Sierra Club’s Take on Nuclear Waste Removal at San Onofre



Confusion remains about Edison’s plans for managing spent fuel at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. We have every reason to be vigilant in our continued oversight of Edison’s decommissioning plans.  But it is also important to understand the years of oversight and discussions that the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club has provided in 19 meetings since 2014.  We have listened to the experts and asked questions for the public interest on safety.

Here is the Sierra Club position on current plans at San Onofre:

The cement pad for temporary storage for dry canisters that the California Coast Commission approved in October 2015 has been built.  It is finished and will begin to take canisters this December.  The Sierra Club was in favor of its location.  There was not room for the rods from the cooling pools to be placed in the first pad and a second one had to be built. The Sierra Club agreed with the SCE decision that the location 36 yards from the ocean was the best place.  We still hold that position.

The cooling pools are more dangerous than dry storage.  Add to that earthquake or sabotage and one can understand why the Sierra Club supports emptying the cooling pools without delay.

Finally, the Sierra Club concludes with Edison that the Holtec stainless steel 5/8”canisters (thin) are superior to the heavy, stand alone carbon steel cask (thick) system because the canisters can be moved more easily and are therefore safer in transport out of the cooling pools and in and out of the containers.  The Holtec system is also flush to the ground, less of a target for terrorists. Dave Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists stated this in October 2015.

The Nuclear Regulator Commission license for the transport of any thick cask system has not been granted.  Jeremy Renshaw, Ph.D., a nuclear waste program manager at Electric Power Research Institute, said the current bolted thick-walled cask system will no longer be used in Japan in favor of the 5/8” stainless steel canisters as a better system for their future.

The NRC license for the cask that will cover the Holtec canisters for transport by train has been granted.  They need a two-year lead time to be built.  Yet, the Department of Energy cannot remove canisters unless a federal law is passed that allows transport to monitored retrievable storage.  Even with that daunting possibility, the Angeles Chapter agrees with Edison that the Holtec system is the best system the industry can provide. Sadly, nothing will last the 10,000 years the fuel must be contained.  We have a great deal of work ahead of us.  I hope you will work to get a federal bill passed that allows the fuel at SONGS to be taken away by the DOE.

Marni Magda, Laguna Beach

The author is chair of the Angeles Chapter Sierra Club San Onofre Task Force.

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  1. The thin-wall stainless steel canisters Edison is using and plans to continue to use cannot be inspected inside or out, cannot be repaired, and cannot be maintained or monitored to PREVENT leaks. We expect as much in a car. You don’t need to be an auto engineer or a nuclear engineer to understand these common sense minimum safety requirements.

    The NRC states these canisters are vulnerable to cracking from moist ocean air as well as other environmental conditions. Once a canister starts cracking, they say cracks will continue to grow through the wall in about 16 years. Some San Onofre canisters are already 14 years old and Edison has no plan to prevent leaks or deal with leaking canisters. The spent fuel pools are also dangerous, but at least you can inspect the pools, maintain the pools, and have backup power and water supplies. With the thin canisters there is NO REDUNDANCY, NO BACKUP. The thick concrete overpacks the thin-wall canisters are stored in have air vents to keep the canisters from overheating. Therefore, the only protection is the 5/8″ steel wall. Each canisters contains about as much highly lethal Cesium-137 as was released from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. These Chernobyl cans are not safe for storage let alone transport. The NRC is still studying if the high burnup fuel can become damaged from train vibrations. High burnup fuel is fuel that is burned longer in the reator, making utilities more money, but making the fuel over twice as hot and over twice as radioactive and unstable in storage and transport.

    Some U.S. utilities and the majority of the rest of the world use thick-wall casks (10″ to 19.75″ thick) that do not have the thin-wall canister safety problems. Thick wall casks are designed for both storage and transport. They would be “ready to roll” once a location is found to move the waste, which will likely be decades.

