The Nuclear Free Legacy of S. David Freeman

S. David Freeman testifies in a 2002 Senate hearing on Enron’s alleged energy price manipulation in California. (Dennis Cook/AP)

S. David Freeman, green-energy champion who advised presidents, dies at 94

May 13, 2020 at 5:34 p.m. PDT

S. David Freeman, an engineer, lawyer and Stetson-sporting “green cowboy” who championed renewable energy, advised three presidents and led some of the nation’s largest public utilities, died May 12 at a hospital in Reston, Va. He was 94.  Read More

Lifetime No Nukes Record
Freeman helped close down more nuclear reactors in his career than any other administrator. 

In this exclusive April, 2013 EON interview, Freeman laid out – in his characteristically outspoken style – why he was then working with local activist groups and Friends of the Earth (FoE) to close down Southern California Edison’s leaking SONGS plant.

Edison announced the plant’s final shutdown just 3 months later on June 7, 2013.

Another feather in S. David’s signature Stetson.



Please check out our forthcoming feature documentary on the emblematic San Onofre story – in which Freeman appears – SHUTDOWN.

If you want to make a tax-deductible contribution to EON’s on-going work, you can do so here.

Thank you.

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The Case for Shutting Down Diablo, Now

Painting: “Meltdown At Diablo” – ArtOfMarkBryan.com

Will Gov. Newsom act to force an early shutdown of California’s last nuclear plant?

By James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan, EON

No Sympathy for Diablo…or PG&E

Why is a convicted felon corporation, now in the throes of its second bankruptcy, being allowed to run an aged nuclear power plant in an earthquake zone at a yearly loss that could cost ratepayers a whopping $8 Billion by its scheduled shut down in 2025, when the electricity it produces is not even needed?

Why not shut it down now for both safety and financial reasons?

These are the urgent questions growing numbers of concerned citizens are demanding California Governor Gavin Newsom answer. Pacific Gas and Electric’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power station on the Pacific coast near San Luis Obispo, is the state’s ‘last nuke standing.”

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Why The Nuclear Safety Ball is in Newsom’s Court

Newsom is in a position to decide the fate of both the failed utility and its obsolete and dangerous power plant in the next few months.

The issues involved in his deliberations were given a public airing on Feb. 15, 2020 at the “Shut Diablo Canyon 2020,” Conference organized by CodePINK‘s Cynthia Papermaster at the Historic Unitarian Universalist Hall in Berkeley, CA.

[Please scroll to the end of this article for video excerpts]

Papermaster and Author-Teacher Joanna Macy talked about practicing what Macy calls Active Hope in the growing campaign aimed at bringing about the early shutdown of Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.

Mothers for Peace Spokesperson Linda Seeley described the serious safety issues surrounding long-term storage of tons of lethal radioactive waste at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon reactor site after it is shut down.

Attorney John Geesman and author-activist Harvey Wasserman and made the case for Governor Newsom to use his authority to shut down Pacific Gas & Electric’s aged, embrittled Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant immediately, and to not allow it to operate for its scheduled five more years

They pointed out that PG&E – now in bankruptcy court for devastating California fires – also found criminally negligent in causing the lethal San Bruno gas explosion – is the only convicted felon being allowed to operate a dangerous nuclear plant.

Furthermore, PG&E ‘s own calculations show it operating Diablo Canyon at a billion dollar per year loss that the company is attempting to pass on to ratepayers and to CCAs.

PG&E’s current desperate ploy, explained energy democracy organizer Jessica Tovar of the Local Clean Energy Alliance, is to attempt to sell its un-needed nuclear electricity to CCA’s whose expressed purpose is to support the growth of clean, non-carbon based, non-nuclear energy.

Diablo Canyon sits on the California coast in San Luis Obispo county over intersecting earthquake faults.

Unsettling Truths Trigger A Change of Heart

Geesman is the former Executive Director and then Commissioner of the California Energy Commission and has been involved in litigating nuclear safety issues for decades. He explained how his organization, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, was a key party to the original agreement to shutter Diablo’ reactors in 2024 and 2024, but has now changed its mind on the basis of new data, and is advocating for Diablo Canyon’s immediate closure.

California ratepayers are unknowingly on the hook for billions of Diablo’s ‘Above Market Costs’

The new hard data that caused the Alliance’s reversal have been extracted from PG&E’s own projections of the ‘above market costs’ that would accrue from running Diablo’s reactors – essentially at a loss – until 2025..

As Geesman tells it, “I didn’t try and calculate these numbers myself. I asked PG&E, ‘well, how do you calculate it?’ And of course they wouldn’t answer it directly so you have to ask 30 questions to get the right answers and you add answer 11 to answer 14 to answer 23 and it turns out that in 2018 Diablo Canyon cost PG&E $410 million in above market costs, $410 million. That is a lot of money to most people.”

What are ‘Above Market Costs?’

