Breaking – Dangerous cracks in CA’s radioactive waste storage plans!

“I would like to offer a disclosure. Twenty years ago I served as a federal administrative judge sitting on a licensing board [that] approved the dry cask storage system here at Diablo Canyon. At that time the chloride stress induced corrosion cracking was not known to the licensee, PG&E, was not known to the Licensing Board, was not known to Holtec [the manufacturer], so this is an evolving entirely new development.” – Dr. Peter Lam, Member of the Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee

By James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan

Serious Corrosion Cracks and 20/20 Hindsight
Oops! Turns out tensile stress (like nuclear waste thin-wall storage canisters) and a corrosive environment (and a corrosive environment like moist salt-laden sea air) can cause through-wall cracks in thin stainless steel in 20 years (plus or minus a few years, but who’s counting?)

That’s what the canisters designed to contain the tons of lethal radioactive waste to be stored for who-knows-how-long at California’s Diablo Canyon and San Onofre seaside reactor sites are made of  – only five-eighths inch stainless steel at San Onofre and one-half inch at Diablo Canyon –  about the thickness of an average human’s little finger.

San Onofre, nuclear power plant north of San Diego, and operated by Southern California Edison, was permanently shut down due to major engineering faults and mismanagement in 2013.  Now over 1,600 tons of  lethal  highly irradiated ‘spent’ fuel is about to be partially buried near the beautiful San Clemente beach about a hundred feet from the Pacific surf and inches above the rising water level in this type of canister.

Diablo Canyon, nuclear power plant north of Santa Barbara and run by PG&E (of San Bruno gas explosion fame), is scheduled for shutdown in 2025.

Every year of operation Diablo produces over 20 metric tons of forever-lasting nuclear waste while supplying a mere estimated 7% of California’s electrical power that the state government admits can easily be replaced.  PG&E too, is using thin stainless steel canisters.

Actually, according to San Onofre operator, Edison’s Decommissioning and Chief Nuclear Director Tom Palmisano, all other nuclear utility reactor sites in the U.S. use this same type of canister.  A few use better thick-wall storage casks, but the decision was made decades ago to choose cost over safety.

Is dry cask storage really safer than pools?

According to a report by Mothers for Peace, “As of November 2013, there were 2,848 waste units, called “spent fuel assemblies” (SFA), stored at Diablo…. Diablo’s spent fuel pools contained 1,920 assemblies. In addition, another 928 assemblies are stored in dry casks, generally considered a safer means of storing high level nuclear waste for prolonged periods of time.”

Generally considered a safer means,” maybe, until Dr. Lam’s disclosure (quoted above) at the Oct. 19, 2017 meeting of the Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee (DCISC) in San Luis Obispo, a disclosure which seems to throw into serious question the validity of the design basis of all planned and existing nuclear waste storage systems in California and elsewhere.
Both these reactor sites – soon both to be in decommissioning mode – sit on the Pacific coast over earthquake faults, in tsunami zones and in marine salt air environments – now known to be the optimal conditions for causing the ‘chloride stress induced corrosion cracking’  that Dr. Lam referred to in the meeting.

This is a quote from the Nov. 14, 2012 NRC Information Notice:

“The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is issuing this information notice (IN) to inform addressees of recent issues and technical information concerning the potential for chloride-induced stress corrosion cracking (SCC) of austenitic stainless steel dry cask storage system canisters. Significant SCC could affect the ability of the spent fuel storage canisters to
perform their confinement function during the initial license or license renewal storage period(s).

The NRC expects that recipients will review this information to determine how it applies to their designs and facilities and consider actions, as appropriate, to avoid these potential problems. However, suggestions contained in this IN are not NRC requirements; therefore, no specific action or written response is required.

Several instances of chloride-induced SCC have occurred in austenitic stainless steel components that were exposed to atmospheric conditions near salt-water bodies. The
summaries below describe relevant examples: In the fall of 2009, three examples of chloride-induced SCC which extended through-wall were discovered at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS)…”
Read more…

[ Video excerpts of the Oct. 19, 2017 DCISC meeting follow below, or may be viewed on EON’s YouTube Channel. ]

Credit Where Credit is Due
Prior to his disclosure, Dr. Lam, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission Administrative Judge Emeritus, made a point of expressing his appreciation for the work of San Clemente-based systems analyst Donna Gilmore, author of,  in bringing emerging research findings to official and public attention. “Ms. Gilmore’s research,” Lam said, “was one of the earliest efforts identifying and focusing on this important phenomenon of stress induced corrosion cracking.  Thanks to Donna Gilmore’s efforts, public awareness of this important issue has increased substantially in the past several years,” Dr. Lam said.

