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Monthly Archives: July 2017

The previous NoNukesCA article was cross-posted on CounterPunch as

The Ethics and Politics of Nuclear Waste are Being Tested in Southern California

Donna Gilmore, founder of responded with the following comments which we post as a Guest Blog:

Good article, Jim. Also, important to know:
  • Any “consolidated” interim storage bill may trigger a mass movement of all the spent nuclear fuel in the country to the Southwest (Nevada, Texas and New Mexico are the current targets). 
  • This could be 10,000 or more Chernobyl cans, mostly high burnup fuel.
  • The Shimkus bill could accelerate the procurement of inferior thin-wall canisters, with cost and liability transferred from the utilities to the DOE (taxpayers). 
  • The Shimkus bill would allow existing civilian nuclear power waste sites to become defacto long-term interim storage facilities, (referred to as Monitored Retrieval Storage Facilities in this bill, in spite of not being required to be monitored or retrievable fuel storage). It allows title to be transferred to the DOE, if the State agrees. “MRS Agreements” would allow the DOE to contract with private entities to build and manage facilities as they see fit and with whatever budget appropriations Congress is willing to approve.  
  • States and local elected officials may agree to be an MRS Facility for the promised financial annual benefits of millions of dollars, with the false promise that the waste will be safely stored.
  • MRS Facilities will be totally controlled by the DOE with no other federal, congressional, state or public oversite, input or transparency.
Every DOE owned Defense Waste site has leaked. The causes parallel what will happen with the Shimkus bill, only worse, due to transport risks and the volume of high level and potentially explosive waste.  Reasons DOE Defense waste sites leak:
  • poorly designed containers that cannot be adequately monitored or maintained to PREVENT leaks, and with no adequate contingency plans for failure.
  • Inadequate funding from Congress
  • No state or public oversite or authority
  • Inadequate technical staff and project management
  • Reliance on vendors for technical expertise, who put profits before safety or are incompetent, or both.
  • Short-term planning for a long-term problem.
  • Lax regulation and oversite by the DOE and NRC.
  • DOE buying vaporware. Vaporware is promises of future solutions that don’t exist. When did it become legal for government to procure something that doesn’t exist?
  • Politics and money override safer technical solutions
  • DOE and NRC minimum requirements do not meet the object of managing nuclear waste to PREVENT LEAKS
A few clarifications
  • Thick wall casks are 10″ to 19 3/4″ thick. It’s important to state this correctly, because the industry tells elected officials “we are not aware of any casks 20″ thick.” They are technically correct by 1/4 th of an inch.
  • Canisters contain about as much lethal radioactive Cesium-137 as was released from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  The industry response is to say “it is not a Chernobyl reactor in a can”. They are technically correct. But they have not denied that each can contains about as much Cesium-137 as was released from Chernobyl. Calling these Chernobyl cans drives the nuke industry nuts and is easy for the public to comprehend, so we should repeat this as much as possible. The last thing the nuke industry wants to do is argue about how much Cesium-137 and other radionuclides are in one can.
My recommendations
  • Stop procurement and fuel loading of all thin-wall canisters.
  • Mandate the NRC and DOE meet current NWPA requirements for monitored retrievable fuel storage and transport. (Instead of deleting these requirements as the Shimkus and Issa bills do).
  • Mandate they require best available technology internationally. 
  • Mandate aging management be built into the design of the containers (just as you would expect in a car).
  • Mandate NRC and DOE only approve and use containers that are transportable, can be inspected (inside and out), repaired, maintained and monitored to prevent leaks, and have a plan in place to deal with leaks, and an on-site plan to replace containers. Use containers designed for long term storage (e.g., no short-term cracking risks), and have defense in depth. Current thin-wall canister systems meet NONE of these requirements.  
  • Containers should be stored in reinforced buildings for additional environmental and security protection and should have  remote monitoring systems that warn to prevent leaks and to alert after leaks.
  • An on-line radiation monitoring system with public access, so we know which way to run.
  • Allow states to set higher standards than the federal government, instead of taking away more states’ rights.
We have over 2400 of these ticking time bomb Chernobyl cans right now. Many could start leaking at any time and NO ONE is dealing with this. 
A state of emergency should be declared at both the state and federal level to deal with this before it’s too late. 
Fuel in thin-wall canisters must be moved to thick wall casks. This may require on-site hot cell facilities filled with helium, due to the hydrogen gas build up in these canisters and the explosive nature of these materials.
Canisters with even partial cracks cannot be safely transported according to NRC transport regs. And these canisters cannot be inspected for cracks and cannot be repaired or replaced without a hot cell. The NRC has approved reloading fuel in a pool. However, this has never been done with fuel welded shut in dry storage canisters. The NRC has not confirmed it’s safe to do this with high burnup fuel that’s been in dry storage.
Regarding moving fuel to another interim site
Until the fuel is inspected and loaded into thick casks, it’s not safe to move off nuclear plant sites. 
However, the need to move the waste from certain locations is critical. Instead of abolishing site specific environmental reviews as proposed in the Shimkus bill, independent site environmental reviews are needed to determine how soon waste must be moved and the nearest location it can be moved to, minimizing transport risks.
We’re running out of time. The fuse is lit.
In project management there are only 3 variables. Time, resources and scope.  
We are not in control of time. Thanks to the NRC, thin-wall canister vendors (Holtec, Areva-TN, NAC), nuclear utilities and the nuclear industry, we have been deceived and put in this mess.  We only have a few years, maybe less, before these thin-wall Chernobyl cans start to leak and possibly explode. 
We cannot do everything at once, so we must limit scope. Instead of focusing on moving the waste, we must focus on replacing canisters. 
Federal resources must be used to fund this. This should have higher priority that building bombs. The federal government has already allowed these Chernobyl bombs to be built, but the bombs are pointing at us.
It’s up to us to make this a priority.  Most of our elected officials and others with power and influence don’t have this information. Now is the time to share this with them. And remind them:
Leaders need to operate on the basis of facts, not on wishful thinking. — Madeleine Albright
And Holtec vaporware will not save us.