In response to a question from the audience, Attorney Geesman explained the concept this way:

“PG&E has a choice: You can buy 2200 megawatts from the market, and the methodology establishes, well, how do you value that price? What value do you put on carbon offsets? What value do you put on resource adequacy, reliability?

“Or you can recover the costs that you’ve recorded at Diablo Canyon. In 2018 that delta was $410 million. In 2019 it jumped up to 1 billion or 1,186,000,000. In 2020 PG&E estimates it is $1,258,000,000.”

Geesman went on to wryly observe, “This is not really trending in the right direction from anybody’s standpoint and if it continues at the 2020 rate, by the time the plant closes, it will have accumulated a little more than $8 billion in above market costs.”

A key reason for that, Geesman explained, is that in the years since 2017 PG&E’s share of the electricity market has dropped by almost half – from 82% in that year to only 43% this year. And the key reason for that has been the exponential spread of Community Choice Aggregation, which is proving to be the nemesis of investor owned utilities (aptly termed IOUs ) like PG&E around the state.

“Because of CCAs,” said Geesman, “PG&E is losing customers hand over fist.” Geesman summarized that at PG&E’s current (and dropping) 43% of market share, “about three quarters of the plant’s output cannot be justified.”

PG&E’s Nuclear War on Community Choice Clean Energy

Community Choice Aggregation, or CCAs, emerged from the grassroots struggle to force reluctant utilities to choose safe energy sources. CCAs allow cities and counties to join together in Joint Power Authorities, aggregate their collective energy needs, then purchase at quantity prices and/or generate their own clean, renewably sourced energy.


(Full disclosure – EON campaigned for CCA’s in CA.  See: Going Local: The Movement for Community Choice Energy   &  Community Choice )

PG&E has fought tooth and nail against the rise of CCAs, first by attempting to block them with legislation, then charging customers exorbitant ‘exit fees’ for switching over to their local CCA.

Geesman explained, “The [California] Public Utilities Commission, which most people would tell you is significantly less than an honest broker on these issues,” attempted to come to the aid of the threatened utility. 

The CPUC, Geesman said “in an effort in 2018 to come up with another way to step on the windpipe of community choice aggregation, developed an exit fee methodology that for the first time was going to charge community choice aggregation customers their proportionate share for Diablo Canyon.”

The move, said Geesman, was “intended to be something of a poison pill for the organizations of the CCAs.”

Harvey Wasserman satirized, “Okay, you want to buy electricity from somewhere else? You’re going to pay us even after you’ve left us. It’s like you buy clothes at Walmart one week and then the next week you go to Target, but Walmart charges you a tax on what you’re buying at Target. It’s exactly what’s going on here. It’s beyond anything that makes any sense except for the corrupt payments of PG& E.”

Jessica Tovar explained that the reason her alliance pushed for a CCA was not only to replace PG&E as their source of electricity, but to have the money paid for their electricity put back into the community to pay for what could be called components of a green new deal. One of the examples she gave was to fund resiliency hubs that could serve the community during a power shut off. “We want to have true clean energy that we can see in our communities” Tovar explained.

PG&E has long been opposed to empowered local community ownership and in fact, since the 1920’s has led corporate attempts to squelch public ownership of key institutions, such as utilities and insurance.

Governor Newsom is the Decider

Pointing out that PG&E is not only in its second bankruptcy, but is “the only convicted felon being allowed to run a nuclear power plant,” Geesman concluded, “I … want to leave you with one conclusion and only one conclusion, we want to keep this as simple as possible. And that is the decision on whether or not to close this plant is going to be made in the next six months and it’s going to be made by one guy.

“His name is Gavin Newsom and he is accountable to each and every one of you, and frankly I think on energy matters he probably thinks that he is your friend and you are his friends. You are the core of his political base on energy issues.

“Don’t ever, ever forget that.

“He hasn’t made a choice yet because of the PG&E bankruptcy. If PG&E’s going to survive as a company, he’s going to have to say yes and there’s some very good reasons from a dollars and cents standpoint that if, in fact, they do survive, they certainly ought not to keep running Diablo Canyon.”

A Strategy for Forcing an Early Diablo Shutdown

Lifelong clean energy activist and Solartopia author Harvey Wasserman has been leading a petition campaign for months aimed at forcing a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspection of the aged, embrittled Diablo Canyon reactors during one of the regularly scheduled shutdown of the reactors for refueling. So far, no inspection has happened.

With a refueling now scheduled for next fall, he is asking people to support his inspection petition here.

A National Conundrum – Now What Do We Do With the Waste?

Diablo Canyon’s tons of radioactive waste will be ‘stranded’ in canisters on the hill above the reactor site (left) for an unknown period after shutdown.

Detail of the outdoor, above ground radioactive waste storage site at Diablo.


There is currently no long-promised, but still non-existent national central repository for the tons of radioactive waste, accumulated from decades of operation, now ‘stranded’ at the nation’s over 100 reactor sites.

