Explosive Open Letter from Ace Hoffman
David Victor showed his hand last Thursday evening at the Community Enragement Panel of Southern California Edison, also known as the “let’s find a way to pretend this waste doesn’t exist” committee.
We can all see the deck is stacked. The outcome of CEP recommendations has to be in SCE’s favor. SCE would have it no other way, which presumably is why they picked David Victor to chair the committee.
One panelist, an elected official from Oceanside, was lauded for passing around a timid resolution to other nearby cities, endorsing any form of interim storage and the basic idea of moving the waste away from e as soon as possible.
Not one of the CEP panelists who spoke is actually focused on the waste issue — other than asking the federal government to “do its job” and “take the waste.” Every CEP panelist who spoke about “waste” at the meeting assumed that the reason the waste remains on site is simply politics at the federal level. They do not realize or acknowledge the insurmountable technological hurdles that have kept the nuclear waste issue from being resolved for ~75 years. They want to implore the feds to do something. They want to bypass the federal regulations somehow (but of course, they expect the feds to regulate the waste, since, as one of them put it, “nobody else understands it”). They want to find a loophole that will let SCE and other utilities pay off some small community and ship the waste away from our crowded, lovely coast. They want to magically make our problem be somebody else’s problem.
Everyone on the panel wants the waste to be moved — a unanimous opinion. But no one on the panel faces the real question of how to properly handle the waste while it’s here — for decades, maybe centuries, maybe forever. They leave that question — what to do in the meantime — to SCE. And yet, from the citizen’s perspective, from the ratepayer’s perspective, those immediate questions are, by far, the most important — and we were asking them long before the plant shut down in 2012. What are we going to do with the waste? What is society going to do with the waste? Exasperated with having to ask it, activists have long-suggested that pro-nukers either: Eat it, carry it around with them, or keep it on their own property (and their children’s property, etc.). Not one person, not one community, has come to a CEP meeting to say they want the waste, and would SCE please just ship it over to them. And none will.
During the meeting, the public was implored several times to attend a Department of Energy hearing in Sacramento, California on April 26, 2016. The subject of the hearing is: “Consent Based Siting” of interim nuclear waste storage. Not that anyone present was expected to encourage their own community to HOST a nuclear waste site! No, we are supposed to let the DOE know how badly we want them to find — and force — someone else to take the waste!
Meanwhile, places like Diablo Canyon and Palo Verde continue to spew out new nuclear waste. Each reactor produces, on average, about 250 pounds of new high-level nuclear waste per day. The reactor owners — the large utilities — block solar and other renewable energy implementations which could have completely replaced all five of those reactors with safe power generation for the amount of money spent on Palo Verde and Diablo Canyon’s steam generator replacement projects (even though theirs were “successful” compared to San Onofre’s steam generator replacement fiasco).
It is clear that if there are ever to be “interim” storage sites for nuclear waste, San Onofre’s CEP needs to take a look at the already-operational nuclear waste sites — operating nuclear power plants and a few other closed sites. Why does CEP think those operating, fully-staffed nuclear sites, which already store spent nuclear fuel of their own, can’t take the much-cooler (since none of it is “fresh” out of the reactor) spent fuel waste from nearby permanently-closed nuclear power plants like San Onofre? Problem solved: We have “consolidated interim storage” without even having to ask for it, and without having to find new willing communities to take the waste.
But the CEP won’t look at Palo Verde, even though it’s currently (because it’s open and operational) the most logical place for SanO’s waste to be stored: Away from the coast, away from the earthquake zone Diablo Canyon is also in.
Disclosure: My sister and her family live in Tucson, about 150 miles from PVNPP, so I’m not advising we do that, of course.
But I’m quite amazed that the CEP won’t even discuss asking SCE about storing San Onofre’s nuclear waste at Palo Verde. The CEP could recommend that since SCE is a part owner of Palo Verde (15.8%), SCE immediately move forward with putting San Onofre’s waste there. Yet they don’t even suggest it, let alone demand it (“demand” would have no legal authority, of course, since the CEP is toothless, but it would look good and get media attention, that’s for sure!). Actually, SCE could probably move the waste there without asking anyone’s permission except the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — who, of course, would grant it. (The NRC will license a mule-pack full of uranium ore and give a miner lung cancer. They’ll license anything.).