Help Prevent Fukushima Freeways

Let’s work to block House passage of H.R. 3053 the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendment Act of 2017, known as the Shimkus Bill – a very dangerous piece of proposed legislation.

Here’s How:

Visit and check out the following:
Reasons elected officials should oppose H.R. 3053 NWPA amendment
HR 3053 Community Opposition Letter, June 27,2017
H.R. 3053 as of June 26, 2017
House Energy and Commerce Committee Members
House Energy and Commerce Committee hearings

Beyond Nuclear advises:
Now that the bill is moving to the U.S. House floor, likely in the near future, everyone should contact their own U.S. Rep., and urge opposition to this very dangerous bill. See Beyond Nuclear’s press statement about H.R. 3053, for ideas on points to communicate to your U.S. Rep. You can look up your U.S. Rep.’s full contact info. at this website, by typing in your ZIP code in the upper right, clicking GO, and following the internet links.

Here’s Why:

What Would Hippocrates and Jesus Do?

The Ethics and Politics of Nuclear Waste are being Tested in Southern California
By James Heddle, EON

Chronic Nuclear Constipation

For more than 70 years – basically for my entire 77-year lifetime – nuclear waste has been building up at nuclear weapons and energy production and waste storage facilities across the US and around the world.

The most basic tenet of the nuclear religious cult’s belief system over that entire time has been a cheery

“Don’t worry. Be happy. Methods and places for isolating these manmade materials, toxic to all life forms, will soon be found to isolate them from the environment and all future generations for longer than human civilization has yet existed. Or, better yet, we will find a way to transform them into benign and productive forms to benefit our own and all future generations.”

Despite decades of research by the best minds of the species and billions of dollars of public and private wealth invested, that has not happened. Nor does it seem likely to any time soon, despite continuing assurances from the pro-nuclear True Believers.

Meanwhile the total global inventory of this deadly stuff continues to grow. Now, although a new nuclear weapons race seems to be in motion thanks to US initiative, there are signs that the international nuclear energy industry is tanking.

Six US nukes have closed in the last five years, with more scheduled. The International Energy Agency expects almost 200 reactor closures between 2014 and 2040. Plants now under construction are all behind schedule and way over budget. Existing orders are being canceled.

In the US, as more and more energy reactors are being shut down and are entering the decommissioning process, the overriding question is becoming unavoidable at reactor communities across the country: What do we do with all these decades of tons of accumulated radwaste now being stored on-site? Each canister contains a Chernobyl’s-worth of cesium; each cooling pool, hundreds more.

Utilities are suing the Federal Government for not keeping its promise to take responsibility of the radwaste in a centralized geological repository. Local communities are agitating to ‘just get it outa here.’ But to where? And, given the decrepitude of existing highway and railway transportation infrastructures, how would you move all those thousands of tons of potential bomb material through numerous on-route communities despite local public resistance on safety grounds, not to mention the risks of terrorist attacks?

Click here to find out how much nuclear waste is in your state.

The San Onofre Syndrome

Perhaps nowhere is this conundrum more starkly illustrated or contested than in Southern California’s archetypally ‘conservative’ Orange County, home of the recently shutdown San Onofre nuclear generating station.

