Date: September 16th, 2003
To: Paul Sisson, North County Times
In my letter of September 15th, 2003, I just wanted to correct one thing: "Hastalloy X" in the second paragraph should be "INCO-182" (and many others). (Hastalloy also embrittles and is a significant issue, but it is not a welding material.) The welding materials the entire nuclear industry -- and the dry casks specifically -- are made with are embrittling at rates the industry does not expect. Dr. Siegel, a metallurgist who was thrice-fired from the nuclear industry for whistleblowing, adds that regarding one dry cask style versus another, "the nuclear industry makes up different names for everything -- for basic engineering concepts that are obvious and done essentially the same way all over the place -- your left side, your right side, whatever -- each gets a completely different name. They're all s#_t".)
A corrected version of the email has been posted online here:
To: "Paul Sisson" <PSisson@nctimes.com>
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Dry Cask Storage is front page news in San Diego, CA (followup)
Date: September 15th, 2003
To: Paul Sisson, North County Times
Re: Your response to my letter about your article this morning
Thanks very much for your response (shown below).
Dr. Siegel's complaint, which you don't seem to have gathered any information about, involves the use of so-called "super alloy" welding materials (such as [Inca 182]) that are anything but super. As such, it is generic to not only the nuclear industry, but to the aircraft engine industry, the space industry, and many other industries as well, but it is particularly dire within the nuclear industry.
Dr. Shirani's complaint indicates extreme shoddiness in the dry cask business, and shows that there is a complete lack of oversight by the NRC, even if the type of cask he worked with is different from what Southern California Edison will use.
Furthermore, either of these men (or any physicist or engineer worth his degree) could have backed up my complaint that the industry tests these casks are subjected to are absolutely inadequate. The drops aren't high enough. The pegs the test casks are dropped onto aren't pointy enough. The fires the burn tests use aren't nearly hot enough, nor do they last nearly long enough. And furthermore, exactly NONE of these tests are combined, although that could easily happen in real life. And on top of all that, 30-year old embrittled fuel rods are NOT inside any of the test casks, so what exactly would happen inside them while the outside overpack supposedly survives is unknown (not that it would be easy to test such a thing, but without such tests, no one can say for sure).
And (as you point out, below), Southern California Edison is building their own dry casks, which undoubtedly are not going to be subjected to ANY of these actual tests. They will rely on testing done to the theoretical and preliminary designs, won't they? (I'd call and ask Ray Golden myself, except for two things: 1) He has never returned a single phone call I have ever made, and 2) According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in a letter sent by registered mail to me March 30th, 2002, "Statements made by the public affairs officer of a NRC licensee are not regulated activities. Therefore, the veracity of such statements will not be investigated by the NRC" so there's absolutely no reason for me, you, or anyone else to trust anything Golden says. Besides, he's been proven a liar time and again, anyway.)
Your article also never mentioned the legal loophole I described to you over the phone regarding crane operations at the plant, and the nearly complete lack of government oversight in those operations. It also didn't include the case of the falling fork-lift tines (showing shoddy maintenance procedures), which happened in 2001, or the dropped reactor head (which shows that these crane problems have been with the plant from the start).
And, I deplore your article's failure to mention how easily we could replace these awful plants with clean, natural, renewable energy solutions. If we shut the plants down today, there would be no need for dry cask storage ever at the site, regardless of what happens with Yucca Mountain.
As for your "deadline" issues, first of all, truth knows no deadlines. When you first contacted me last Monday you told me the article would be in your Sunday edition. You had already visited the plant. So you certainly could have contacted me sooner, in order to give me as much time as possible to present a response. Furthermore, it only took me a couple of days to get you and the whistleblowers together. So I see no reason to blame "deadlines" and the editorial process for a lack of veracity and completeness in your final result.
Absolutely NO ONE reading your paper cares what effort you have to go through to get the truth out. They just want the whole truth and nothing less.
By the way, I think you're a good deal better than the previous NC Times writer, Phil Diehl, ever was (with the possible exception of when he did an article about me, which I thought was surprisingly well done). I particularly liked your introduction, likening the nuclear waste to a "hot potato". But then you dropped the ball (like a hot potato), and let Ray Golden use you and the North County Times as a forum for disinformation.
At 09:51 AM 9/15/2003 , "Paul Sisson" <PSisson@nctimes.com> wrote:
I wanted you to know that by the time Mr. Siegle and Mr. Shirani contacted
me, my story was filed and through the editing process.
I did interview Mr. Shirani, and he indicated that the casks to be used
were the Holtec variety that he proved were faulty in the Dresden 1 dry
storage project. I checked with Golden and he assured me this was not the
case. He said Edison is using casks designed by a different firm and
manufactured by Edison on site. He said that doing the work in-house will
allow them to have a greater level of quality control.
Had the Holtec casks been used at San O I would have held the story and
rewritten it in light of that information. However, since Mr. Shirani was
incorrect about that fact, his comments did not seem quite as relevant.
