Our NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) scrubbed a crucial study on seismic and tsunami risk at SONGS sent to them in 2012. This 2005 study by Geologist Gerald Kuhn predicted extreme risk to our region should Southern California Edison (SCE) construct a nuclear waste dump where it’s currently located at SONGS. My team submitted a FOIA request to the NRC to find it. It came up empty. Had this study been considered, construction of SONGS’ high-level nuclear waste storage facility with 73 canisters at sea level would not have been licensed.
The NRC never required a study to be done on what happens to these canisters after 32 hours should a tsunami inundate the facility, clogging buried canister cooling vents with sand, salt and marine debris. Strange, because the storage facility is located in an official tsunami inundation zone, 108 feet from the ocean at San Onofre. Yet, the NRC has redacted information pertaining to these very canisters in a flood/tsunami scenario on their website. They cite proprietary information by Holtec, the canister manufacturer. When asked for an explanation on SONGS canister safety should a tsunami, earthquake or terrorism occur, both NRC and SCE responded that such events are “not credible.”
Per NRC records, SONGS thin-walled temporary storage canisters are scratched and gouged due to a faulty loading system, designed by Holtec. These aging canisters cannot be thoroughly inspected for microscopic cracks caused by marine environment corrosion, earthquakes or other events. Moreover, the US Department of Transportation will not transport a damaged canister containing lethal, radioactive waste.
So, what’s the remedy to keep our region safe? A dry transfer facility (otherwise known as a hot cell) is crucial for repairing damaged canisters, if they’re to be transported to higher, safer ground. Hot cells are also necessary for repackaging nuclear waste into permanent storage casks. Why doesn’t the richest country in the world have hot cells at aging civilian nuclear waste sites? Instead of investing in hot cell technology, why is the Department of Energy spending taxpayers’ dollars on defining consent-based siting of our country’s 83,000+ metric tons of nuclear waste? It’s all about the bottom line. The public deserves a transparent dialogue with regulators and independent experts about this and the glossed over canister safety issues of tsunami/flooding at SONGS. Failure to do so in public will undoubtedly result in burdening our progeny and our planet with radioactive contamination from preventable accidents.