SAN ONOFRE QUIZ -- April 30th, 2003

To: "NRC" <>,
"Russell Wise, NRC" <>,
"Elmo Collins" <>,
"Pat Gwynn" <>

From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
Subject: SAN ONOFRE NUCLEAR QUIZ -- APRIL 30th, 2003
Cc: "Kathryn Gillick, NC TIMES ENERGY REPORTER" <>

To: Nuclear Regulatory Commission
From: Russell D. Hoffman, Concerned Citizen
Re: Concerns about nukes
Date: April 30th, 2003

To Whom It May Concern,

Below is a "Quiz" I recently sent out to media as well as to my own newsletter subscribers.  I would greatly appreciate, at your earliest convenience, an official response to each question -- in particular, where you feel my answers are in any way inadequate.

Please send the response via email to:

A "snail mail" copy for my records would also be appreciated (my physical mailing address appears below).

Also, I would appreciate it if you would also forward any response to:

"Kathryn Gillick, NC TIMES ENERGY REPORTER" <>

Her misleading (perhaps "wildly inaccurate" would be a better term) front-page energy report from Saturday, April 26th, 2003, and a subsequent (unfinished) conversation with her this morning, prompted this letter.  America's media are clearly uninformed about nuclear issues.  This is your fault.

Also below are comments on the quiz by Jack Shannon, a nuclear physicist.

Thank you in advance.


Russell D. Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
P. O. Box 1936
Carlsbad, CA  92018


Dear Readers:

Local activists AND reporters should be able to answer all these questions about San Onofre  (my own answers appear below):

1) How much "spent nuclear fuel" (aka "Used Reactor Cores", aka "Dirty Bomb Material", aka "Carcinogenically Enhanced Nuclear Fuel") is stored at San Onofre right now?

2) When all are fully operational, how much generating capacity do California's four nuclear power plants provide?

3) How much spent nuclear fuel would it take to make a "dirty bomb"?

4) How much NEW, never-existed-before, "terrorist's dirty bomb material" is created at San Onofre EVERY DAY?

5) In spring/summer 2000, Californians had to put up with a large number of "rolling blackouts".  These coincided with several of our nuclear power plants being down due to fires and other unexpected events.  Later research also revealed that power companies had held back energy to California at that time, in order to force large price jumps.  What reason for these blackouts was given recently by the North County Times?

6) Are nuclear power plants more dangerous when they are running than when they are shut down?

7) Are there safe ways to store spent fuel?

8) Are spokespersons for San Onofre required to tell the truth to reporters or to local citizens?

9) What is the demand for energy in California during the summer?

10) How much Plutonium 239 does it take to kill a person, if inhaled as tiny particles into the human lung (such tiny particles would be released in vast quantities after a nuclear accident)?

11) Since it is an obvious "given" that nuclear power is not necessary, why do we use it?

12) Pound for pound, which is worse -- spent nuclear fuel rods, or Depleted Uranium?

13) Alpha particle radiation can be stopped by a few sheets of newspaper, or even just the layers of dead skin we are all covered with.  So what's the danger?

14) Are America's 103 nuclear power plants safer than Russian nuclear power plants, or other country's nuclear power plants?

15) What regulatory authorities protect the public from San Onofre?


Russell D. Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, CA


Over 2 million pounds of used reactor cores are stored at San Onofre.  This is more than at nearly every other nuclear power station in America, making our nuclear power plant a PRIME TARGET for terrorists.  Because of the extreme dangers posed by this fuel, it was ORIGINALLY only supposed to be stored TEMPORARILY at the site.  However, about 99% of the used cores are currently still being stored at the site because there is no waste repository site anywhere which can take them.  Furthermore, Yucca Mountain is a boondoggle and should never open, and probably won't.  Then what will we do?  Yucca Mountain is currently about 15 years behind schedule and faces enormous political and scientific hurdles -- and besides that, the nuclear industry has been working on the problem of safely storing nuclear waste for over 50 years, but cannot come up with any containment system which the scientific community deems safe.  Even rocketing the waste into space is STILL being discussed in earnest (by space cadets, mostly).  Such a plan is technologically impossible to do safely with modern technology and with the "space debris" field that surrounds Earth, even if it could be done at a cost which would make it a viable option from a commercial viewpoint, assuming no catastrophic accidents on the way up -- a dubious, even silly assumption.
In just six months, from January 2003 to June 2003, California will add an additional 3,500 megawatts of generating capacity to its grid , according to the North County Times.  In a 14 month period ending last spring (2002), California added 4100 megawatts of generating capacity.  Obviously, adding amounts like that is far from impossible.  Each of our four nuclear power plants are rated at around 1000 megawatts, so we could replace them in a matter of months if we so desired.