"Russell D. Hoffman"
<rhoffman@animatedso To: (Recipient list suppressed)
Subject: Dry Cask Storage is front page news in San Diego, CA
09/15/03 08:28 AM
September 15th, 2003
The front-page article shown below was published this morning in my local
paper (the North County Times). The author and I spent about an hour on
the phone last week. I also had two nuke whistle-blowers contact the
reporter, but none of their damning statements made it into the article
(Dr. Ed Siegel and Dr. Oscar Shirani). (They would have had way too much
credibility, I guess.)
Instead, an "outspoken critic" (YH&OS) who "owns a computer software sales
business" (actually, mainly an educational software DEVELOPMENT business
whose products are used in colleges and universities around the world) was
quoted fairly extensively. However, none of my comments about the need to
shut the plant down and switch to alternative fuels, and the EASE with
which that could be done, were included.
Apparently there are a few things the spokesliar for San Onofre and I agree
First, according to the article, Ray Golden said that the nuclear industry
is far from solving the political and practical issues that surround
long-term storage of radioactive waste. But, while Golden merely makes the
statement, I can see that after 50 years of intense effort on the part of
the nuclear industry (and tens of billions of dollars), the problem is
unsolvable for purely scientific reasons. Therefore, we need to stop
creating more nuclear waste. San Onofre alone creates about 500 pounds of
new High Level Nuclear Waste every day.
Also, the spokesliar said that the philosophical arguments on the pros and
cons of storing spent fuel at ground level do nothing to solve the
here-and-now real-world problem of a steadily growing pile of radioactive
material. That's true, and that's exactly why turning off all nuclear
power plants and switching to renewables is the only practical, reasonable
and safe solution.
It should also be noted that these casks are not "at ground level": In
fact these huge casks rise well ABOVE the ground, making them easy targets
for Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPGs) as well as for airplanes and
50-caliber machine guns (NONE OF WHICH the casks can withstand, despite
absurd and dishonest industry claims to the contrary, dutifully quoted by
the reporter, without any due diligence as to their veracity).
It would take only SECONDS to destroy one or more casks -- and NO ONE could
possibly get there in time to stop a determined, suicidal attacker.
Several pictures accompanied the front-page article, showing the enormous
size and close packing of these casks. A parking lot can be seen just a
few feet, a low concrete wall, and a chain-link fence away from the
casks. The idea that terrorists can't get close enough to these things to
blow them up is ridiculous (yeah yeah, sure sure, it's a controlled-access
parking lot. If that makes anyone feel safe, they should have their head
The area is surrounded by video cameras, so they'll have the attack on
video when it comes. But unless the video feeds to an offsite location, no
one will be able to view it, since everyone for miles around will be
thoroughly irradiated -- and dead.
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a single dry cask accident
can contaminate an area up to 42 square miles. (In fact, the damage could
be much greater.) The casks are stacked right next to each other, so one
dry cask accident would almost inevitably lead to another and another, as
the burning uranium fires could not be extinguished.
Concerned citizen and "outspoken critic"
North County Times (San Diego, California)
Last modified Sunday, September 14, 2003 9:56 PM PDT
Overview of San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station is building a new spent
fuel rod storage unit at the plant. The spent fuel rods will go into the
round holes built into concrete.
Jamie Scott Lytle
Order a copy of this photo
'Dry casks' are coming to San Onofre
By:PAUL SISSON - Staff Writer
OCEANSIDE ---- Since Southern California Edison started splitting atoms at
its San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station in 1968, it has been playing a
high-stakes game of hot potato.
When spent fuel is removed from one of the plant's two functioning nuclear
reactors, it is so hot and so radioactive that it must be passed through a
water-filled underground tunnel with a robotic arm ---- humans are not
built to accomplish the task safely.
At the other end of the tunnel waits a 45-foot-deep pool of refrigerated
water ---- eerily illuminated with green lights ---- where the smoldering
bundle of decayed uranium, now containing radioactive isotopes such as
plutonium and cesium, must sit for seven to 10 years until the heat and
radiation have dissipated.
For more than three decades the pools have grown fuller and fuller, forcing
Edison to finally build more storage to hold its growing pile of nuclear
In the next two to three weeks, crews of nuclear technicians will begin
moving spent fuel into 17 "dry casks" for storage in a series of concrete
vaults on the northern portion of the plant's 256-acre site.
A total of 395 spent fuel assemblies will be sealed inside the casks, 24
per container, then plunged into the vaults where they will be monitored
regularly for radiation leaks. The spent fuel was generated by San Onofre's
Reactor 1, which began generating electricity in 1968 and was turned off in
Ray Golden, a spokesman for Southern California Edison, which owns and
operates San Onofre, said the spent fuel must be removed from Reactor 1's
containment pool so the entire site can be decontaminated and eventually
"Some of that fuel goes all the way back to the seventies," Golden said,
watching a crew of workers place a pre-fabricated concrete roof on the
storage vault. "At this point, it has cooled down enough, both thermally
and radioactively, to be removed from the pools and placed in dry storage."
