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Recent Developments with San Onofre Nuclear Waste

Recent Developments with  San Onofre Nuclear Waste

Don’t you love living in San Diego? Sea, sun, mountains, snow, hiking, boating, skiing, surfing, music … and whatever else you enjoy, there’s not a lot that’s not available here. And given the constant influx of population, it’s clear people across the country and around the world agree it’s heaven on earth.

What if you were forced to leave? Where would you go? Do you have the wherewithal to relocate immediately somewhere else? How would that affect your family, your pets, your property?

Those are horrifying questions to ask, but ask them we must. Because we are living in what many “in the know” are calling a Fukushima (or worse) waiting to happen. And unless we stand up en masse and demand change, we probably deserve what we’re likely to get.

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) is a disaster waiting to happen. Worst case, a chain-reaction explosion—you won’t be around to think about relocating, nor will anyone else downwind of us.

Some Salient Points and What YOU Can Do

1. Edison hopes to foist SONGS off on the federal government. The company has already made all the money they’re going to make with it, and they’re doing everything they can to hold down costs until they can foist it off onto the federal government. Dealing with Edison and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is bad enough. But having to get a rational plan and money from Congress? Based on their track record … Hmmm. Doesn’t look good.

That could happen if Senate Bill 3053 passes. The bill would officially mark Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as the nation’s nuclear waste repository. It has already passed the House and is being held up in the Senate only because Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) fears that a repository at Yucca Mountain would put an end to his Senatorial career.

An appropriations bill is also being considered that would fund a private repository facility other than Yucca Mountain.

If either of these bills passes, current nuclear waste facility owners will be able to offer to turn over ownership to the Department of Energy. Will the DOE agree to that? If they do, the Edison staff here will be dancing in the streets. But will we?

What can YOU do? If you see the futility of trying to get the required mega-millions from Congress to make the changes that might keep southern California intact and safe, write TODAY and ask California Senators Kamala Harris and Diane Feinstein to vote NO on S-3053. Tell them that even though Edison and the NRC have not acted responsibly, you’d rather take your chances with them. (Also, you might remind them that a vote for 3053 will endanger the indigenous people of the Western Shoshone Nation.)

Also, tell Feinstein and Harris that unless we get thick-walled casks at SONGS, they can kiss southern California goodbye—hardly good for the state as a whole. Ask them to demand that the NRC enforce their requirement for containers that can be inspected and maintained (that means thick-walled containers) to prevent major leaks and explosions.

For sample letters and the names and address of editors at some local publications, download this document from our website.

2. The future of all life in southern California and beyond hinges on safer nuclear waste storage containers at SONGS.

Edison’s mismanagement of the plant is legendary, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) tends to follow their lead. SONGS has the worst safety record of any nuclear facility in the country. Edison is notorious for concealing dangerous occurrences until forced to reveal them, and the NRC turns a blind eye. It’s up to us to be aware and demand that safety win out over money.

Dangerous Canisters — While more responsible countries store their waste in canisters with walls 10 to 20 inches thick, all of the SONGS waste goes into containers with walls only 5/8-inch thick (the oldest were manufactured by Areva, the newer ones are by Holtec). Warrantied only for factory defects, these thin-walled containers are welded shut and cannot be opened. So Edison has no way to inspect them for cracks.

Donna Gilmore, a retired systems analyst who has devoted years to researching and educating the public (and the industry!) on nuclear waste issues, said, “The NRC admits that once a crack starts in a thin-walled canister, it can grow through the wall in 16 years. Diablo Canyon was found to have a two-year-old Holtec canister with all the conditions for cracking. San Onofre has [Areva] canisters that are up to 15 years old. You do the math. If we don’t get safer containers, it’s ‘game over’ for southern California.”

What can YOU do?

Write the NRC and demand that they enforce their requirement for containers that can be inspected and maintained to prevent major leaks and explosions. That means thick-walled containers!

For sample letters and the names and address of editors at some local publications, download this document from our website.

