Public Watchdogs Call for Court to Halt Burial of Nuclear Waste at San Onofre

by on September 4, 2019 · 4 comments

in Energy, Environment, San Diego

On August 28, Public Watchdogs, a nonprofit advocacy group, requested an immediate court-order to halt the transfer of deadly radioactive nuclear waste at the San Onofre Nuke plant into “thin-walled” dry storage canisters.

The group filed a temporary restraining order (TRO) with the United States District Court, and is petitioning the courts to step in and protect the environment and the lives of more than 8 million people who live within the radiation plume zone identified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The attorney for Public Watchdogs, Chuck La Bella, stated:

“My immediate concern is for the health and safety of the millions of people who could be impacted by a toxic cloud being released from SONGS. The consequences of a nuclear accident are catastrophic and would last for generations.”

Here is the rest of Public Watchdogs’ press statement:

Prior to transferring the spent nuclear fuel into canisters, court records and published reports indicate that the nuclear waste has been safely stored in the existing structures (Units 2 and 3) at San Onofre since the plant went online in 1972.

In its court filings, Public Watchdogs’ legal team chronicles a failed safety record at SONGS, as well as the poor safety practices and culture established by the plant’s majority owner, Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E), Sempra Energy and Holtec International, the maker of the modified storage canisters.

According to Public Watchdogs, the defendants in the suit plan to transfer toxic nuclear waste at SONGS from the relatively safe “wet storage” (stored in pools in Units 2 and 3), into 73 “thin-walled” dry canisters. The court filings show that neither the canisters nor the decommissioning plan have undergone a proper risk assessment. Nor has an objective risk assessment been done to determine if the canisters are safe for storing nuclear waste on a short-term basis, much less to determine if the burial location within yards of the Pacific Ocean, in a tsunami zone, and on several earthquake faults is safe.

The first four canisters that were buried at San Onofre are defective with an estimated 50 broken bolts according to testimony from the manufacturer. The broken bolts known as “shim standoffs” were added to improve the canister’s passive cooling system. Despite their failure, the NRC has allowed SCE to continue to use the defective canisters.

The canisters are being buried 108 feet from the water in a known tsunami inundation zone, near an earthquake fault as deep and as dangerous as the San Andreas Fault. The location significantly increases the likelihood that more than 3.6 million pounds of toxic nuclear waste will be compromised. “It really isn’t a question of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ we’re going to be dealing with a nuclear accident,” says La Bella. The spent nuclear fuel remains radioactive for tens of thousands of years, while the canisters’ 5/8” thick walls are only guaranteed for 25 years and their concrete containment system is only guaranteed for about 10 years.

The motion for the temporary restraining order is also directed at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), on the grounds that the agency hasn’t properly enforced its regulations or provided effective oversight. It is this lack of oversight that has allowed the poor safety practices to develop at SONGS over a matter of decades. The attorney for Public Watchdogs says those poor safety practices, in part, contributed to the premature closure of the nuclear power plant and remain in the culture of the decommissioning process.

“The decommission plan devised by Edison and its corporate partners, and approved by the NRC is a disaster waiting to happen,” says La Bella. “There was never an objective risk analysis done, and the public is at the mercy of a federal regulatory agency that has, from the beginning, abdicated its regulatory and supervisory authority in the face of extremely serious safety lapses.”

Last year, the NRC temporarily halted transferring the “wet storage” of spent nuclear fuel to the “dry storage” canisters, but only after there were two independent, potentially catastrophic events at San Onofre. On August 3 of 2018, Southern California Edison nearly dropped a 100,000-pound canister almost 18 feet onto the floor of a steel-lined storage vault. The “unsecured load event” was preceded by another unreported “near-miss” on July 22, when another canister with a 49-ton payload became stuck on a steel flange inside the belowground storage silo. The August 3 canister hung unsupported for nearly an hour.

Edison violated federal law when it failed to disclose the two “near-misses” from the public. Because of these noteworthy failures, as well as the contractor’s negligence that led to the events, the NRC fined Edison a mere $116,000.00. In light of the revenue of the corporate participants, the fine was not even an annoyance.

La Bella says the energy company must conduct a proper risk assessment. “A decommissioning plan must be put together that accomplishes not only proper storage, but also adequate protections to the public and to the environment.”

Public Watchdogs is asking the courts to intervene because of its deep concern that the work environment at San Onofre remains unsafe. The group is also concerned that the canisters being used are not robust enough to ensure public safety. La Bella cautions, “There is no ‘do-over’ here. We don’t get a second chance to store this waste safely. So it’s time to stop, evaluate and make sure the proper oversight and enforcement are in place to keep our families safe.”

