August Has Been a Cruel Month for San Onofre Nuke Plant

Public Watchdogs says the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) “spent fuel casks are not thick enough and could crack.”

by  / Blackrain Press

Republished from the OB Rag under the Fair use provision of U.S. copyright law.  Get the original story here.

Nuclear Shutdown News chronicles the decline and fall of the nuclear power industry in the US and abroad, and highlights the efforts of those working to create a nuclear free world. Here is our August 2018 report.

More Scandals Rock San Onofre

The eighth month of the year saw additional scandals erupt at Southern California’s San Onofre nuclear plant, which has been shut down since 2013.

Another potentially catastrophic accident occurred, a previously unknown whistleblower spoke out, and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is sending a special inspection team to try to sort out this whole mess.

San Onofre’s majority owner Southern California Edison shut the plant down prematurely after a scandal involving corporate mismanagement that caused a radioactive leak, and environmentalists exposed the utility’s rush to restart the plant at the expense of the public’s health and safety.

Since the permanent shutdown Edison has begun what’s called decommissioning, meaning dismantlement and decontamination of the nuclear plant .A key task in this process is dealing with the nuclear waste left over . This is called spent nuclear fuel, stored in San Onofre’s nuclear reactors as well as in pools  where it must be constantly cooled or else there could be a serious accident, in the worst case leading to a meltdown.

This highly radioactive waste remains lethal to all life for a very long time. The federal government was supposed to take responsibility for for the megatons of spent nuclear fuel (3.55 million tons in San Onofre’s case) for the whole nation by 1980, but still hasn’t .

Edison chose to do the job by having the spent fuel removed from the plant and transferred to what is called dry storage, in canisters that are then buried on site for who knows how long. To carry out this task Edison hired Holtec International of Camden, New Jersey. Work began this past February, then stopped–but for only 10 days–after a cask lost a part while being lowered into the burial site in March.

The burial site is only 100 feet from the Pacific Ocean, protected by just a 28 foot seawall.

August Is the Cruelest Month – So Far

On August 10th the San Diego Union Tribune reported on “an incident” during which another spent fuel cask had become stuck on August 4th while being maneuvered down to the bottom of the nuke dump. Specifically, the cask was wedged 18 feet above the bottom, and remained there for “45 minutes to an hour” according to the NRC.

The next day, August 4th, a whistleblower revealed himself at a public meeting about San Onofre’s decommissioning, the same U-T article reported. He identified himself as David Fritch, and said he was employed with the federal Occupational and Safety Administration (OSHA) and had been working at San Onofre for three months.

Fritch said he attended the meeting “to see if any of Edison’s reps would discuss the 8-3 incident,” but when none did he decided to report that the canister in question “could have fallen 18 feet.”

In a followup Union Tribune report on August 24th Fritch alleged that only “about a quarter inch” wedge prevented the canister from falling before it was finally repositioned and safely lowered.

In the earlier U-T report Fritch also said some workers with Holtec “are undertrained” and many experienced supervisors are often sent away  and replaced by new supervisors “who don’t understand it as well.”

The August 24 Union Tribune report said an NRC inspection team “will send a team to evaluate the incident, will come on September 10 and spend a week.”

The incident “confirms every fear we’ve had about what’s going on at San Onofre and what measurges they’re taking to ensure the public’s safety,” Charles Langley of the San Diego Public Watchdogs told the  the Union Tribune on August 10. He also expressed concerns that the spent fuel casks are not thick enough and could crack.

In light of all the above, Edison put the cask transfer operations “on pause.”

Holtec storage canisters

Holtec’s Master Plan

Given Holtec’s troublesome performance at San Onofre, you might think the company would be curtailing its activities in other places.

Unfortunately this is not the case. Earlier this year Nuclear Shutdown News detailed its plan to build a nuke dump in Arizona for the nation’s spent fuel still sitting around the increasing number of shutting down and already closed nuclear plants. An application to do so has been filed with the NRC. The most likely means of transporting the high level radioactive waste would likely be by rail.

But Holtec has also been removing spent fuel from shutdown nukes and storing it on site, most recently at Vermont Yankee, which closed in 2014.

Holtec appears to be privatizing the job of dealing with the nuke industry’s high level radioactive waste and turning it into its own growth industry , after the job was abdicated by the federal government since 1980, as noted above.

On August 1 Utility Drive reported a new Holtec scheme to turn a profit this way in its article “Holtec to buy three nuclear plants, greatly accelerate decommissioning.”

The three nuclear plants, all shutting down in the near future, are Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Pilgrim in Massachusetts, and Palisades in Michigan.

Holtec and its partner Comprehensive Decommissioning International, said they would dismantle and decontaminate the three nuke plants in eight years, though they have up to 60 years to do so. The same plan applies to Vermont Yankee.

In that state the Conservation Law Foundation warned, “In the rush to secure a possible–and by no means certain–quick cleanup of the site, the settlement excludes  reasonable protection for Vermont communities.”

The Utility Drive report did not explain why Holtec is buying the three nukes, or for how much,

But a report by WBUR radio in Boston on August 2 said that in the Pilgrim deal “Holtec will get $1 billion paid by Massachusetts ratepayers into a decommissioning trust fund.”

Sources: Utility Drive, utility drive.com; WBUR, wbur.org.

 

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