Nuclear Waste Issues at San Onofre – A National Challenge – Guest Blog by Donna Gilmore

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.
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