3. Transferring hot waste from thin-walled canisters into thick-walled casks requires either a hot cell—extremely costly, and Edison doesn’t have one—or re-submersion of the fuel rods for cooling in the cooling pools. However, Areva has requested on Edison’s behalf that the cooling pools be destroyed as part of “decommissioning” SONGS.

If the pools are destroyed, the only remaining option will be a hot cell. The less expensive option, by far, is to keep the cooling pools.

One snag to doing this is the fact that Edison admits they don’t currently have the technology to deal with super-hot canisters in the pools. But while this is true, the pools are our only existing option and it is likely this technology will be developed. Furthermore, the older cans, which pose the biggest immediate threat, may already be cool enough for the pools.

(Ray Lutz of Citizens’ Oversight has proposed that the thin-walled containers simply be loaded wholesale into thick-walled casks. This would make the cooling pools unnecessary. Alas, Gilmore explained, this won’t work because the thin-walled cans are convection-cooled and there’s no air in the closed thick-walled casks to allow that cooling to happen. Too bad.)

What can YOU do? Right now, the best thing you can do is probably to write letters to the editors of local newspapers. For sample letters and the names and address of editors at some local publications,  download this document from our website.

Please also mark your calendar now to check the State Lands Commission website, www.slc.ca.gov, in November. On their Home page, you should see either the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) or the finalized version. If the draft EIR is still up, keep checking until they replace it with the finalized version. Read that finalized version. If it includes destruction of the cooling pools, you need to protest! They told me you can do that at their December meeting in San Diego. Please plan to attend that meeting. The date, time, and location should be posted on the Home page of their website sometime in November. If not, call them at 916-574-1890 and ask.

Thick-Walled Canisters Are the Key

The most likely way to ensure a future for southern California is for large numbers of us (including YOU!) to take these actions. Yes, there are other vital issues with SONGS—a plethora of them. But the thick-walled casks are the crux of the issue, and transference of the waste into them depends at this point on maintenance of the cooling pools. And probably the least likely scenario for that to happen would be having to get funding from Congress.

Will the waste ever be moved elsewhere? Unlikely, said former NRC head Greg Jaczko in a recent KPBS interview. The most likely option would be to Pendleton-owned lands on the mesa on the other side of the I-5 freeway. But the waste cannot legally or safely be moved in the current canisters. So again, thick-walled canisters are the core of the solution.

Can Edison be trusted to do the right thing? Definitely not. Like any corporation, they answer to their stockholders. They have failed to disclose mishap after mishap; left to their own devices, they will continue to do so. And the NRC won’t enforce their regulations unless we force the issue.

That’s why it’s so important that you write those letters and pass this message on to everyone you know.

Finally, maintaining a focus is critical here. Avoid getting caught up in other issues around SONGS. Until we prevail upon Edison to invest in thick-walled casks, none of the rest is relevant.

As We Go to Press:

• Reprieve (But Don’t Get Your Hopes Up) — On August 23, the NRC announced the launch of an official investigation into an incident (brought to light on August 3 by a whistleblower) involving a canister loaded with superheated radioactive waste that slipped and nearly fell 18 feet. And Edison has told the NRC they have stopped moving fuel into the storage vaults until the NRC completes its review of the incident.

• Our Day in Court — Charles Langley texted me on August 22nd that his organization, Public Watchdogs, has raised $100,000.00 for legal action to find solutions to prevent the ongoing burial of high-level radioactive waste near the beach. They have retained local environmental attorney Cory Briggs to represent them in court to that end.

So maybe there’s a glimmer of light in this dark and treacherous nuclear waste tunnel. Not at its end—what light could shine so many thousands of years into the future? But any light at all has to be a good thing, right?

To get the real skinny on all aspects of what’s happening at SONGS and at nuclear plants around the country, the best website is www.SanOnofreSafety.org.

About The Author

Chiwah Slater

Bestselling author Chiwah Slater has guided scores of successful authors through writing and publishing books and getting them out to the world. She runs a one-stop author shop at AwriteToKnow.com. For a complimentary consultation, call her at 760-586-5392.

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