plant site.  The canister became lodged on a ¼ inch ledge four feet into the vault but operators didn’t realize it for nearly an hour and released the rigging holding it.  Unsecured, it could have dropped 18 feet to the concrete below.  Many believe that what he reported narrowly missed resulting in a damaged or ruptured canister that could have caused a major nuclear disaster on the Southern California coast, potentially affecting the entire state, nation and beyond. [ video link , transcript link ]

SanOnofreSafety.org’s founder Donna Gilmore and others worry that the engineering flaws that caused the canister to be stuck on the ledge have scratched or gouged the other 29 canisters containing the lethal waste previously lowered into the vaults.  These scratches in the thin stainless steel could lead to even more rapid corrosion and through wall cracks.  Studies indicate under normal conditions through wall cracks can occur within a scant 16 years.  Edison denies any problem.

That near miss catastrophe, the second of its kind, followed other problems at San Onofre in which three Holtec canisters were loaded with a defective shim that was not discovered until a fourth canister was being loaded into the concrete pad. 

Endemic Lax Safety Culture

David Fritch went on to describe mismanagement and a lax safety culture at the Southern California Edison-run facility.  “We’re undermanned. We don’t have the proper personnel to get things done safely.“  He also reported poorly trained workers; frequent worker replacement; the discouragement of voicing safety concerns; and an apparent corporate tendency to cover-up incidents like the one he had just observed.

Later in the meeting, Donna Gilmore, a retired systems analyst, charged that the company was violating its Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license because of its admitted inability to repair, open or replace a damaged nuclear waste canister, as its NRC license regulation requires.

Edison says they will try to move the fuel elsewhere very soon, all the while rapidly loading the canisters into the concrete on the beach.  Many doubt Edison’s sincerity.

Just days before, in a local TV interview, Gregory Jaczko, former Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, had given this warning: “…Quite frankly, once they get loaded, I don’t see them ever taking those canisters out of there. Realistically, they are not going to move them out, so those permits will be extended, the operational period will be extended on indefinitely and you will have a de facto burial site there.”   

Stop the loading process

Loading at the site has now been halted pending completion of an NRC investigation.  A growing chorus of local residents is now calling for a moratorium on further loading of the seaside dump until less risky alternatives can be explored.  Demands are growing for much thicker walled casks that can be monitored and repaired as well as transported to higher ground away from the beach.

These new (literally potentially explosive) revelations are but the latest in an unfolding drama at San Onofre that has spanned more than six decades. 

Southern California Edison’s record of safety violations and cover ups caused by profit-based decisions, stretch from Santa Susana’s partial meltdown in 1959, to  San Onofre’s 2012 radioactive leaks, to nearly dropping a flimsy container of 50 tons of lethal radioactive waste 18 ft. to concrete below at San Onofre, to the Santa Susana 2018 fire.

Just as fire can transport long-lived radionuclides from contaminated soil and vegetation, the ocean spray and water will eventually corrode the thin canisters holding the millions of pounds of deadly waste.   Canisters are only guaranteed from manufacturers defects for 20 years and are not constructed to last much longer than that.

Will Southern California Edison be allowed to continue its pattern of releasing huge amounts of radioactivity into the environment? 

It’s a drama emblematic of the Atomic Age, characterized by ‘toxic management,’ as one commentator puts it, “a uniquely dysfunctional safety culture that epitomizes the nuclear industry’s broader vulnerability to profit-driven opportunism.” 

Edison’s Santa Susana Legacy Haunts San Onofre

Ownership of the Santa Susana site has changed hands over the years, and with it, responsibility for clean-up, which has yet to happen.  Edison was partnering with Atomics International when the partial meltdown spewed its poisons across the landscape.  

The Woolsey fire imbroglio has ignited a firestorm of public attention sparked in part by a Twitter barrage from two Kardashian sisters, who live downwind.  A petition started by Melissa Bumstead, mother of a child with a rare leukemia, who lives five miles from the SSFL site for SSFL clean up is in viral circulation.

No radiation monitoring by the government has been found trustworthy by local residents.  However, for people within 25 miles of the Santa Susana field lab, Arnie and Maggie Gundersen of Fairewinds Energy Education  will test samples of their test house dust for radioactive “hot particles” free of charge. info@FairewindsEnergy.org

NBC-LA reporter Joel Graver has been reporting on this story for 30 years.  He has skin in the game.  As a kid, he attended a popular summer camp near the site that has now been revealed to have been contaminated.  His reports give the lie to current feel-good official assurances.  

The California Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has regulatory oversight over the parties responsible for cleaning up the contamination – the Dept. of Energy, NASA, and the Boeing Company.  A mere 10 hours after the fire began at Santa Susana, and prior to an investigation, the agency released a statement saying it doesn’t ‘believe’ the fire caused the release of hazardous substances.

“The Woolsey Fire likely released and spread radiological and chemical contamination that was in SSFL’s soil and vegetation via smoke and ash,” said Dr. Bob Dodge, President of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles.

“All wildfire smoke can be hazardous to health, but if SSFL had been cleaned up long ago as DTSC promised, we’d at least not have to worry about exposure to dangerous radionuclides and chemicals as well.”

With these new revelations people up and down coast and around the country are asking, what does Edison’s legacy of mismanagement of nuclear technology say about trusting it to safely design and operate a nuclear waste dump on the beach in a tsunami and earthquake zone in the face on oncoming climate change and sea rise?  Will this facility, if completed, set a low-bar standard for other waste storage facilities in the United States and the world?

Nuclear waste management consultant Tom English, like many others, has a low opinion of the Edison seaside waste storage plan, “We should basically say, ‘you guys can’t do anything [more] until you can inspect and monitor.”  Donna Gilmore thinks the whole approach is a lemon and offers solutions.

Dan Hirsch sums up the nuclear waste conundrum facing not just San Onofre, but our country and the world community:  “We created the technology, nuclear power, that produced toxic waste that we had no idea what to do with. It was like building a sailboat in your basement, not figuring out how you’re gonna get it out.”

“We’re talking about waste that has to be managed for half a million years. There’s just no human institution you can count on doing that. 

“So we were idiots to produce it. We’re idiots to produce an ounce more of it. The stuff that’s been produced – -you have to do the best you can with basically knowing you can’t do very well with it. But that’s no excuse to produce more of it when there’s no good solution.”

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James Heddle & Mary Beth Brangan co-direct EON – the Ecological Options Network .  Their forthcoming documentary SHUTDOWN: The Case of San Onofre is now in post-production.  They can be reached at jamesmheddle@gmail.com & mbbrangan@gmail.com

 

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