But the Palo Verde option is never put on the table because the nuclear industry knows there is no PROFIT for whoever ends up with the waste, and no one in the industry wants continued responsibility for the waste after the plants have closed. In fact, the utilities plan to sue the federal government for every penny spent on nuclear waste (that is, everything they can’t soak out of the ratepayer via the Public Utilities Commission). They are already suing — and winning — because Yucca Mountain did not come to fruition.
The nuclear utilities are far more interested in the legal ramifications of keeping possession of the spent fuel, than their moral obligations in dealing properly (as much as such a thing is possible) with the spent fuel hazardous waste they produced. They will only settle for a plan that helps Diablo Canyon stay open, even though it’s obvious that the problem they are trying to solve is unsolvable, and pretending Diablo Canyon will ever have a cost-effective, safe, reliable solution to their waste problem is absurd. Nuclear waste is the “hot potato” game we all learned as a kid (whether we actually played it or not, we knew about it), but in this case the “hot potato” is really hot, really dangerous, and would kill you instantly if you held it — and weighs far more than you might expect (uranium is a very dense metal).
The nuclear industry could solve San Onofre’s problem — but not every reactor’s problem — by simply moving San Onofre’s nuclear waste to Palo Verde. This could be started sooner and completed faster than any other temporary, interim, or “permanent” solution.
However, no nuclear power plant owner/operator anywhere wants to be the one to get everyone else’s waste. And even those communities that support their local nuclear power plant, would object to getting any extra waste that wasn’t produced by their own nuclear waste production facility, aka nuclear power plant, the power being a fleeting byproduct of the operation, the real product is hazardous radioactive fuel assemblies. To each his own, and to their children, and their children’s children.
The CEP should be telling the public about what a “hot potato” this waste really is. Every nuclear power plant would gladly pay hundreds of millions of dollars — that’s a lot of money — for someone — anyone- — to take their waste. They would even pay billions if they could — as the saying goes — wash their hands completely of responsibility for the waste they created. But there are no takers, even at those prices. (I’m sure they’ve considered — and perhaps even tried — putting it on ebay.)
But this is the Internet age, and every community out there knows the score. Even SCE executive/spokesperson Tom Palmisano agreed that any timetable for disposing of (he means moving) San Onofre waste would depend on several needed solutions that don’t yet exist. There are no “interim” sites available at this time and only two supposedly under consideration, one in Texas and one in New Mexico, neither of which would be anything but a disaster-waiting-to-happen, being under flight paths, not underground, not covered with 8 to 20 feet of reinforced concrete…just huge pads of deadly radioactive cylinders. These would be the same cylinders San Onofre plans to place in several cement (NOT reinforced concrete (except the base plate)!) “islands” on site at San Onofre — a plan Palmisano has taken to calling “underground” but it isn’t underground, it’s merely recessed into the earth a bit.
Palmisano assured the public all of the waste that is currently in dry casks at San Onofre could be moved “today” and the rest within 10 years — if there is a place to put it. And a vehicle to transport it in, and the right infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) between hither and yon. But assuming all that was in place, he assured the community the waste could be moved now or within a decade.
Palo Verde plans to remain operational far longer than that, and most of the route from San Onofre to Palo Verde is fairly desolate. So why won’t the CEP, or SCE consider Palo Verde as the “perfect” spot for their nuclear waste? (Should I mention a train struck an army fuel tanker truck at a “desolate” crossing along that route about a year ago, causing a massive fire and closing the nearby highway for about 5 hours?)
Or for that matter, why isn’t the CEP considering shipping the waste to Diablo Canyon? Pro-nuclear activists around that site have already stated in public to this author that they would “gladly” take the waste! So why won’t PG&E “gladly” take it off our hands?
