August 12, 2019,
Two recent scandals confirm that public safety is not top priority of either the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or Southern California Edison as they lurch forward with a faulty engineering design for removing spent nuclear waste from cooling pools and loading into dry storage at the now shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
Dry canister storage at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Courtesy Southern California Edison
In August 2018, a conscience-driven whistle blower exposed how, because of a system design flaw and human error, a 54-ton canister loaded with highly radioactive waste nearly crashed down 18 feet during a procedure to load it into a dry storage silo in the ground. He also detailed a general atmosphere of neglect for public safety by both the NRC and Edison.
In the latest scandal, it was revealed that the approved loading system can’t avoid scratching the thin (5/8-inch) steel-walled canisters as they are lowered into the concrete-reinforced steel silos. According to the advocacy group SanOnofreSafety.org, the NRC admits that scratches are unavoidable and can trigger cracking which can grow through the canister wall, causing uncontrolled radiation leakage. CEO Kris Singh of Holtec, the company that manufactures the cans, acknowledges that even a microscopic crack would release millions of curies of radiation (one curie is enough to kill you).
According to Charles Langley, executive director of PublicWatchdogs.org, salt from the Pacific Ocean will cause the thin-walled metal cans to fail quickly. “Stainless steel does not really rust when it is exposed to salt, it cracks open. Our experts say that even a minor scratch in one of these cans can pave the way to chloride-induced stress corrosion cracking, and we know that all of the cans have been deeply gouged so far.”
Another concern is that a crack could release the inert helium gas inside the canisters, which works as a fire-suppressant. If water then gets inside, a chemical reaction with any damaged fuel assemblies could cause a hydrogen explosion. Moreover, there is no method for inspecting, repairing or replacing cracked canisters. Despite these concerns, the NRC has given Edison the green light, and canisters continue being loaded into silos with no plan to move them offsite.