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Caskets Not End Solution
Don Mosier | Del Mar City Council

Since San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) closed down its reactors in 2012, the focus has been on the decommissioning process that must deal with the 4000 tons of highly radioactive spent fuel rods left over from the entire time SONGS was generating electricity. Most of these fuel rods are currently stored in overcrowded cooling pools, but the plan is to inter them in stainless steel caskets partially buried in concrete by 2019 where they will remain in perpetuity unless a miracle happens and the US Department of Energy (DOE) resurrects them for transport to a yet to be identified final resting place. This RIP plan has a few serious flaws:

• The Holtec caskets (canisters) are not rated for integrity beyond 20 years.
• Once they are buried, there is no way to monitor for leaks.
• One such container failed at Diablo Canyon after only 2 years.
• Burial next to the ocean and close to active earthquake faults poses risks that have never been evaluated.
• A tiny leak can lead to release of massive doses of radioactivity.
• Even Holtec, the casket designer, acknowledges these risks (either brutal honesty or a strategy to avoid future liability).

Southern California Edison (SCE), the operator of SONGS, applied for relaxed security precautions based on the argument that the burial plan is much safer than active reactors, and there is thus no need to monitor radioactivity outside of the plant or have any evacuation plans for neighboring cities within 10 miles of the plant. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the guardian of our safety, replied “Of course, no problem, your RIP plan looks perfect.” Actually, the NRC would never be so succinct. What they actually said was:

“The proposed action is needed for SCE to revise the SONGS emergency plan (EP) to reflect the permanently shutdown and defueled status of the facility. The EP requirements currently applicable to SONGS are for operating power reactors. There are no explicit regulatory provisions distinguishing EP requirements for a power reactor that has been shut down from those for an operating power reactor. Therefore, since the 10 CFR part 50 licenses for SONGS no longer authorize operation of the reactors or emplacement or retention of fuel into the reactor vessels, as specified in 10 CFR 50.82(a)(2), the occurrence of postulated accidents associated with reactor operation is no longer credible.”

No longer credible! The question was if the interment plan was safe, and the answer is that the reactors are shut down, and we have no rules for dealing with the safety of long-term storage of the fuel rods. The reactors may be “defueled,” but the fuel is still onsite.
Probably forever. RIP

 

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