Known by the happy-sounding acronym SONGS, the plant’s two nuclear reactors, operated by Southern California Edison, were shutdown in 2013 after its 4 newly installed steam generators (2 per reactor) failed and leaked radioactive steam due to design flaws made by Edison and their manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The design flaws, known to exist by both corporations, was concealed in reports and missed by lax regulatory oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Local activist groups like San Clemente Green, and Residents Organized for a Safe Environment (ROSE) and others allied with the national organization Friends of the Earth (FoE) in a successful campaign for shutdown, only to discover Edison’s crazy plans to bury its tons of accumulated radioactive waste in extremely thin, unmonitorable and unrepairible canisters, inches above the water table, just yards above the rising ocean surf in an earthquake and tsunami zone – just like Fukushima.

Now the idyllic region of high-end retirement communities and tourist havens is locked in a microcosmic debate whose outcome may well set a precedent for the country’s radwaste policies.

“Do No Harm” & “Do Unto Others…”
The regional activist community is currently polarized between those who advocate “just get it outa here to somewhere else by any means necessary,” and those who are trying to deal with the technical, ethical and political dimensions of arriving at a ‘least worst’ compromise that takes both the safety of the 8.5 million surrounding population AND the national policy implications into consideration.

Dan Hirsch is a longtime nuclear safety advocate, a Professor at UC Santa Cruz and President of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a non-profit nuclear policy organization focusing on issues of nuclear safety, waste disposal, proliferation, and disarmament.

In a recent discussion, Hirsch suggested two guiding principles for reactor community members to consider in their deliberations: the “Father of Modern Medicine” Hippocrates’ dictum, “First, do no harm,” and the so-called Golden Rule common to the world’s religions, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

In this case, that means not acting so as to set precedents based on local self-interest that make things worse locally or nationally, and not dumping waste on other communities with less political or economic clout and risking millions all along the transport routes on the way to them.

Hirsch, who, with others around the state and the country, has spent his life in often successful fights for improved nuclear safeguards against seemingly hopeless odds, fears that those decades of dedicated work could now be undone if the ‘just get it outa here’ faction of so-called ‘environmentalists’ are tricked into being willing allies of the nuclear industry in its long-term quest to wash its hands of nuclear liabilities and hand them over to the American public.

Centralized Interim Storage (CIS)

The immediate context that makes these issues of currently vital significance, is the fact that presently moving through Congress at warp speed is the so-called the Shimkus bill – the H.R. 3053 Nuclear Waste Policy Amendment Act of 2017.

According to close analysis by SoCal activists Donna Gilmore and Judy Jones, the Shimkus Bill “will make us less safe and not solve the nuclear waste problems, yet preempts existing state and local water and air rights and other rights [and] removes safety requirements needed to prevent radioactive leaks.” It also removes all oversight.

The Bill’s main sponsor, Republican Congressman John Shimkus, is Chair of the Subcommittee on the Environment of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Shimkus comes from Illinois, stronghold of nuclear energy giant Exelon, and home to 11 nuclear reactors. reports,

Despite a 50-group environmental coalition in opposition, H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, as amended, passed the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee by a vote of 49 to 4. All Republican members, and all but four Democrats (Schakowsky of IL, Ben Lujan of NM, Loebsack of IA, and Engel of NY) who were present, voted in favor of reviving the cancelled Yucca Mountain, NV high-level radioactive waste dump, and legalizing private de facto permanent parking lot dumps, targeted at TX and NM. If enacted, the legislation could pave the way for unprecedented numbers of irradiated nuclear fuel truck and train, as well as barge, shipments to begin moving in just a few years, through most states, many major cities, and most U.S. congressional districts, risking Mobile Chernobyls, Floating Fukushimas, and Dirty Bombs on Wheels.

The Shimkus Bill is an attempt to move forward the concept of Centralized Interim Storage (CIS), a kind of stop-gap strategy to stop the hemorrhaging of Federal funds to utilities suing for non-compliance with its legal obligation under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to take possession of radwaste from energy and weapons production. It also provides a way for nuclear operators to continue producing more of this lethal waste.

In the absence of a national central radioactive waste repository, CIS means taking radwaste from current on-site storage at nuclear plants and moving it to ‘temporary’ above ground storage facilities, with locations in poor, rural minority communities in Nevada, Texas and New Mexico the most currently favored.

Not only does this plan necessitate moving shipments of tons of deadly radwaste on America’s crumbling rails, roads and bridges for years to come – vulnerable to accident and terrorist attack – but it also means the waste will have to be moved again, when and IF, a central repository is ever agreed upon. Given the history of Yucca Mountain, that seems very unlikely indeed. A sincere effort needs to be made in the search for permanent repositories.