    Regarding weight, the thin-wall canisters must be shipped in thick wall metal transport casks. Total weight for the new Holtec thin-wall high burnup transport cask is 225 tons (204 metric tons). The thick-wall storage/transport casks meet current rail transport regulations for 125 metric ton maximum. The weight of the NUHOMS thin-wall transport cask is 152 tons (137.71 metric tons). This is the transport cask for the existing Chernobyl cans filled with high burnup fuel.

    I attend CEP meetings and was able, working with Gene Stone (former CEP panel member) to convince Edison to meet with a thick-wall cask vendor, which they did. The vendor stated they were able to meet all Edison requirements, but Edison refused to allow them to bid.

    Learn more at where you will find evidence based information.

    Regarding H.R. 3053 the current bill promising to move waste to centralized locations, is a bad bill that the Sierra Club does not support.

    It will not do what is promised and will remove current state rights, current nuclear waste safety requirements, allow the DOE to make secret contracts with private companies and pay them even before transport routes and safety issues are addressed, wasting limited Nuclear Waste Funds. It does not force communities to take the waste and communities don’t want our waste, so expect many legal battles. However, it does allow existing sites, such as San Onofre to sign DOE agreements to transfer ownership and liability to the DOE right where the waste sits now. The bill also removes oversite, public input and transparency to these DOE sites. The CBO cost analysis states that, currently, paying for nuclear waste storage is mandatory federal funding. Once ownership is transferred to the DOE, we will be at the mercy of Congress to provide adequate annual funding for waste storage. Current DOE Defense nuclear waste sites such as Hanford and Savannah River are unable to obtain adequate federal funding. This as well as other issue has resulted in radioactive contamination of their water supplies. They have containers that are still leaking. This may be our future with this bill. More details on H.R. 3053 at

    Marni is aware of this information, but for some reason chooses to ignore it. I understand her concern about the dangers of this waste. However, her hope to make it someone else’s problem won’t work. We must demand fuel be moved to safer transportable storage casks immediately and revoke the California Coastal permits for this waste at our beach. The Coastal Commission requires this waste be transportable. Edison has provided no evidence that it is transportable and did not disclose to the Coastal Commission they plan to destroy the spent fuel pools, which is the only NRC approved method Edison has on site to replace cracking canisters. NRC transport regulations do not allow transport of even partially cracked canisters. Learn how you can help at

  2. Many billions of dollars have been spend developing the best nuclear waste disposal site in the United States, but powerful congressmen, especially Dirty Harry of Nevada, continue to block its use. How selfish of NIMBYs like Dirty Harry, much like California NIMBYs who forced the closure of San Onofre, which produced the cheapest electricity available, with NO carbon dioxide emissions, no birds killed (wind turbines) and no fish killed (dams).

  3. I live 20 miles away from the San Onofre nuclear waste dump.  This is the latest proposal that we may be able to force the owners of San Onofre into accepting:

    They were originally planning on burying it on the beach in thin canisters.  Then they were going to haul it out to Texas or New Mexico and throw some dirt on top of it.  San Onofre has a long history of cutting corners when it comes to public safety.  That is why I recently circulated the following message and petition:
    Please sign this petition and share it far and wide.  We need more signatures ASAP to stop San Onofre’s owners from burying this radioactive plutonium on the beach

    San Onofre ‘s owners are not trustworthy, so we can not believe that safety will be their number one priority.  If they cared about safety, they would not have lied about replacing Unit 2’s steam generators in 2009 and if they were trustworthy, they would not be charging ratepayers for new ones that were never actually new.  Unit 3 ‘s flawed design resulted in early closure and that was not our fault either.  How can we trust they aren’t buying the steel for these nuke waste canisters at the same nuclear flea market of substandard used parts that they shopped at the last time?

    To elaborate on that:

    “If Unit 3 had remained in operation, other tubes in the same area of the steam generator would have likely failed. The same problem does not exist in Unit 2.”

    “The NRC said the error in Mitsubishi’s model had a long history. Mitsubishi originally had developed the computer code in 1978 for one kind of steam generator, then modified it in 1992 for another. But the 1992 modification, used for San Onofre and four other nuclear plants, contained a flaw, according to the NRC notice to Mitsubishi.”