DCISC member Dr. Per Peterson of UC Berkeley’s Nuclear Engineering Department, explained that America’s thin-walled canisters – unlike more robust, thicker-walled casks used elsewhere in the world – were originally designed not to be stored indefinitely at reactor sites, but for permanent burial in the planned deep geological repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada,  which, for myriad scientific and political reasons, has not materialized, despite decades and billions of dollars of research.

Donna Gilmore’s research, however, found that utilities chose thin-wall canisters because they were less expensive, assuming they would only need to last 20 years. The nuclear industry is now trying to retrofit this inferior technology to function as part of a permanent repository, but that does not appear to be based on scientific evidence.

Cracking canisters containing forever deadly radioactivity on our streets, railways and waters?

As reported in our previous NoNukesCA post, A National Nuclear Waste Shell Game? – Yucca Mtn. Redux, HR 3053 – the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 the so-called Shimkus Bill – after its author Republican Congressman John Shimkus of Illinois – is now being hustled through the House of Representatives by California’s Darrell Issa (R-CA) and others.   The Bill seeks to revive the defunct Yucca Mountain project and establish a network of Consolidated Interim Storage (CIS) sites across the country in ‘consenting communities.’   These sites would accept radioactive waste from reactors like Diablo Canyon and San Onofre until the Yucca site or some other deep geological repository is ready to receive it at some unknown time in the future.

 If this bill is passed, thousands of shipments of deadly radioactive waste would be moving on barges and on poorly-maintained railways and highways throughout our country almost daily for decades. Major disasters would seem unavoidable, with each canister of waste containing about the amount of radioactivity of a Chernobyl disaster just in the cesium alone.  The American Society of Civil Engineers just gave U.S. infrastructure a D plus score in 2017.  Climate change is rapidly eroding the already seriously degraded transportation systems through climate extremes, flooding, erosion, heat, freezing, etc. 

All these dangers are exacerbated by the fact that no nuclear authorities have factored in the problem of potentially cracking canisters!!

These canisters, vulnerable to leaking from cracks in about 20 years, possibly sooner, must completely contain radioisotopes that remain deadly for thousands of years.

Scroll down for urgent actions against allowing thousands of Chernobyls on wheels, railways and barges!

Extreme Environmental Injustice
History shows that targeted ‘consenting communities’ would be, as usual, poor, minority, rural locations with little political clout, and with populations desperate for ‘jobs, jobs, jobs.’ 

When Mothers for Peace spokeswoman, Linda Seeley pointed this out in her comments, DCISC member Dr. Robert Budnitz, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), was moved to emphatically point out that, “We don’t have any concern about where it might go, if it might go somewhere…or what might happen, on the road, after that. It’s not part of our charter. I’m happy it’s not part of our charter. I’m interested in it. I’m an engineer. I’ve actually thought about it, and I’ve done some work on it,” Budnitz said. “But it’s not part of this committee…. People watching ought to know, that whether the transportation system is safe; and whether where it goes – if it goes somewhere – is safe; or whether where it goes has political support, it’s an interesting topic that is beyond the remit of the Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee.”

Who, then, are the adults in the room on behalf of future generations?

Which raises the question, how are these radioactively hot questions ultimately to be decided? What body DOES have ‘the remit?’ Who are the ‘adults in the room’ to responsibly finally decide these questions on behalf of all future generations?

A grassroots example of the ‘adults in the room:’

Linda Seeley is a spokesperson for Mothers for Peace, an organization insisting on safety at Diablo Canyon for over forty years.  Linda eloquently spoke for those who may not have the power to resist being forced to take the deadly waste.  She also pointed out that the various options for moving the waste will be decades in the making; and since transporting the waste has enormous risks, it should not be moved twice.  So for the period of time that it will remain on the Diablo Canyon site, it should be put into the most robust available storage system that is able to be monitored to prevent leaks, is retrievable and transportable, and in a hardened building as close as possible to its present location.  She furthered explained that rather than this long-lived deadly waste be put into a remote area and then forgotten, those in this region where the waste was generated must consciously oversee its storage until it can be safely moved to a permanent repository.

Donna Gilmore’s suggestions for the official agencies that should be the ‘adults in the room:’

The California Coastal Commission could deny Coastal permits based on the fact these thin-wall canisters cannot be transported with even partial cracks and San Onofre plans to destroy the spent fuel pool — the only on-site approved method to replace failing canisters.

