On-site spent fuel storage sensible

May 9, 2013 

Ed Halpin, senior vice president of PG&E, is confident that the current on-site storage of highly radioactive nuclear waste at Diablo Canyon is safe for an indefinite time (“It’s time for government to accept spent nuclear fuel,” Tribune Viewpoint, April 24).

Really? Diablo Canyon is built on one of the most seismically fragile coastlines in the world, in proximity to at least 13 active earthquake faults. With each passing day, more highly radioactive spent fuel rods are accumulating in dangerously overcrowded cooling pools. Reliant on electricity, these cooling pools are vulnerable to events leading to power loss, such as flooding or earthquake. Loss of cooling water could result in spent fuel damage and potentially catastrophic radiological release.

Highly radioactive waste that has been in cooling pools for at least five years is finally cool enough to be put into dry cask storage , massive lead-lined cement casks that are guaranteed to last for 20 years. However, just a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued an information notice detailing how moisture can degrade structures and components associated with dry cask spent fuel storage.

The spent fuel pools are overcrowded; the dry cask storage is prone to moisture damage. Not a very promising outlook.

In the same Viewpoint, Mr. Halpin states that the U.S. Department of Energy should offer a permanent repository for the 77,000 metric tons of radioactive waste that are being stored onsite at the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors. The government spent 20 years and $30 billion trying to overcome the drawbacks of a repository at Yucca Mountain, which was discovered to be unsuitable for long-term storage of the deadly waste. Now, the Department of Energy is back at square one.

The NRC has proposed to use “consolidated interim storage sites,” and they are looking for communities that are willing to accept radioactive waste to store until the “permanent repository” is located and built. From the industry’s viewpoint, the major advantages of adopting this approach are that it provides the illusion of a solution and it negates corporate fiscal responsibility. As NIRS (Nuclear Information and Resource Service) points out, the utilities are liable for radioactive waste when it’s on their property. Once moved outside their gates, we taxpayers are liable.

Transporting this lethal waste across America’s highways is foolhardy at best. Just one accident or one terrorist hijacking or attack could be lethal to countless numbers of people and to the environment. To transport the radioactive waste that is currently stored throughout the United States would require 3,000 truck deliveries a day for 40 years, or one load every three hours. And to what location would it be delivered? An “interim” storage site, meaning that it would be transported again, if and when a permanent repository becomes available?

The sensible approach to this problem is to keep all of the radioactive waste on-site, perhaps into eternity. It must be kept in Hardened, On-Site Storage (HOSS), passively cooled, well-hidden from view, bermed and dispersed throughout the site. These casks should be the highest quality available in the world. And Diablo Canyon nuclear plant must stop producing radioactive waste.

California can be completely reliant on renewable energy. We need to conserve, to fund solar rooftops throughout the state, to develop wind and wave energy and geothermal sources. Fukushima sent us a warning two years ago. We ignore that warning at our peril.

Linda Seeley is a spokeswoman for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace. Elizabeth Brousse is a member of the organization.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service