With at least nine other nuclear power plants scheduled to be shut down in coming months, and a cascade of other reactor shutdowns soon to follow, awareness is growing of the so far unsolved national conundrum shared by all reactor communities. California already has tons of lethal ‘stranded’ waste at Humboldt Bay, Rancho Seco and now at San Onofre.

Based on her decades of work on nuclear safety issues, Mothers for Peace Spokesperson Linda Seeley laid out the serious risks surrounding long-term storage of the tons of radioactive waste at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon reactor site both now after it is shut down.
“Our job now is to make sure the waste is stored in the best way humanly possible.”  And right now, “We don’t know that (the current 1/2 inch stainless steel radioactive waste containers) are ok because they can’t be inspected!”

Choices made at Diablo could well set the standard for nuclear waste management across the country as more of the US fleet of aged reactors are shutdown in coming years.

Governor Gavin Newsom has many balls in his court.  The key take-home from this event is, let him know what YOU think about this issue.

You can contact Governor Gavin Newsom by e-mail at:
https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail/

Mailing address:
Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160


Video Excerpts

Pt. 1 Practicing Active Hope – Papermaster & Macy

Conference organizer Cynthia Papermaster and Author-Teacher Joanna Macy apply the concept of Active Hope to bringing about the early shutdown of Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.



Pt. 2 – Nuclear Waste at Diablo – Linda Seeley

Mothers for Peace Spokesperson Linda Seeley describes the serious safety issues surrounding long-term storage of tons of radioactive waste at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon reactor site after it is shut down.  Choices made at Diablo could set the standard for nuclear waste management across the country as more of the US fleet of aged reactors are shutdown in coming years.



Pt 3 – Shut Diablo Canyon Now! – Wasserman & Geesman

Author-Activist Harvey Wasserman and Attorney John Geesman make the case for Governor Newsom to use his authority to shut down Pacific Gas & Electric’s aged, embrittled Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant immediately, and not allow it to operate for its scheduled five more years.




Pt 4 – Nuclear PG&E vs. Clean Energy CCAs – Jessica Tovar

Jessica Tovar of the Utility Justice Campaign tells how bankrupt PG&E is trying to sell Community Choice Clean Energy agencies nuclear power.




===============
James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan co-direct EON, the Ecological Options Network – EON3.org 
They are now completing SHUTDOWN a documentary about the power of citizen action and the obdurate nature
of entrenched interests at southern California’s San Onofre nuclear generating station. SHUTDOWN reveals the severe danger from haphazard handling of forever lasting lethal radioactive waste – a microcosm of a national challenge.
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The San Onofre Blues

Southern California Edison’s San Onofre nuclear facility straddles the region’s main north-south freeway and rail corridor. An accident here could make evacuation impossible. File photo

A Microcosm of America’s Nuclear Waste Dilemma

By James Heddle, EON   (Versions also posted at FreePress.org and ReaderSupportedNews)

The Saga of Santa Susana

On November 24, 1957, an experimental nuclear reactor at the Santa Susana Field Lab site just north of Los Angeles produced the electricity to briefly light up the nearby city of Moorpark – an historic first. 

With national TV coverage by the famed Edward R. Morrow and CBS on its popular “See It Now” series, and with officials from the fledgling US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in attendance, the event was touted as proof of the promise of commercial nuclear power in the United States. 

Just 8 months later, on July 13, 1959, that same reactor became the site of America’s first nuclear meltdown – by some estimates even worse than the subsequent meltdown at Three Mile Island. Six weeks later, the Atomic Energy Commission issued a press release citing a “minor fuel element failure.”  Other than that, news coverage of the Santa Susana event was virtually non-existent for years.   The ‘Friendly Atom’ psyops campaign was swinging into action.

In fact, massive amounts of radioactivity had been released into the surrounding local environment to be absorbed into flora and fauna – including neighboring human residents. Cancer clusters increased in the region, as far west as Malibu, over the succeeding decades – especially affecting children.  The official cover-up set the playbook pattern for government and industry responses to all the nuclear accidents that have followed – especially including Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Fifty-nine years later, on Nov 13, 2018, the Woolsey Fire – one of the largest recorded fires in L.A. County history – burned large areas of the former Santa Susana Field Lab.  The fire’s ignition point was eventually traced to the same original substation that had once helped light up Moorpark. 

The Woolsey Fire swept the region, re-lofting radioactivity and toxic chemicals long sequestered in the surrounding vegetation and building structures.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tracked the resulting radioactive smoke cloud westward to the coast and then south and eastward across the country to as far away as New York.

Those linked events suggest that the expression ‘what goes around, comes around’ is the operative phrase for the Atomic Age.

Adapted from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) animation.

Nuclear Pioneer

The company in charge of operating the experimental Santa Susana reactor was Southern California Edison (SCE).  Ironically, that happens to be the same company that has been in charge of operating the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Southern California for the past three decades, and that is now in charge of decommissioning the plant’s two shutdown reactors and managing its tons of accumulated lethal nuclear waste.