    However, of the five plants whose generators were designed using the model, only San Onofre failed.

    “Today Southern California Edison, operator of San Onofre, reported that defects in the interior tubing of Steam Generators at both units 2 and 3 had been discovered. Shortly thereafter, that report was expanded to say that “unprecedented” damage was found in more than 800 tubes in just unit-2’s steam generators – the unit that has been down for weeks, not the one shut down the night before last”

    “Hirsch, told KPBS San Onofre had 400 times as many damaged steam generator tubes as in a typical nuclear reactor with new steam generators. He said there were also 1,000 times as many indications of wear.”

    If design flaw wasn’t around in unit 2 yet, then it was the old pre 1992 model, from 1978! Not a new set of steam generators.  That explains the ” unprecedented” tube wear that makes no sense whatsoever unless that 2009 replacement never happened at all.   In other plants with identical steam generators, the tubes showed 30 percent wear after 3 years, so it is illogical that 100 percent wear was achieved in the short time they were supposedly inside Unit 2. I don’t care what the circumstances; older shaky plants had the same parts with less than one third of the wear and tear.  There is no other way to explain that.

    Additionally, it appears that someone went a little bit above and beyond to get rid of some evidence here:

    Why do you have to gut the whole thing and cut it up like scrap?  That seems like overkill to me.  If this is the normal disposal method, why do many articles say that other steam generators just sit on the property for years after they are retired? The dishonesty and corner cutting must stop now.  Nuclear waste storage should not be done on the cheap. Here is why:

    “The 1.85 Sv (1850 mSv) exposure that the US NRC finds acceptable for those within 1 mile of a dropped, and breached, nuclear waste dry cask is 1.85 Gy (for gamma exposure). This would make it fall into the 1 to 2 Gy exposure, which could lead to acute radiation syndrome: nausea and vomiting in 5 to 50%; onset of 2 to 6 hours; mild to moderate leukopenia (decreased white blood cell count, increasing the risk of infection), fatigue weakness, and in up to 5% of cases, death within 6 to 8 weeks. (Based on the professional medical reference: “Radiation Exposure and Contamination“, Merck Manuals. Retrieved 2 June 2013, as found in Wikipedia:

    1.85 sieverts (Sv) is 1850 millisieverts (mSv). Based on the NRC’s 1850 mSv, which may well be an underestimation, an estimated average of 21% (2143 people per 100,000) would suffer excess cancers-untimely death, apparently above and beyond the up to 5% who could die within 6 to 8 weeks. The excess cancers-untimely deaths could be as high as an estimated 51,800 cases, according to the US gov’s BEIR report (Per 100 mSv up to 2500 cancer avg. female and up to 300 leukemia avg. male; multiply by 18.5 for 1850 mSv).”

      One possibility for the nuclear waste would be Hardened On Site Storage on a raised platform on San Clemente Island made with earthquake resistant materials.  The military owns that island and regular inspections could be done until a permanent repository is established. It is already the home to two headed goats, so contamination is already done over there.  If a permanent repository is never established  and this waste is never relocated, at least we would not suffer radiation poisoning and reduced property values along our beautiful coastline.  Being that ratepayers paid for something they never got in 2009, it seems like the best solution would be for the money owed to ratepayers to be put towards the very best storage system money can buy, made with the highest quality steel and concrete.  The owners of San Onofre can not be allowed to get away with raping the ratepayers and leaving separated plutonium in rusty cans in the salty beach sand and sea air that makes these canisters even more prone to early degradation.
    Given the circumstances,  it should not be disputed that thicker, safer storage canisters that can be visually inspected for cracks is the least that is owed to ratepayers and future generations.

    Unfortunately, I am not an expert on hardened on site storage systems.  There are experts who seem to have gotten it wrong before:  If anyone has experience with these systems or can provide links with more information, I would be very grateful if you could copy and paste those links into the comments in the link below so we will not be doomed out here on the West Coast. Thank you for all of your help.

    Here is a link to a group with information on many nuclear related topics:

    Please join us and help fight the beast that is this radioactive nightmare.


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