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

sealintheSelkirks sealintheSelkirks September 5, 2019 at 1:44 pm

This has been an insane plan from day one, and thought up by…what words can one use for the kind of people that could possibly think this was a good idea in the first place? I mean, really, the level of cognitive function here is sorely lacking! Burying radioactive waste on a beach that will take how long to not be deadly? Far longer than any civilization has lasted!

And still the people who thought this up are (I’m assuming) in positions of power in government and in businesses to go on and do other incredibly stupid things. That concept leaves my head feeling dizzy!

Wealth and power are truly no way to measure intelligence.



Avatar retired botanist September 5, 2019 at 5:33 pm

Yep, Seal, even I, never at a loss for words!, have no words for this insanity. Bad enough that the govt previously tried to fob off nuclear waste onto Native American reservation lands, but now we have this. Any high-schooler can discern the lunacy of nuclear waste at a beach, near the ocean, in a fault zone, without even factoring in the continued climate chaos ahead.
The outcome of inevitable leakage from this incredibly short-sighted plan makes impacts from events like Dorian mere bug bites. There is simply NO mitigation. If we understand little else, we need to grasp the fact that there is no such thing as ‘clean-up”, in lieu fees, or fines, or any other kind of reparation from a contamination catastrophe of this magnitude- its not like some oil spill we can lament for a couple of decades…
Its sickening that people have been protesting nuclear power, so called the “clean energy”, and its unmitigable waste by-product for 50 years, and this is where we are now. You would think Chernobyl and Fukishima would have at long last influenced our thinking…


sealintheSelkirks sealintheSelkirks September 7, 2019 at 2:20 am

And you can’t fix stupid…no matter how much money is sitting in their Wall Street accounts.

Read ‘We Almost Lost Detroit’ by John G. Fuller, 1975. A Chernobyl that was a frog whisker from total meltdown. That’ll raise the hair on your neck. These people have always been stupid, blinded by avarice and hubris. Bad combination there! The Fuller book is one of many odd books on the shelves around this house.

As for Fukushima the worst nuclear disaster in history besides being an ongoing bleeding wound on the planet still spreading metric tons of contamination, a new Japan State Law put in by the Abe regime: anyone reporting on radioactivity, or doctors reporting deaths caused by same, investigative reporters writing articles, without permission by the State face 10 years in prison for revealing State Secrets. Abe copied the 1917 US law (think it was 1917?) that Obama loved using on government crimes whistleblowers. Japan now has their own Espionage Act!

And next year is the Olympics in seriously contaminated Japan. Remember, they still test not only plants but game in NW Europe for Chernobyl radiation (everywhere, wild pig especially)… The Fukushima Prefecture is a food-growing region, mountains surrounding the farming valleys, and every time it rains the radioactive dirt covering those mountains wash back down into the valley where the government has already scooped up enormous amounts of the valley topsoil because it glowed in the dark! (pun intended) Oopsie! Supposedly there will be events held in that area by the way. Bicycle races, something else I think.

Think of the great food they will be growing (by forcing farmers back there that don’t want to go!) and feeding the athletes local produce. No big deal, cancer takes decades most of the time to show up.

Big sigh. Stupid isn’t just for the wealthy rulers of the US obviously…

So do something fun this weekend retired botanist! All is not lost though it certainly feels that way sometimes…ain’t dead yet at least.



Avatar retired botanist September 7, 2019 at 5:44 pm

Sigh, true that. I’m probably one of a few hundred (non-Marshallese) people who have actually been to Enewetok Atoll and have seen what the US considered to be “clean-up”. Holmes and Narver was the company hired in the 60s(?) to try and “bury” the contamination with concrete. They might as well have tried to spread fairy dust. I was there in 1978 while on an oceanographic expedition and spent two weeks diving in the lagoon and fringing reefs. Clearly, even being there some decades after the nuclear contamination, any local food (coconut crab, coconuts, fish, and any other tropical fruit trees) was verboten and the Marshallese were still eating US-distributed spam and turkey tails…the non-contaminated staple of Pacific islanders at the time.
What will it it take for the human species to understand the magnitude of nuclear contamination? Sadly, Japan is following the same cover-up and non-disclosure MO. Digging a deeper hole of denial…How can we go forward if we can’t even acknowledge our mistakes, nevermind our inability to correct some of them?

I’m not sure where “fun” is these days, but I’m thankful for a non-Dorian weekend and that this blistering storm event hasn’t compromised a nuclear facility. We take the small mercies where we find them, right?
People think the Green New Deal is outlandish, and would rather drill down, for days!, on something as dumb as Sharpiegate. Hard to even know where to go from that level of “ostrich in the sand” !
But I’m still pressing forward with optimism for the ‘progressive socialists”, lol :)


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