Edison now characterizes itself as a ‘nuclear power pioneer,’ but its PR material does not mention its role at the Santa Susana disaster. 

While in operation, the Edison facility at San Onofre – in the densely-populated region between Los Angeles and San Diego – maintained the dubious distinction of being not only the US nuclear plant with the highest number of employee reports of serious safety violations, but also the one with the worst record of retaliation against whistleblowing employees.

The San Onofre Syndrome

The plant is known by the happy-sounding acronym SONGS, for San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.  Years of informed citizen action succeeded in shutting down the leaking plant in 2013 – despite utility and government efforts to keep it going, even after it failed and leaked.

However, celebration by victorious activists living around SONGS was short-lived when they discovered that Southern California Edison – with official acquiescence by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC); the California Land Commission; the California Coastal Commission; the California Public Utilities Commission; and the California Governor’s Office – was planning to bury tons of accumulated radioactive waste just above the beach, just yards from the surf.

The story gets worse.  Activist research in NRC’s and the industry’s own sources as well as mainstream media reports, have raised serious, unanswered questions about the viability and safety of the so-called independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI – pronounced Is-fi-see) at San Onofre and its supplier, Holtec International – of which more below.

The bitter lessons learned by the disillusioned and concerned residents is that government and its so-called ‘regulatory’ agencies cannot be relied upon to protect you. They are captured by the very industries they were ostensibly created to regulate. Only what Eisenhower termed in his famed farewell speech, ‘informed citizen action,’ can do the job.

Microcosm

The issues now being debated at San Onofre epitomize in microcosm those now confronting the world at large.  Once decided, they may well set a national, even global precedent – raising or lowering the bar for future waste management policy.

The root cause of the national radioactive waste dilemma is that, in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and its subsequent amended versions, the US Department of Energy (DOE) committed to the utilities to take possession of the nation’s commercial nuclear waste and transport it to a central geological repository.  Despite decades and millions of dollars of trying, no geological repository has been established. The main candidate, the Yucca Mountain project in Nevada, was terminated by the Obama Administration.  Attempts to revive it have so far failed.  Consolidated Interim Storage (CIS) is now being touted as a ‘temporary’ solution.  But the first CIS to be established may well become the only de facto national dumpsite for all the waste from all the country’s shutdown reactors. 

The only alternative is to store it on-site at all the reactors where it has been produced for the indefinite future. That’s the San Onofre Syndrome.

A complex set of issues define the emblematic San Onofre debate.  Two of those issues loom largest in the minds of informed local residents: the characteristics of the containment structures in which the tons of waste will be stored; and the character of the company that is supplying and loading them.

‘Chernobyl Cans’?

Holtec International is the contractor for Southern California Edison’s contested seaside ISFSI at San Onofre.

The Holtec canisters are made of five-eighths inch thick stainless steel welded shut with 37 bundles of thermally hot and highly radioactive hi-burnup, so-called ‘spent’ fuel rods inside.  Unprotected exposure at three feet would cause death within minutes.  They are being lowered into steel-lined cavities or silos in a concrete pad in an earthquake and tsunami zone, just above a popular surfing beach 100 feet from the rising sea.   A 2019 Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) Report to the Congress and the Energy Department titled “Preparing for Nuclear Waste Transportation” found that “stainless steel and closure welds can make the canister susceptible to chloride-induced stress corrosion cracking,” a risk intensified in San Onofre’s salty sea air environment.

A local engineer calculated – using industry numbers – the amount of radioactive material in Holtec canister at SONGS, and compared those levels to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.  He estimates that after the fuel has been ‘cooled’ for 5-years, each loaded Holtec canister at San Onofre will contain:

  • Approximately 35 times as much Plutonium as released at Chernobyl,
  • Approximately the same amount of Cesium-137 as released at Chernobyl,
  • Approximately 6 times as much Strontium-90 as released at Chernobyl.

On the basis of those calculations, critics have dubbed the Holtec canisters “Chernobyl Cans” and warn that an accident that released the contents of just one canister could render the entire region around San Onofre uninhabitable.  Edison’s public relations department poo-poos the claim.

But critics point out that dry cask systems in other countries like Germany, Japan and Switzerland are up to 19 inches thick, able to be monitored for leaks, and are fastened with bolts so that they can be opened, and the fuel repackaged in the case of problems. In contrast, the Holtec canisters in use at SONGS and other reactor sites around the country, are thin, welded shut, un-inspectible, and, according to a video statement by Holtec’s President Singh himself, un-repairable if damaged.

Boasting on its website of contracts not only across the US, but, “at over 115 reactor units around the globe,” in places as far-flung as “Brazil, Dubai, India, South Africa, Spain, U.K. and Ukraine,” Holtec rebuffs all criticism and continues to pursue its quest to dominate the burgeoning radioactive waste management and decommissioning industry.

