Radioactive Waste — Are We Toast?

Feb 01, 2017  -Chiwah Slater



If it feels like you and the people you know have no say over what happens in Washington, D.C., that’s not an illusion. Research shows that ordinary people have close to zero influence on policymaking at the federal level while wealthy individuals and business-controlled interest groups hold substantial sway, according to an anonally and globally.

I heard from a friend who was terribly depressed about the nuclear waste at San Onofre. “So … what's going on?” I asked. (I too tend to be in denial). She laid it on me.

Her version of the story was basically that we are toast. And Charles Langley, Executive Director of Public Watchdogs, has been quoted as saying, “We think the potential for a nuclear incident ... is 100 percent. It’s inevitable.”

But while the current plan is a recipe for disaster, there is good news: There is still time for a determined public to force a safer solution—if we as individuals will leave our complacency behind and take action. Read on.

My research led me to numerous websites, among them and, and to in-depth conversations with Langley and Donna Gilmore, a retired systems analyst who has devoted years to ferreting out and publicizing the facts. The information below is based on these two websites and on conversations with Gilmore and Langley.


Problem and Best Solution

Spent nuclear fuel must be safely stored for about 250,000 years. We have no way to do that. The best solution available is storage in 10-to-20-inch-thick casks. Such casks last 40-50 years and can be inspected, continuously monitored, and repaired. Not an ideal solution, but it allows time to seek a better one or to move the waste into new casks.

This is what Germany is doing with their radioactive waste.


Chernobyl In a Can

Unfortunately, it's not what we're doing. Instead, San Onofre's spent fuel goes into cheaper, thin-walled (½-inch to 5/8-inch) stainless steel canisters that don't meet PUC safety requirements. Each one holds more radiation (Cesium 137) than was released at Chernobyl!

These canisters are known to crack, especially when exposed to water. A crack could mean a helium leak and explosive hydrogen off-gases. (The NRC has stated that it takes about 16 years for a crack to go through the walls of such canisters. It happened in Koebler, South Africa, after 17 years. Oops!

So ... these canisters warrant regular inspection! Right? Sorry. The cans cannot be inspected. Being thin-walled, they are welded closed and encased in cement. And the canister manufacturer CEO has reported that even if a crack were somehow identified, the canisters cannot be repaired.

Would you buy a car that couldn't be inspected or repaired? I doubt it.


Filled Cans 15 Years Old

51 of these thin-walled filled canisters are already stored above ground at San Onofre, in buildings behind the holes for the new ones. The earliest storage date goes back to 2003—fifteen years ago.

These cans may already have cracks. There's no way to know.


New Cans To Be Buried, Sort Of

As if that weren't bad enough, Edison has been granted a license to put millions of additional pounds of radioactive waste into similar canisters for burial a short distance from the beach. Burial was to begin in 2017, but Langley says it has been held up, reason unknown. “Edison stated last week that they hadn't put any of the waste into the cans yet,” he said on January 26th.

And apparently, although the canisters were approved for complete burial, due to a glitch they are now to be only partially buried with their caps above ground. If exposed to air, spent fuel assemblies may explode.


Move the Canisters Somewhere Else?

Once a crack occurs, NRC Regulations state that the canister cannot be transported. So why don't they move the cans away before they crack? As Langley told me, a filled canister is “hot enough to fry a steak on the outside of the can.” And the DOT requires cooling for up to 45 years before transport! Besides, there are no funds for  moving the cans. And no one wants them.


Plans Obviate Replacing Canisters

All this spent fuel has been stored for years in cooling pools. Once it's moved into canisters, Edison plans to destroy these pools. Yet the pools are required for replacing the canisters—which will have to be replaced. But each canister costs over a million dollars. There are no funds allocated for can replacement, pool replacement, or any other remediation.


No Warning Plan

Thin-walled canisters have no continuous system to warn of a radiation leak. The NRC requires only that radiation levels be checked once every three months.


No Safe Evacuation Plan

Some 8.4 million people living within 50 miles of the plant will need to evacuate in case of emergency. Assuming that a radiation plume will impact only a 10-mile radius, the NRC only requires a 10-mile evacuation zone. However, they assume the ground and food will be contaminated for 50 miles in all directions.

So if you're between 10 and 50 miles away—say, Pendleton or south of Pendleton—you won't be evacuated. You sit tight. But you can't touch anything or eat anything. Ever again. Forget escape by freeway; the onramps are only accessible to those within 10 miles.

There is no evacuation plan for San Diegans.

If you happen to be within 10 miles, you will be directed to leave everything—everything— behind. It's all contaminated. You go to a reception center, some of which seem to be outdoors. Instructions are to close all the doors, windows, air vents—with a reminder that suffocation can occur if a shelter is kept tightly sealed for more than a few hours! And you can't take your pets.

If you survive, you can never go back. Yet you still owe on your mortgage! And with prevailing winds, who knows what illnesses you'll be afflicted with down the line.


What Hope Is There?

Gilmore said, “This is not something we can ignore. I believe it is fixable. When we took on trying to stop San Onofre from running a broken reactor, we didn’t think we could win. But we had to win. So we did it. It took a lot of people with different talents to do it. This is a grass roots effort. We need to advocate for safer containers. It’s not over until it’s over.”


What Do You Need To Do?

1)  Go to an approachable city council member in your town and hand them the sample resolution at, along with the Urgent Problems handout (under 'Handouts' at Ask them to create an agenda item to pass a similar resolution and then let their elected officials and the regulators know.

2) Write letters to elected officials and regulators telling them what we want, based on this article or on the two websites mentioned above.

3) Host a letter-writing party to encourage others to do the same.

Your life and everyone else's depends on your taking action on this. If we don't win on this issue, everything else becomes irrelevant.

Chiwah Slater runs a one-stop author shop at, helping authors get their books written, published, and out to the world. For a complimentary consultation, call 760-586-5392.









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