Twin ‘Cliff Hangers’ – California’s Nuclear Shutdown Saga Continues


Reporting by James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan – EON – the Ecological Options Network

Literal Nuclear Cliff Hangers

Both California’s seaside nuclear plants San Onofre (shutdown in 2013) and Diablo Canyon (scheduled for shutdown in 2025) are located over active earthquake faults in tsunami zones, just like Fukushima.  The sites also border the ocean’s rapidly rising sea level.  Any questions?

For the foreseeable future, both will be de facto repositories for tons of forever deadly radioactive so-called ‘spent nuclear fuel’ accumulated over their times of operation. That’s because last century’s optimistic plans for the federal government to take possession of all commercially generated nuclear waste and move it to a central deep geological repository have not materialized, despite many decades and billions of dollars of trying. 

Although pressure is building in Congress to resuscitate the failed Yucca Mountain project in Nevada, and establish so-called ‘Centralized Interim Storage’ sites in ‘consenting communities’ around the country, nothing of the sort is likely to happen any time soon, even if the current very flawed attempt, HR 3053 passes.

That means that both San Onofre and Diablo will be storing their radioactive waste for some time to come using container systems designed decades ago, before the now-known risks of  storing so-called ‘high burn-up fuel’ in thin stainless steel canisters subject to ‘chloride-induced stress corrosion through-wall cracking’ in a marine environment had been discovered. (See previous post). Now local citizens in both regions around San Onofre and Diablo are awakening to the dangers they face into the indefinite future.  Southern Californians are demanding a revision of their radwaste storage plans.

No Place for Waste –
Public Watchdogs takes bold action – files lawsuit to block seaside storage at San Onofre

Southern California Edison, operator of San Onofre, has scheduled beginning its storage of the intensely radioactive fuel rods into a concrete pad 108 feet from the ocean and inches above the water table next month, December 2017.  In response to realistic fears it would become a permanent nuclear waste dump, southern California grassroots organization Public Watchdogs has recently boldly moved to block that planned movement of the deadly, long-lived radioactive fuel.

Public Watchdogs  announced that it is suing the United States Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric on the grounds that the defendants lack the legal authority to bury nuclear waste on the beach at San Onofre State Beach Park.

Seeking Court Injunction

Public Watchdogs’ Charles Langley explains that the lawsuit, which was filed by environmental lawyer Cory Briggs of the Briggs Law Corporation, “seeks a court injunction to prevent Southern California Edison’s December, 2017 burial of millions of  pounds of deadly high- level nuclear waste. Edison intends to bury the lethal waste 108 feet from one of America’s most cherished surfing and swimming beaches. The waste is deadly for millions of years, but under the current plan, it will be stored in a system that is only warranted to last ten years.”

Warranty is here.   Public Watchdogs Complaint is here.

“Once completed,” Langley’s Press Release says, “the San Onofre Beachfront Nuclear Waste Dump will be the largest privately operated high-level waste dump in the United States. Edison’s new dump is located in a tsunami inundation zone, on top of an earthquake fault line, and in the center of one of the most densely populated regions in the USA.  Its proximity to the LOSSAN rail corridor, the second busiest in the country, and Interstate 5 also poses unprecedented regional economic risk.”

Full Press Release is here.

San Diego Union Tribune article:
Group files suit to block storing nuclear waste at San Onofre

In another last minute attempt to forestall Edison’s planned Dec. nuclear waste move
Citizens Oversight has announced it will file a petition to the NRC, demanding a national moratorium on the use of thin, single-wall nuclear waste canisters, together with a White Paper outlining an alternate approach to on-site storage at nuclear plants like San Onofre.

Citizens Oversight’s announcement says that its “’HELLMSS-MELO Proposal’ will be submitted as a component of its petition to the NRC. Lutz has coined a new term – HELLMSS-MELO by which he means Hardened, Extended-Life, Local Monitored Surface Storage.  He proposes using a Monitored Extended-Life Overcask, which is an additional layer to be added over the “thin” canisters in use today, which were never intended for long-term use.

Citizens Oversight founder Ray Lutz explains, “The thin cans being used today to store nuclear spent fuel are far from adequate, with only a 20 year license and 60 year design life. These containers were not designed for long-term “indefinite” storage they have now approved. Stress corrosion cracking was not considered an issue when these were first adopted, but today, it is recognized as a major problem.”
To see the plan:

The Devil is in the Details – Diablo Canyon Shutdown Deal in Doubt?