Scandal-Plagued Companies and the Coming Decommissioning Gold Rush

Trouble is, recent revelations are raising serious questions about the company’s corporate character and manufacturing competence.  With alleged scandals of its own in Tennessee and New Jersey making the news lately, Holtec has also recently partnered with the giant Canadian firm SNC-Lavalin with a plan to buy up and decommission US nuclear plants as they are shut down. 

In Canada, SNC-Lavalin has just been ordered by the court to pay a $280M penalty over 5 years and be placed on probation in connection with a bribery and money- laundering scheme in Libya.

Decommissioning shuttered nuclear power plants and managing their waste is on pace to become a profit-rich, multi-billion dollar business as the coming cascade of US reactor shutdowns gets rolling.  Holtec and its chief competitor, the New York-based NorthStar Group Services have their eyes on the prize of billions of dollars in decommissioning trust funds accumulated at each reactor site over the years from federally mandated ratepayer charges. 

The business model appears to be to complete the decom process under budget and ahead of schedule and claim what’s left over in those trust funds – which by rights, should go back to the ratepayers.  Critics fear that the incentives built into this fast-and-cheap business model is a sure recipe for disaster.

The Holtec/SNC-Lavalin target list for buying and decommissioning shut down nuclear facilities includes Massachusetts’ Pilgrim, New Jersey’s Oyster Creek, Michigan’s Palisades, and New York’s Indian Point.  Serious concerns and opposition are being raised.  A recent report on Indian Point notes that “each project is structured as an independent corporation, shielding the two firms from financial liability if anything goes wrong.”

In Massachusetts, Senators Markey and Warren and Rep. Keating are publically criticizing an NRC decision to ignore state and local concerns and move ahead with the transfer of ownership of the Pilgrim nuclear plant from Entergy to Holtec/SNC-Lavalin.  In September, the lawmakers wrote to the NRC urging it to reject Entergy and Holtec’s request for the plant to be exempted from critical safety regulations. The NRC approved Pilgrim’s exemption despite elected officials’ and the public’s concerns.

“Once again federal regulators have bypassed the concerns of Southeastern Massachusetts and allowed the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to change hands,” said Senator Warren. “This is a punch in the gut to the people who live, work, and go to school in the area and who have rightly raised safety concerns – and should be heard.”

In New York, the organization Riverkeepers, which was instrumental in getting Indian Point shut down, reports that it is “fighting to stop Entergy from transferring Indian Point’s ownership – and the $2 billion decommissioning trust fund  – to Holtec, a company with a scandalous corporate past, little experience in decommissioning nuclear power plants and dubious experience in their core business, spent fuel management. Holtec’s culture of prioritizing its own profits over the law throws into doubt its willingness to decommission the site properly and prudently manage $2 billion of the public’s funds.”

Busted

In August of 2018, in a meeting of the SONGS Citizen Engagement Panel (CEP), a whistleblower stepped forward to reveal that, despite Edison’s failure to report it that night, one of the 50 ton canisters had nearly been dropped 18 feet during loading into a silo in the ISFSI.  “I may not have a job tomorrow,” he began, “but I promised my daughter that if they didn’t say anything, I would…. That happened.  It was a very bad day.”

His revelation led to the discovery that the stainless steel canisters are being scratched and gouged by contact with a carbon steel guide ring as they’re being lowered into the ISFSI silos. That contact sets off a chemical reaction that increases and speeds through-wall cracking and degradation of the canister walls. The original Holtec contract had claimed that no scratches would occur. 

Loading was halted for several months while the NRC investigated.

Its conclusion was that scratching and gouging is really OK.  The original contract was retroactively revised and the loading of the canisters resumed, slated to be complete in mid 2020.  This, despite the NWTRB 2019 Report, cited above, stating that scrapes can contribute to corrosion leading to through-wall cracking that may prevent transport.  Repackaging for transport would require construction on each reactor site of a massive 1-to-2 billion  dollar ‘hot cell’ facility.

Put it Here, or Put it There?  We Don’t Want it Anywhere!

In response to growing public pressure to ‘Just get it outa here!,’ Edison is giving assurances that it will move the waste to another location as soon as one is found. Its favored candidate at the moment also involves the ubiquitous Holtec.

In one of its key projects, Holtec is the applicant for an NRC license to construct a much-contested CIS (Consolidated Interim Storage) site near Hobbs, New Mexico in partnership with a local consortium of local profit-seekers calling itself the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance.

Return to Ground Zero – New Mexico, “Land of Radioactive Dis-Enchantment”

The proposed Holtec/Eddy-Lea site is in south-east New Mexico, where the lower right corner of the state meets the north west Texas ‘pan handle’ on a map of the southwest. 