Golden said the vaults where the waste will be stored have 5-foot thick
walls built to withstand any potential hazard, from a severe earthquake to
a direct hit from a commercial airliner. In addition, the casks that
actually hold the spent fuel are engineered to withstand a 30-foot drop
without spilling their contents.
Golden is quick to show visitors a video of a 100-ton cask surviving a
collision with a semi tractor-trailer.
Because the vaults are relatively short compared to the buildings that
surround it on all sides, Golden said safety engineers believe it would be
difficult for an airplane to score a direct hit.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the plant has operated under an elevated level of
security, subjecting visitors to more rigorous searches. In addition to a
tall chain-link fence, the spent fuel storage area is also surrounded by a
ring of video surveillance cameras and sensors designed to detect any type
Southern California Edison is also hiring an unspecified number of special
security guards to act as a tactical armed response force capable of
repelling any terrorist attack on a moment's notice.
Though engineers who work for Edison said they're certain the vaults can
withstand whatever nature or mankind can throw at them, some people are not
Take Carlsbad resident Russell Hoffman, for example.
Hoffman, who owns a computer software sales business, has been an outspoken
critic of San Onofre for years. He said storing radioactive spent fuel at
ground level is dangerously shortsighted.
"These containers are vulnerable to airstrikes whether by terrorists or by
an accidental crash," Hoffman said.
He added that he's not sure Edison can move nearly 400 fuel assemblies
safely without dropping one or two along the way. To make his case, Hoffman
points to two crane accidents at the plant in the last few years.
On May 27, 2001, a huge "gantry" crane, capable of lifting hundreds of
tons, dropped a 40-ton portable construction crane 40 feet from a turbine
deck that sits next to the plant's twin reactor domes. An Edison report on
the accident said the crane was heavily damaged but that critical reactor
systems were undamaged.
On April 19, 1997, a routine refueling outage was extended two weeks after
an accident inside the plant's Unit 3 reactor core. According to a report
filed by Edison with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an "inattentive"
crane operator allowed a control-rod assembly to become stuck while it was
being pulled out of the reactor. The reactor was not operating when the
control rod was removed, and the commission termed the accident minor.
"They have already had two crane accidents that could have been very
major," Hoffman said, noting that Edison will use a crane to remove the
fuel rods from the storage pool and load them onto a transport vehicle.
Golden acknowledged that the crane accidents were unfortunate, but noted
that, in both cases, the plant's safety procedures kept minor accidents
from becoming major.
"We've never had a major accident of any kind since we opened in 1968,"
He added that it will take only one crane to load the spent fuel assemblies
into their casks before lifting the casks onto a transportation truck for
the 1 mph drive to the nearby storage vaults where a special plunger will
push them inside.
"At the most, the casks will be lifted 30 feet, but probably not even that
much," Golden said.
To make sure a sudden crane failure does not cause surprises, Golden said
engineers have designed a supplementary crane attached to the regular
lifting crane perched above the storage pools. The supplementary crane is
designed to provide an extra measure of lifting power should the main crane
Hoffman said he and other anti-nuclear activists in the area have opposed
storing spent fuel at San Onofre. He said the dry cask storage method used
at San Onofre will continue to grow over the decades because a permanent
dump site like one planned at Yucca Mountain will never get enough public
support to be feasible.
"Yucca Mountain is never going to happen," Hoffman said. "The state of
Nevada won't let it happen. We're just piling up waste on our beach. It
could be there for 100 years ---- Edison won't care."
The mountain, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was declared
scientifically suitable and safe as a central repository for 77,000 tons of
waste from the nation's commercial reactors and the government's nuclear
weapons program. Approval of the site has been challenged by the State of
Nevada and, though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission originally hoped to
open the site by 2010, that time line now looks uncertain.
Golden said that the nuclear industry is far from solving the political and
practical issues that surround long-term storage of radioactive waste.
Indeed, it is possible that the San Onofre site could end up storing tons
of radioactive material long after both remaining reactors are
"If the federal government fails us and we don't get Yucca Mountain
available, we will be able to store all of our spent fuel through the life
of the plant," Golden said.
But he added that philosophical arguments on the pros and cons of storing
spent fuel at ground level do nothing to solve the here-and-now real-world
problem of a steadily growing pile of radioactive material.
"Our pools for (reactor) units two and three would be full by 2008 if we
didn't start moving the oldest fuel to dry cask storage," Golden said.
He said it will take until 2005 to move all of the spent fuel into the 17
vaults already on site. In the next two years, additional vaults would be
added and the oldest fuel now in the containment pools for reactor units 2
and 3 would begin being transferred into dry storage in 2005.
Contact staff writer Paul Sisson at (760) 901-4087 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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