The worst possible place to store nuclear waste is 108 feet from the beach at San Onofre State Beach Park
Tom Elias is the only syndicated columnist (28 newspapers) that I know of who actually takes the time to understand and report on complex infrastructure issues such as San Onofre’s nuclear waste, and the possibility of storing the waste at Yucca Mountain. In this story, Will San Onofre spur a Yucca Mountain Revival? he explores the thorny issue of stranded nuclear waste at all of America’s 103 nuclear power reactors. He quotes Public Watchdogs position that the options for deep geological storage of nuclear waste are and unpleasant choice between “Horrible” and “absolutely atrocious,” because there are no good options other than bad or worse.
Kicking the “Chernobyl Cans” down the road.
When America went big on nuclear energy during the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973, it built nearly 60 nuclear power plants with a total of 98 nuclear reactors in the next 28 years. It was a rational response to the American energy crisis, but the proponents of nuclear energy never gave serious consideration to the cost of dealing with the nuclear waste. The solution at San Onofre is to use lightweight stainless steel canisters with 5/8″ thick walls to store the waste. But these lightweight cans are a bad solution for a heavyweight problem. Each canister contains more deadly Cesium 137 than what was released during the entire Chernobyl meltdown.
In the case of San Onofre, more than 70 gigantic 20 foot high stainless steel cans, called “Mobile Chernobyls” are being filled with deadly “Spent Nuclear Fuel” assemblies that are lethal to all human life for at least 250,000 years. These fuel assemblies are radioactively “hot,” so much so that getting within a few feet of the cans without protection will produce death within a matter of hours.
The owners of the nuclear waste, Southern California Edison, have opted to store their Mobile Chernobyls on the beach. You heard that right. The new canisters are being stored just 109 feet from the high surf behind a 15 foot wall. More troubling, the containers are resting inside concrete and steel holes in the ground on top of an earthquake fault, in the middle of a tsunami zone, and inches above the saltwater table.
An astonishing safety guarantee.
Although the nuclear waste inside each Mobile Chernobyl is in a container approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the waste inside is so dangerous that Holtec, the manufacturer of the containers, will only guarantee its nuclear garbage cans for 25 years. What’s more, the structure that Holtec has built to store the cans, called an ISFSI, or “Independent Spent Fuel Storage Facility” is only guaranteed to last ten years (here’s a copy of the 10 and 25-year limited warranty).
Yucca Mountain as a permanent solution.
The Department of Energy was supposed to build a permanent deep geological storage repository for nuclear waste in the remote Yucca Mountain range in the middle of Nevada’s vast desert wastelands. Unfortunately, Yucca Mountain was deemed to be too geologically risky, and the project was terminated by Nevada Senator Harry Reid, and his former staff member, Gregory Jazcko who was appointed to head up the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. To write his story, Elias called on William Alley, the former Chief Geologist of Yucca Mountain, who with his partner, Rose Alley wrote the wildly popular Too Hot to Touch, the problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste.
Too Hot to Touch is so well-written that it has achieved a near-cult status and following among lay people and policy experts who are interested in understanding the legal and technical problems of nuclear waste. Written in the style of a breathtakingly fast pace tour de force, Too Hot to Touch explains why, in practical terms, the options for moving nuclear waste to deep geological storage are almost impossible, given the political, legal, and regulatory hurdles that must be overcome.
Despite the significant technical and legal challenges posed by Too Hot to Touch, Public Watchdogs is confident that working together, we can find a safe storage place and safer containers for the nuclear waste at San Onofre.
We recommend everyone interested in this topic should buy a copy.