The region is known to local residents as ‘Nuclear Alley.’  That’s because it is already home to the URENCO nuclear reprocessing facility outside Eunice, N.M.; the Waste Isolation Pilot Project  (WIPP) near Carlsbad, N.M., and a low-level nuclear waste dump just across the border in Texas, run by Interim Storage Partners/Waste Control Specialists (ISP/WCS) – which, in competition with Holtec – is seeking NRC approval for a high-level CIS site of its own.  The Eddy-Lea spokesperson claims the people of the region have ‘a very high nuclear IQ’ and want the dumpsite.  The region’s many opponents of the proposed site agree that they have a ‘high nuclear IQ,’ and that’s why they emphatically don’t want it.

The greater irony – raising the gnarly issue of environmental racism, even genocide – is that New Mexico was ground zero for the infamous Trinity Test in 1945 that began the Atomic Age. 

In his recent book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, arch-whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg revealed that the Manhattan Project’s nuclear physicists chose to gamble with the possibility that the Trinity nuclear bomb test could have ignited the atmosphere and ocean and extinguished life on earth.

Instead, the detonation directly impacted some 15,000 regional residents within a 50 mile radius – mostly indigenous – who were not warned of the test, and became history’s first unwitting, involuntary ‘down-winders.’  It began a global pattern impacting indigenous populations around the world, which has come to be known as nuclear colonialism, or radioactive racism.

According to the Arms Control Association

“Since the first nuclear test explosion on July 16, 1945, at least eight nations have detonated 2,056 nuclear test explosions at dozens of test sites from Lop Nor in China, to the atolls of the Pacific, to Nevada, to Algeria where France conducted its first nuclear device, to western Australia where the U.K. exploded nuclear weapons, the South Atlantic, to Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, across Russia, and elsewhere. Most of the test sites are in the lands of indigenous peoples and far from the capitals of the testing governments.”

Additionally, because New Mexico has the bad luck to have copious uranium deposits, the state and its largely Dine’/Navajo indigenous population became a main source of America’s uranium supply for its subsequent extensive atmospheric and underground nuclear bomb testing.

Work in the uranium mines became a mainstay of the local Navajo economy.  Although no uranium ore has been mined in New Mexico since 1998, an estimated 500 mines, tailing piles and holding ponds still litter the New Mexico landscape. Three of them are designated superfund sites and are the source of contamination for tens of millions of gallons of groundwater and countless acres, most of which is on Navajo land.

On July 16, 1979, a United Nuclear Corporation tailings disposal pond at its uranium mill at Church Rock, New Mexico breached its dam.  The effects of the radioactive mill tailings were far reaching with radiation from thorium- 230 and uranium spreading 80 plus kilometers down the Puerco River in New Mexico.  The Church Rock spill remains the largest release of radioactive material in U.S. history, having released more radioactivity than the Three Mile Island accident four months earlier.

According to documented sources, “Because roughly half of the Navajo population in the area get their water from unregulated sources, which became contaminated, they suffered from exposure to high levels of poisonous uranium mill tailings in the water supply. This resulted in elevated rates of kidney disease as well as [in] the affected Navajo population being 1.83 times more likely to have 1 of 33 selected defects.”

That tragic history is a large part of why thousands of opponents to the proposed Holtec/Eddy-Lea CIS site in New Mexico – from the Tribal and Hispanic populations, to public officials, from ranchers to fracking companies – are saying loud and clear, “We Don’t Want It.”  They know that once just one CIS site is opened, it may well become the de facto single repository for the entire estimated more than 80,000 metric tons of commercial nuclear waste from all the nation’s power reactors.

Stranded Waste’?

Further complicating matters, there is the knotty question of whether or not the Holtec canisters can – on technical and legal grounds – actually ever be moved at all. 

According to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Standard Contract for Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and/or High-Level Radioactive Waste (Standard Contract) (10 CFR Part 961) “DOE does not consider spent nuclear fuel in multi-assembly canisters to be an acceptable waste form, absent a mutually agreed to contract amendment.”

The NWTRB Report  states that canisters holding 37 spent fuel assemblies – like those at SONGS – are so radioactively and thermally hot that “if no repackaging occurs, some of the largest SNF canisters storing the hottest SNF would not be cool enough to meet the transportation requirements until approximately 2100”

At a recent SONGS Citizen Engagement Panel meeting, one of the panelists asked a visiting senior staffer from the NWTRB, “if the canisters that we have now are compliant and could be moved if a site opens up? That’s a yes or a no.” After a pregnant pause, the official responded, “I don’t know.”

Nationally, E&E News reports that the push for consolidated interim storage (CIS) has stalled in the Congress this year for lack of appropriations.  Lawmakers apparently fear that CIS will steal funding from development of a centralized permanent geological repository.

The Age of Nuclear Waste Begins

As what Canadian commentator Gordon Edwards has dubbed ‘the Age of Nuclear Waste’ gets underway, San Onofre is both unique and symptomatic.