The Nulear Waste Policy Act originally called for the identification of three sites in the Eastern US and three sites in the West. Political maneuvering led to a ‘Screw Nevada’ strategy because it had the fewest Congressional votes, and the million dollar development of the state’s Yucca Mountain site. Originally thought to be dry and impermeable to the migration of radioactive elements, the discovery that trace elements from explosions at the nearby Nevada Nuclear Test Site had penetrated deep into the Yucca Mountain facility in a relatively few years debunked that contention. The project was terminated by the Obama Admistration and is now essentially an abandoned relic of bad politics, wishful thinking, and failed scientific hypotheses.

The current attempt in the Shimkus Bill at resuscitating the failed Yucca Mountain dump is a desperate fool’s errand that reveals the utter moral and ethical bankruptcy of US Nuclear Waste policy.

The San Onofre Solution – Looking for the ‘Least Worst’

That’s why the current attempt by the groups in the San Onofre reactor community to agree on a ‘least worse’ way of dealing with the plant’s tons of accumulated waste represents what may be a pivotal microcosm in this vital national and international issue.

None of the options being considered are totally satisfactory by any standard:
• Bury it just above the water table, in the sand, on the beach, in flimsy cans, in an earthquake and tsunami zone, vulnerable to terrorist attack, yards from the rising sea;
• Ship it to poor communities in Nevada, Texas or New Mexico;
• Send it to Arizona’s Palo Verde reactor site;
• Take it to California’s Mojave desert (already the site of a successful ten year fight to block a proposed nuclear dump);
• Move it farther from the ocean, across I-5 to higher ground, out of tsunami range on the Camp Pendleton Marine base land the reactor operator is already leasing.

Applying Hirsch’s criteria, which option is likely to do the least harm to the least people and bioregions?

Keeping it anywhere on Camp Pendleton still poses a risk to the millions in the regional population between San Diego and LA. But moving it anywhere else would endanger millions more there and along all the shipping routes; and, in the case of the Texas and New Mexico sites, the millions more who are dependent on the vast Ogallala Aquifer, supplying drinking and agricultural water in eight key breadbasket states.


Underlying and complicating all these considerations is the choice of containers for storage of the highly radioactive nuclear fuel assemblies.

Extensive documented research by San Onofre Safety founder Donna Gilmore shows that the Edison’s container choices – currently being implemented – are not only unsuited to San Onofre’s corrosive salt air marine environment, but make monitoring for leaks and repackaging leaking containers impossible. That, in turn, disqualifies them for transport under current Nuclear Regulatory Agency regulations, even if a target location could be found. And, as Donna puts it “Would you buy a car that couldn’t be checked for leaks or be repaired?”

Studies to determine whether the cladding holding the intensely irradiated fuel would hold or fail during the vibrations of transport haven’t been completed yet.

Meanwhile Southern California Edison is executing their plan to bury the lethal waste on the San Clemente beach with no opposition from public agencies.

The state agencies (Coastal Commission, Energy Commission and Public Utilities Commission) are all appointed by Governor Brown, and have all been informed that these storage canisters have fatal flaws. Yet, they continue approving storage of more canisters by the beach, and giving Edison millions of dollars to buy more of them.  Research data show that existing canisters may leak and potentially explode in a few short years, but these agencies don’t see this as their problem.  Governor Brown has yet to speak on these issues.

The site offers handouts for elected officials and others

Urgent nuclear waste canister problems
Coastal Commission should revoke nuclear waste storage permit
Comments to DOE consent based siting: Plan risks major radioactive leaks
Dry Cask Inventory by State as of June 30, 2013

Another element in the mix is the California Coastal Commission’s approval of the Edison storage plan, an approval currently being contested in the suit brought by the legal team of Mike Aguirre and Mia Sieverson on behalf of their client Ray Lutz, and his Citizens’ Oversight organization. The suit has led to closed-door negotiations with Edison, the outcome of which have yet to be announced.

Any ultimate agreement which would meet Dan Hirsch’s criteria of ‘first, do no harm and then, don’t do to other communities what you would not want to have done to yours,’ would have to embody the highest current standard for radwaste management: Hardened, monitorable, retrievable on-site storage.

Those standards should be the minimum foundation of any responsible nuclear waste policy which admits the existential risks that the tragic choices of Atomic Age technocrats have imposed on us and all future generations.

A first step in that direction should be the defeat of the deadly and anti-democratic Shimkus Bill.

A second would be to demand Edison contain the waste in the most robust, monitorable, retrievable container casks available. Most industrialized countries use casks 12-20 inches thick. Edison’s are only 5/8ths of an inch thick.

James Heddle is a filmmaker and writer who co-directs EON – the Ecological Options Network with Mary Beth Brangan. Their forthcoming documentary SHUTDOWN: The California-Fukushima Connection Pt. ! – The Case of San Onofre is now in post-production. He can be reached at