The California Public Utilities Commission, CPUC can reject giving them funds to buy more of these canisters since they will need to be replaced prematurely and there is no funding in the Decommissioning Funds to do that.  The thick-wall casks have a longer lifespan and can be inspected, maintained, repaired and monitored to prevent leaks — and they don’t have the cracking problems.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC can raise their minimum standards and enforce their regulations to require containers that can be inspected inside and out, maintained, repaired and monitored to prevent leaks.  And enforce a requirement for transportability without cracks and mandate a plan in place to prevent and recover from leaks.

Congress can vote for a bill that mandates the DOE will not assume liability for containers that do not meet the above requirements.  Instead, many appear to be voting for a bill that removes those requirements from the current Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

The media and entertainment industry can spread the word on these issues in a way grassroots activists cannot.

Reasons To Buy Thick Casks

Nuke Free Movement Milestone
This meeting was not the first, but a significant milestone in the joining of citizens from both California’s remaining reactor communities in cooperatively addressing these issues from their respective points of view.

California’s regional activist communities at Diablo and San Onofre are now split between those pushing to get the waste ‘outa here’ by any means necessary to anywhere possible, ASAP; and those advocating for using the most robust storage system and locations currently achievable with minimal movement since the tons of radioactive waste must remain on-site for the foreseeble future.  Even if HR 3053 were to pass, the temporary storage sites are still in design phase, lawsuits against it may take years to unravel and there are older reactor sites already in line for moving their radioactive waste.

These following video excerpts of the recent Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee meeting, edited by EON as a public service from archival coverage by, illustrate the urgency of these questions.

Dry Cask Risks Not Known When Design Approved by NRC
Former Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Administrative Judge Dr. Peter Lam discloses that the vulnerabilities of Diablo’s Holtec dry cask nuclear waste storage system to stress corrosion cracking – recently documented by Donna Gilmore – was not known to decision-makers 20 years ago, when the NRC approved the design.  Dr. Lam’s disclosure seems to throw into serious question the validity of the design basis of all planned and existing nuclear waste storage systems in California and elsewhere.

Make Diablo a Model of Responsible Radwaste Storage – Linda Seeley

Mothers for Peace Spokeswoman Linda Seeley explains why her organization advocates for Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS) of lethally radioactive nuclear ’spent fuel’ at Diablo Canyon, rather than moving the radioactive waste to a Centralized Interim Storage (CIS) location.

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Waste Unsafely Stored – Donna Gilmore
The nuclear waste storage system being used by PG&E at Diablo Canyon reactor site has multiple vulnerabilities to serious risks according to official NRC documents unearthed by independent researcher and systems analyst Donna Gilmore.
Gilmore, founder of, summarizes her findings in a PowerPoint presentation documenting vulnerabilities shared by the radioactive waste storage systems at both the Diablo and San Onofre coastal reactor sites and recommends safer thick wall casks used in most of the world.
The controversies raging in California’s two remaining nuclear reactor communities of San Clemente and San Luis Obispo are microcosms of the challenges facing dozens of reactor communities around the country, as America’s aging fleet of nuclear power reactors face a coming cascade of shutdowns and decommissioning projects.
Despite decades of failed attempts, no solution to the problem of responsibly isolating from the environment and future generations America’s thousands of tons of accumulating radioactive energy and weapons waste has yet been found.

PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Radwaste Storage Plans – Jearl Strickland
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) official Jearl Strickland gives a slide presentation on his company’s plans for storing tons of lethally radioactive nuclear ’spent fuel’ at its Diablo Canyon reactor site for an unknown period.

Thanks to Diane D’Arrigo of NIRS for the info below:


Please  CALL 202-224-3121

Click for  NIRS Alert

The bill could come to the house floor any day or any week, most likely before Dec 8th, when the continuing budget resolution expires and new funding must be approved.


NIRS Don’t Waste America campaign pages
Beyond Nuclear

San Onofre Safety posted documents that allow you to actually read the proposal (much of HR 3053 simply says “change section xyz” in the existing law to “new text abc”. Donna Gilmore has marked up the existing law with the changes that would be made by the Shimkus bill HR 3053. Worth taking a few minutes to review.
Color annotations (can take a few minutes to load)

Black and White annotations
Find other HR3053 related documents, including a version of the bill incorporating the approved amendments, at

NEIS in Chicago: Two reports from experts make great underpinning for talking to your US REP / their key staffers on nuclear transport. Mobile Chernobyl remains the biggest impact of either Consolidated I Storage or Yucca Mt.  Shimkus (HR 3053) unleashes the biggest nuclear waste transport campaign possible.

Link # 1 ties impact of CLIMATE on transport / infrastructure in the Midwest.

Link #2 is an INFRASTRUCTURE REPORT CARD from Civil Engineers.  March 9, 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers:

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.