Former California Congressman Darrell Issa once pointed out in a Congressional hearing that its hard to imagine a less appropriate place for a radioactive dump than San Onofre – in a densely populated, economically, agriculturally and militarily strategic region in an earthquake and tsunami zone, yards from a rising sea.

Yet, the technical deficiencies, institutional dynamics, power relationships, media confusion and dysfunctional decision-making processes involved at San Onofre are essentially typical and endemic to all reactor community situations.

With more than half of San Onofre waste already in dry storage, and loading of the Holtec ISFSI due to be completed in mid-2020, former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko’s prediction is looking more and more accurate by the day.  “Once those canisters are in the ground,” he said, “they won’t be going anywhere any time soon.”

As recognition of that hard likelihood spreads, more people are beginning to ask, “If the waste is basically here to stay, shouldn’t it be housed in the most robust, state-of-the-art containment structures currently available?”

Many are concluding that the Holtec seaside canister system clearly doesn’t fill that bill.   They fear that a fait accompli at San Onofre will set a dangerously low bar and tragic precedent for on-site waste containment practice in the US.  They are demanding that Edison stop its headlong rush to continue loading these 37 fuel assembly canisters and reconsider. 

So far, these citizen concerns have fallen on deaf ears.  Southern California citizens are on the front line of a challenge facing us all: can we find an environmentally just way to lose the San Onofre Blues?

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James Heddle co-directs EON, the Ecological Options Network with Mary Beth Brangan, who contributed to this article.  EON is producing the forthcoming feature-length documentary SHUTDOWN on the San Onofre story.

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Protesting California’s Nuclear Bomb Shop

Your tax dollars at work – Livermore Lab’s website graphic.


Nuclear Weapons “Stockpile Stewardship” –
Gearing Up for Global Destruction


Founded by the University of California, Berkeley in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California is mainly funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).  It is managed and operated by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC (LLNS), a partnership of the University of California, Bechtel, BWX Technologies, AECOM, and Battelle Memorial Institute in affiliation with the Texas A&M University System.

According to its website, “Our mission is to make the world a safer place. We lead the nation in stockpile science and deliver solutions for the nation’s most challenging security problems.” 

Behind the PR rhetoric, it is in fact a key hub in the extensive US national weapons development complex, and an epicenter of the new global nuclear arms race triggered by America’s bellicose ‘nuclear posture’ under the Trump Administration.

Every year, on the anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that began the Nuclear Age in 1945, Tri-Valley CAREs and a consortium of other citizens’ organizations organize a commemoration in opposition to what former war-planner turned whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg has dubbed America’s ‘Doomsday Machine.’

Here is EON’s video report on this year’s commemoration rally, march and non-violent protest action.

Welcome by Andrew Kodama and Julia Malakiman

Andrew Kodama and Julia Malakiman are co-emcees. They represent the fresh, dynamic leadership of young adults in the peace movement. Kodama is an educator, artist, and organizer born and raised in Walnut Creek, California. After working for the Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center for two years doing community outreach he recently transitioned into the role of Executive Director in June. Malakiman returns to the Bay Area after completing graduate studies in France in Human Rights. She leads the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center in Palo Alto. As Director, she amplifies youth and minority voices while honing in on the grassroots success that local activists before her have fought for and achieved.


Marylia Kelley addresses Livermore Lab’s role in promoting a new, destabilizing global arms race. She is Executive Director at the Livermore-based Tri-Valley CAREs and brings 36 years of research, writing and facilitating public participation in decisions regarding the Lab and the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Kelley has testified before the House Armed Services Committee of the U.S. Congress, the California Legislature and the National Academy of Sciences, among other deliberative bodies. She has lived in Livermore since 1976. Kelley was inducted into the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002.

Rev. Nobuaki Hanaoka

Nobuaki Hanaoka, the special guest speaker, was an infant when the bomb fell on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. His mother and sister died from illnesses linked to radiation poisoning and his brother died at age 39 from premature aging associated with fallout from the bomb. Rev. Hanaoka is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church, who came to the U.S. following seminary training in Japan. He has settled in the Bay Area where he speaks, writes and teaches on topics of peace and human rights. Rev. Hanaoka will present the “Hibakusha Appeal” and solicit signatures from participants.

Rafael Jesús González

Rafael Jesús González offers poetry and insight into the movement for nuclear disarmament. He is the City of Berkeley’s first Poet Laureate and an organizer of the 1983 International Day of Nuclear Disarmament. González has taught at the Univ. of Oregon, Western State College of Colorado, Central Washington State Univ., Univ. of Texas, and Laney College in Oakland, where he founded the Department of Mexican and Latin-American Studies. His poetry and academic articles appear in reviews and anthologies in the U. S., Mexico, and abroad. In 2013 he received the César E. Chávez Lifetime Award. The City of Berkeley honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

Dr. Sharat G. Lin

Dr. Sharat G. Lin speaks on current nuclear flashpoints. He is a research fellow and past President of the San José Peace and Justice Center. Lin writes and lectures on global political economy, labor migration, social movements, and public health. Last August he delivered an apology from the American people to the Japanese people for the U.S. atomic bombings at mass rallies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A medical radiation scientist by training, Lin has connections to the nuclear energy programs in Iran and India, providing him with inside knowledge of the decision-making behind those programs. His insights on the nuclear calculations of Iran and North Korea are reinforced by personal visits to these countries, and provide a vision for denuclearization.