Disclosure: I have friends who live near DCNPP, so I do not endorse this idea!
If such locations are deemed safe enough for their own nuclear spent fuel waste, aren’t they safe enough for San Onofre’s waste, too? And haven’t those communities already consented to be nuclear waste dumps, at least until a decade or more after their own reactors close?
So why isn’t this option being explored by the CEP?
I suspect it’s because it leads to one inevitable conclusion: No plant will want to remain open if it means becoming a repository of another plant’s nuclear waste. Not even when the two facilities are owned (15.8%) by the same company! That’s how deadly, despicable, and dangerous nuclear waste really is.
It contains fission products which are radioactive isotopes of elements which mimic biologically-useful elements such as calcium. It also contains plenty of fissionable heavy metals, such as uranium and plutonium, which some people want to extract and use again. These isotopes can no longer be used directly in a reactor because other radioactive elements that are not fissionable (by neutrons) are interfering with the nuclear reaction. That’s why the “spent” fuel was removed from the reactor: NOT because it was empty of fuel, as the name implies, but because it was full of “poisons,” which is a nuclear industry term for the nuclear waste isotopes that build up and prevent the chain reaction from continuing. It is also the proper term for what radioactive substances all are in the first place: Poison.
At the end of Thursday’s CEP meeting, David Victor wished for anyone willing to call his organization “criminal” to step forward and do so. I’ll gladly do that, Mr. Victor! Your organization is hoodwinking the media and the public, claiming to be something it is not — namely, a central gathering of ideas. Instead it is a blockade to the truth. It is as if the tobacco industry had made a committee of government “volunteers” and a few heads of charities to pronounce tobacco safe for children and other living things! With one hand-picked token “environmental” group — the Sierra Club. The SC rep believes simplistically in “deep geologic storage” as the best solution, but Interim Storage Anywhere But Here is also alright with him, so he graciously goes along with everything the CEP chairman and SCE representative want. (Note: In a developing story, the SC panel member referred to a letter signed by another SC volunteer from a national SC working group as a “hoax,” but in fact, he is the real “hoax” since his job description both at the CEP and at the Sierra Club includes engaging with other activists in the local community, which he refuses to do — instead he denigrates them unjustly to the rest of the CEP panel, and never responds to their viewpoints in any logical fashion.)
Nuclear waste can be as complicated to handle properly as a nuclear reactor is to run. And like flying an airplane or operating a nuclear reactor, most of the time nothing out of the ordinary seems to be happening at all, until one day, all hell breaks loose.
Spent fuel can have accidents that are just as large as what an operating reactor can do and perhaps even larger, since there is usually more than one reactor-load of spent fuel at any spent fuel location. Although such accidents are reasonably considered far less likely than an accident at an operating reactor, they are nevertheless possible.
The same day that the CEP held its quarterly meeting, it was revealed that the Brussels attackers, the terrorists who killed 30 people at coordinated sites in Belgium earlier in the week (including at least two Americans) — had 12 hours of footage taken outside the house of a top official at one of Belgium’s nuclear research/medical isotope facilities. They were undoubtedly planning a kidnapping of some sort, and using him (or his keys or codes) for access to the facility. “Non-essential” crews at two Belgian nuclear facilities were “sent home” soon after the terrorist attacks at the airport and subway station in Belgium — presumably because authorities wanted to recheck every person on site to be sure they had not already been infiltrated. Reportedly several workers were “stripped of their security badges.”
