Don Mosier, Rimini Road
Southern California Edison (SCE) has released a 23-page report that was requested by Rep. Mike Levin’s Task Force on the rationale for choosing thin-walled stainless steel canisters (manufactured by Holtec) for long-term storage of nuclear waste at San Onofre. The details in this report once again illustrate how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) serves at the pleasure of the nuclear power industry. Here are the salient arguments that SCE cites for choosing the Holtec thin-walled canisters over the thick-walled casks used in other countries.
• They are less expensive.
• The NRC has licensed the multi-purpose Holtec canisters for use at any nuclear generating station, whereas the thick-walled CASTOR casks require site-specific licensing.
• The Holtec canisters are welded shut and can be removed for transfer to an NRC-approved transport cask without reloading the spent fuel rods.
• The thick-walled casks are bolted shut and fuel rods would need to be reloaded into a transport cask before transfer to an off-site repository.
• The thick-walled casks were designed to allow reprocessing of spent fuel. No reprocessing facility operates in the United States.
• Research studies are underway to confirm that the thin-walled Holtec canisters will safely contain “high burn-up fuel” (= more radioactive) for their 20-year warrantied lifespan.
In summary, NRC-approved, cheaper, and easier to transport if there were a place to move them to. No discussion of safety, durability in a harsh marine environment, or monitoring of temperature or radioactivity. Is the requirement for a site-specific license from the NRC an obstacle too great to overcome? What if high burn-up fuel causes more rapid canister degradation in less than 20 years?
A recent Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times highlights how actions at San Onofre have failed to take into account the lessons that should have been learned from the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters. “A Chernobyl Echo at San Onofre” by Kate Brown, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the November 19th Los Angeles Times (link below).