Daniel Ellsberg on the New Nuclear Arms Race

Daniel Ellsberg – the keynote speaker. He is perhaps best known as the whistleblower who released “The Pentagon Papers” to hasten an end to the war in Vietnam. He was an analyst at RAND Corp. and a consultant to the Defense Dept., specializing in problems of command and control of nuclear weapons, war plans and crisis decision-making. In 2017 Ellsberg released his critically acclaimed memoirs, “America’s Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.”

Roxanne

Roxanne speaks on divestment from nuclear weapons and war. She is a retired Judge who has worked and lived in Indian Country and seen firsthand the impacts of sacrifice zones created by the development of nuclear weapons. Roxanne first came into contact with nuclear issues in the College of Chemistry at UC Berkeley, which moved her to pursue graduate studies in renewable energy alternatives to the pollution, destruction and terror that nuclear weapons inflict. Roxanne currently organizes with CODEPINK’s Divest From the War Machine campaign.

Call to Action – Phyllis Olin and Jackie Cabasso

Phyllis Olin and Jackie Cabasso, respectively Board Member and Executive Director of the Western States Legal Foundation give the call for non-violent action.


March & Non-Violent Action

Protesters march to the Livermore Lab gate commemorate the victims of US atomic bombs and risk arrest in opposition to the Labs nuclear weapons program.

https://youtu.be/eI1ygh3fF8s
Please support EON’s continuing work in the coming year.  DONATE

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The Unholy Nuclear Trinity – Energy, Weapons & Waste – Indigenous Impacts


EON’s Mary Beth Brangan and Jim Heddle interview Acoma Pueblo elder Petuuche Gilbert at one of the over 500 abandonded uranium mines that continue to contaminate Navajo tribal lands in New Mexico. Photo by: Libbe HaLevy

Joined At the Hips

Since their conjoined birth in the 1945 Trinity Test in the New Mexico desert that began the Atomic Age, nuclear energy, weapons and waste have been inextricably connected.

Long denied by government and industry sources, that inseparable connection has now been cited by former US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and other nuclear enthusiasts, as a prime rationale for keeping America’s deadly and dying nuclear industry going.

They argue that only by subsidizing a dangerous, obsolete and uneconomic ‘civil’ nuclear energy program, and its trained labor pool and industrial infrastructure, can the US maintain its ‘global nuclear leadership’ and ‘weapons superiority.’

EON’s work has been tracking that lethal connection for decades.

This year – as we have done in many years past – we were honored by Tri-Valley CARE’s Director Marylia Kelly to document the annual Hiroshima Day rally and non-violent direct action at the gate of Livermore Lab, a key node in America’s new nuclear arms race system.

U of C Runs California’s Nuclear Bomb Shop

As a preview, here is a clip of the keynote speaker Daniel Ellsberg, with additional powerful speakers to come soon in the series, as well as a report on the march and demonstration.



SHUTDOWN The Movie – Coming Soon

We are charging toward completion early next year of our forthcoming feature-length documentary SHUTDOWN – which explores the importance of informed citizen action in the face of America’s growing nuclear waste challenge, as aging nuclear reactors are shuttered with nowhere for their tons of accumulated lethal waste to go and the Age of Nuclear Waste begins in earnest.

Please visit SHUTDOWNfilm.com for more information.



Don’t Dump on the Southwest!

A national push (by Senator Feinstein, among others) is building for ‘temporary’ Consolidated Interim Storage (CIS) sites for the nation’s entire inventory of reactor waste that targets low-income, Hispanic and Indigenous communities in New Mexico and Texas.  We were able to travel to a recent conference in New Mexico to bring their informed, opposing voices to a wider audience.

Here’s a clip from a recent Environmental Justice Panel in Albuquerque featuring Santa Clarita Pueblo downwinder, Tina Cordova, Co-founder of the New Mexico community organization Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC).  She tells of the devastating health impacts of the Atomic Age on her people.
The devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been widely acknowledged, yet it was America’s own people and original inhabitants, the Indigenous Peoples of the southwest, who had the actual first atomic bomb dropped in their land.

The world’s first atomic bomb was detonated on July 16, 1945, in New Mexico—home to 19 American Indian pueblos, two Apache tribes and some chapters of the Navajo Nation. Manhattan Project scientists exploded the device containing six kilograms of plutonium 239 on a 100-foot tower at the Trinity Site in the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death) Valley at what is now the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range.  At the time an estimated 19,000 people lived within a 50-mile radius.

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