Not a word of this terrifying incident was spoken at the CEP meeting by any of the panelists, even though nuclear waste is capable of destroying an area approximately as large as a nuclear power plant accident can destroy: Far more than was lost in Fukushima or Chernobyl, which were bad accidents, but nowhere near as bad as a complete vaporization of the uranium fuel, the worst of all possible hazards. Could spent fuel be vaporized in an airplane crash and subsequent fuel fire and/or criticality event? Perhaps, but if that’s not enough, additional explosives and high-temperature flammable material could be included as cargo on board a private jet with a suicidal pilot on board. No interim storage site is planned anywhere that can withstand all possible attacks by humans or by mother nature. Instead, the government makes calculations as to the likelihood of various events (called “Probabilistic Risk Assessments” (PRAs)), and even this week, terrorism by air is still discounted almost entirely by the NRC (they assume TSA will stop such events every time, giving them a PRA value statistically equivalent to zero). So is drone terrorism, and even cyber terrorism. The largest ground attack force is estimated to be about three people — and the theoretical attackers are not even suicidal, and have, at most, help from only one inside operator.
Numerous very real threats to our nuclear stockpiles get lip service, nothing more.
But admittedly, in some cases, nothing more CAN be done than to pay lip service to the threat, and hope it doesn’t happen. Meanwhile, another 400+ foot tunnel was found between the U.S. and Mexico.
San Onofre is vulnerable to tunneling, airplane strikes, drone strikes and cyber attack, and perhaps even easier (or more effective) vectors of penetration, including exploding an LNG ship at the planned offshore distribution hub that is being considered for the now-closed San Onofre reactor complex. Is there anyone on earth who doesn’t want the waste moved before LNG ships arrive offshore?
Yes: The people at the planned destination location. That can’t be resolved diplomatically, because they are nobody’s fool anymore. They (and the people surrounding them, and the state they live in) all have a democratic system of government to protect them (in America). Ah, but do they? Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission tried very hard to get around that little problem of democracy in siting an “interim” nuclear waste site. They are still stymied, as time marches on (and reactors make waste piles bigger).
Perhaps this is why attorney Michael Aguirre described the CEP as part of a criminal organization. They — and especially their chairman — kowtow to Southern California Edison. The chairman makes up rules on the spot, rules which make it impossible for a citizen to interact with the utility itself, or even with the other CEP panelists, for that matter: Even when a panelist tries to answer a commentator, that panelist is cut off by CEP chairman David Victor!
California government representatives, including local elected officials, should no longer attend these SCE “engagement panel” meetings. Instead, they should hold real hearings locally, with local residents allowed to speak for as long as required. Any real solutions anyone comes up with are bound to take more than 3 minutes to explain!
The CEP chairman reminds the public regularly that the CEP is NOT a government agency. But the news media refer to their meetings as “hearings” and every time a government representative speaks at a CEP meeting, the impression is strengthened that something important goes on there.
But in reality, the CEP and its chairman David Victor are defending an indefensible, unworkable solution, and seeking public approval of a dangerous plan with deadly consequences of failure. Sooner or later, yelling louder than the next guy is all David Victor has left, he has no moral ground for his stance, and has to resort to yelling and cutting off the microphone of members of the public, because the public is fed up with what SCE and other reactors have been offering: thin dry casks which are inadequate containment for the world’s most dangerous substances.
The #1 thing the CEP should have learned by now is that if we close Diablo Canyon and Palo Verde, the southwestern states will finally all be on the same playing field about what to do with our nuclear waste. No one will be profiting from its production.
No one in the west wants east coast waste shipped to their state, that’s for certain. You can bet every east coast state is eyeing “solutions” SCE might come up with for their own mounting problem.
So, until PVNPP and DCNPP are closed, it makes gruesome sense to ship San Onofre’s waste to one of those sites for storage for the foreseeable future. That will scare the bejesus out of all the remaining operating reactors! Something needs to scare them and if events in Belgium don’t, perhaps nothing will. Except financial ruin. No corporation survives that! And whoever ends up with the waste will surely be financially ruined sooner or later.
A modest proposal indeed!
The author, a 59-yr old bladder cancer survivor, has attended, in person, approximately 100 NRC, DOE, CCC, CEC, and CPUC hearings, and well over 100 more similar public hearings via web link and phone line since those have become available from the NRC and other agencies (oddly, such two-way connections are NOT available for the CEP meetings). He has attended, in person or via phone link, all but one CEP meetings (despite dealing with another cancer in the family, and other issues at the time).