Meanwhile, a proposed decision by California Public Utilities Commission administrative law judge Peter V. Allen on Pacific Gas and Electric proposed shutdown plan for its Diablo Canyon nuclear plant has raised doubts that the plan will go forward.  A Forbes article entitled Could Judge’s Ruling Cause PG&E To Rethink Closing Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant? concludes that “A deal that looked good to most of the decision makers when it appeared to deliver $1.76 billion of ratepayer funds to pay for implementation may not look as good to those same decision makers when it delivers just $190 million.” A PG&E spokesperson has stated, “We will continue to strongly advocate for the application as submitted.”

The “Settlement” as originally submitted is here.

The CPUC ALJ’s proposed decision will not become law until and unless it is approved by the the full Commission Members, which could happen as early as next month.  The utility’s response to the proposed ruling is here.

The Forbes article explains,

“PG&E’s plan to close Diablo Canyon was the result of a carefully negotiated agreement that includes an escape clause triggered if the CPUC “fails to adopt” the plan “in its entirety and without modification.” It’s worth a little detour to provide background on what is known about how that agreement came about and who was a party to the agreement.

“On June 21, 2016, the Natural Resources Defense Council issued a press release revealing that it had signed a deal with PG&E, Friends of the Earth (FOE), Environment California, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 (IBEW 1245), Coalition of California Utility Employees (CCUE), and the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility (A4NR) that would result in DCNPP closing when its operating licenses expire – unit 1 in 2024 and unit 2 in 2025.

“PG&E would immediately halt its effort to renew the plant operating licenses for an additional 20 years. The other parties agreed that they would support PG&E’s request to the California Lands Commission for an extension of the permit allowing them access to the segment of the coast housing their cooling water system.

“The permit authorizing the structures that supply and receive ocean water to occupy coastal land was expiring in 2018, several years before the plant’s operating licenses.”

On the other hand….
The outcome of the unfolding Diablo saga remains uncertain and will be conditioned by a number of factors.  One is the political ambitions of current California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Controller Betty Yee, both of whom now sit on the pivotal California State Lands Commission, a key state agency with authority over future plans for Diablo Canyon.

Another is the outcome of a suit brought by the Santa Barbara-based World Business Academy aimed at stopping the agreement, a suit which was struck down by the court, but is now on appeal.

PG&E faces other costly and time consuming considerations if they intend to apply to relicence Diablo.  San Luis Obispo-based Mothers for Peace spokeswoman explains, “PG&E MUST do a complete Environmental Impact Study, EIS, for the entire plant by 2024 as per the NRC if they decide to renew the license application.  Also, a State Environmental Impact Report, EIR, has to be done for the once-through cooling system.”  Compliance with these requirements are major expenses and could take years.

Once-through cooling (OTC) – the system currently in use at Diablo – has been banned at all power plants in California, and Diablo’s exemption expires in 2024.  Compliance with the ban would require new construction and additional expenditures which PG&E would likely be reluctant to make.

Longtime Abalone Alliance activist and archivist Roger Herried has pointed out that “PG&E acknowledged during the State Lands Commission hearings that nearly half of the Diablo’s power is no longer needed – not to mention federal law requires that they are required to maintain an exact amount of very expensive backup power that could also be removed from the grid once DC is gone – so the incentives at this point are large for [PG&E] to get out of SLO [San Luis Obispo] – even though the town had been screaming for its continuation as it brings in such a large amount of local taxes – and way above normal rank and file jobs — One SLO paper said the average income for workers there is over $150K.”

And what about the unions? ALJ Allen notes in his proposed decision, “…it appears that PG&E (with the participation of at least some of its unions) has already executed retention agreements with its employees, presumably incorporating the terms proposed by PG&E in this proceeding….PG&E should not be making promises (even implied ones) to its employees that it does not know it can keep. PG&E is not authorized to recover in rates the cost of the existing agreements.”

The Judge comments, “Overall, the amount and allocation of payments appears to have more to do with PG&E’s litigation needs than the economic needs of the community.”

Stay Tuned…
All these actors and factors swirling in California’s nuclear drama will unfold in the next weeks and months.

Watch this space for updates.

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