NRC refuses to release “secret” flood analysis of nuclear waste at San Onofre

Why is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) suppressing a flood analysis at the beachfront San Onofre nuclear waste dump?

Photo showing how close the San Onofre Nuclear Waste Dump is to the water.
This photo shows how close the nuclear waste dump is to the water. Source: Southern California Edison

Dateline, San Diego, 02-18-20

On February 4, 2020, Public Watchdogs filed a 2.206 Petition  to the NRC challenging Southern California Edison’s right to bury deadly nuclear waste on the beach at the failed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

The petition was filed on the grounds that the toxic waste storage facility is located near sea-level and vulnerable to water inundation (see Press Release).  We argued that there was no flood analysis on record in violation of NRC rules.

The NRC’s Secret Flood Analysis

Now, the NRC claims that a secret flood analysis was conducted by Holtec International.  Holtec is the company that makes the thin-walled canisters that contain millions of pounds of deadly radioactive waste that is being stored in partially below-ground silos (see photo).

This Holtec document says the company will lose money if the flood analysis is published.  We think the public has a right to know what’s in that secret report, and why it is being suppressed.

That’s why we have published the email exchange between Public Watchdogs’ Executive Director, and the NRC respondent, Chris Bajwa below.  We have yet to receive a reply to our email, and remain deeply concerned that the NRC has become a supplicant to the corporations it is supposed to regulate.

Here are the emails:

From: Charles Langley <langley@publicwatchdogs.org>
Date: Sun, Feb 16, 2020 at 3:13 PM
Subject: Re: Response to Immediate Action Requests in Public Watchdogs 2.206 Petition
To: Bajwa, Chris <Chris.Bajwa@nrc.gov>
Cc: Buckberg, Perry <Perry.Buckberg@nrc.gov>, Hamdan, Latif <Latif.Hamdan@nrc.gov>, Williams, Kevin <Kevin.Williams@nrc.gov>, Carpenter, Robert <Robert.Carpenter@nrc.gov>

Dear Chris Bajwa:

I am responding to your email to me dated Feb 14, 2020 copied below.

We respectfully disagree with your decision as we are unable to verify the accuracy of your statements. We have reviewed  (ML18192B094) and copied herein sections “4.6.2.4 Burial Under Debris” and “4.6.2.5 Flood ——-PROPRIETARY INFORMATION WITHHELD IN ACCORDANCE WITH 10 CFR 2.390”

Section 4.6.2.4 does not consider any debris generated by flooding as postulated in our petition and Section 4.6.2.5 Flood has been withheld “WITHHELD IN ACCORDANCE WITH 10 CFR 2.390”

It is difficult to envision how the withholding this flood information could meet the criteria of 10 CFR 2.390 that states a document may not be withheld:
“in the absence of an NRC determination of a compelling reason for nondisclosure after a balancing of the interests of the person or agency urging nondisclosure and the public interest in disclosure”

We believe the public interest is best served by the release of the ISFSI flood information and can not envision any “compelling reason for nondisclosure after a balancing of the interests of the person or agency urging nondisclosure and the public interest in disclosure”

Please provide as basis (compelling reason) for withholding this vital information.

We also believe that Edison’s flood analysis referenced in our 2.206 petition, dated August 26, 2013, (ML13240A130),  justifies immediate actions dictated by MD 8.11 Sections II.B.1 and III.B.1.

To further reinforce the immediate need for this information we have filed a FOIA request (FOIA-2020-000098) for the flood analysis.

Sincerely,

Charles Langley, Executive Director
Public Watchdogs (858) 384-2139
www.publicwatchdogs.org
7867 Convoy Court, Suite 302, San Diego CA 92111

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From: Bajwa, Chris <Chris.Bajwa@nrc.gov>
Date: Fri, Feb 14, 2020 at 11:40 AM
Subject: Response to Immediate Action Requests in Public Watchdogs 2.206 Petition
To: langley@publicwatchdogs.org <langley@publicwatchdogs.org>
Cc: Buckberg, Perry <Perry.Buckberg@nrc.gov>, Hamdan, Latif <Latif.Hamdan@nrc.gov>, Williams, Kevin <Kevin.Williams@nrc.gov>, Carpenter, Robert <Robert.Carpenter@nrc.gov>

Mr. Langley,

Good afternoon. You submitted a petition, on behalf of Public Watchdogs, requesting action under 10 C.F.R. 2.206 that included, among other requests, that the NRC order the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) licensee, Southern California Edison (SCE) to immediately suspend decommissioning operations at SONGS and that the NRC order the SCE to take immediate actions to preclude flooding of the Independent Spent Fuel Installation (ISFSI) at the site. The justification provided in your petition for these immediate action requests was an assertion that the SONGS ISFSI is operating in an “unanalyzed condition,” because some of the potential consequences of flooding of the ISFSI have not been considered.

The NRC staff reviewed these immediate action requests and has concluded, in accordance with Sections II.B.1 and III.B.1 of Management Directive (MD) 8.11, that the requests do not warrant immediate action.  The NRC staff has determined that the scenario, described in the petition, of an earthquake and tsunami leading to the submersion under water or covering by debris of the ISFSI at SONGS, while possible, would not lead to the specific consequences presented in the petition.

The effects of inundation of the SONGS ISFSI with floodwater or burial by debris and, specifically, the reactions of the spent fuel canisters to such conditions, are evaluated in the Final Safety Analysis Report (FSAR) for theHoltec HI-STORM UMAX dry cask storage system (ML18192B094). The NRC staff has reviewed the FSAR for the UMAX system and found that the system meets all applicable NRC regulations.

As such, the NRC staff has determined that the decommissioning activities at SONGS do not constitute an immediate threat to public health and safety.

Consistent with the 2.206 process, the Staff is proceeding with its evaluation of whether the petition you submitted meets the MD 8.11 acceptance criteria for review. We will contact you once the Staff has made that initial determination.

If you have any questions regarding this e-mail, please feel free to contact me at Chris.Bajwa@nrc.gov.

Best regards,
Chris Bajwa

Division of Fuel Management (DFM)
Containment, Thermal, Chemical and Fire Protection Branch (CTCFPB)
Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards (NMSS)
* T4-A60 | ( 301-415-5341 |FAX 301-415-0020  Chris.Bajwa@nrc.gov

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