Although the exact content of spent fuel is hard to determine, it is certain that merely one gram would be enough to cause the evacuation of a typical coastal city in California.  A pound of spent fuel would be enough to contaminate a large portion of the state PERMANENTLY -- that is, for hundreds of generations.  The financial cost alone would be into the trillions of dollars, the cost in lives lost would also be horrendous.  In 1982 a government report, known as CRAC-2, estimated that if just one of San Onofre's nuclear power plants melted down, the “Worst Case” casualties would be 68,000, the property damage: $182 billion.  In the 20+ years since then, the surrounding population has increased tremendously, and even at the time, there was every reason to believe CRAC-2 was a severe UNDERestimation of the danger.

Each nuclear power plant creates about 250 pounds of used reactor cores, and about half a ton of so-called "low level radioactive waste" each DAY.  Low level radioactive waste is EXACTLY the same as High Level Radioactive Waste, just DILUTED.
According to Kathryn Gillick (, these blackouts were caused by "a surprise blast of hot weather [causing] air conditioners to click on throughout the state when several power plants were down for seasonal maintenance." (North County (CA) Times, April 26, 2003, page A-1).  A much more likely reason is that the Nuclear Mafia wanted to make the public feel that the nuclear power plants were a VITAL energy source -- without them operating, BLACKOUTS ARE INEVITABLE, they say.  But it just isn't so.

YES -- an operating nuclear power plant is MUCH MORE DANGEROUS than one which has been shut down, even if the fuel is NOT removed!  A running nuclear power plant can be catastrophically destroyed by many different events -- many more than can destroy a spent fuel pool, for example.  The control room, the backup generators, the coolant pipes, and many other things could be destroyed, which would lead to an IMMEDIATE catastrophic MELTDOWN.  That's not even including sabotage INSIDE the containment dome by disgruntled or crazy plant workers, or terrorists.  Every day the fuel is removed from the reactor and allowed to cool, the danger is reduced.  Spent fuel is not safe, but it's a lot safer than an operating reactor, and at least if all we had was spent fuel and no operating reactors, the problem would not be GROWING by a half a ton per day in California.

NO.  There are, however, safer ways and less safe ways.  Right now, San Onofre has chosen a number of practices which make its used fuel LESS SAFE than it needs to be.  For example, the fuel pools are DOUBLE or TRIPLE-RACKED, meaning the fuel rods are packed in much tighter than originally planned, which greatly increases the danger.  Also, soon, San Onofre will add DRY CASK STORAGE because they have no more room in the pools, even with the congested racking procedures now in place.   Dry Casks are easy targets for 747s, even if accidentally flown into the plant, or for terrorists.  A single jeep with a single 50-caliber machine gun on it could BREACH a DRY CASK.  Such an accident would cause deaths downwind for as much as 500 miles.

NO.  According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in a letter to this author received 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".

The demand this summer is expected to be between 40,624 and 45,185 megawatts, according to the North County Times (4/26/03).   Our nuclear power plants supply only about 10% of that energy, while consumers managed to SAVE about 10% during the past few years, simply be being more careful about how they used energy.  Clearly, our nuclear power plants are not needed.  They only continue to operate because the public has been misinformed about their dangers and their costs.
Even the most conservative estimates are that an invisible or nearly invisible speck of Pu 239 is enough to cause lung cancer in a healthy adult -- mere milligrams will do.  However, children are 10 to 20 times more susceptible than adults, and infants are even more so.  Fetuses are the most susceptible of all, probably between 100 and 1000 times more susceptible to ill effects from radiation than otherwise-healthy adults are.  And "mere milligrams" might be way off- micrograms might be enough.  Research is purposefully scant, and many studies have been STOPPED midway because the RESULTS were not looking good for the nuclear industry.  Other studies were completed, but the results were never made public.

This author believes the ONLY reason we still use nuclear power is because reporters will not learn the truth about the dangers we face, and the Nuclear Mafia has billions of dollars available to it which can be used to sway public opinion.  The public, for its part, puts its trust in the news media to bring them important news.  However, for example, the recent fire-caused shutdown of New York's Indian Point reactors went unreported in the North County Times, despite the many similarities between that accident and our own fire at San Onofre in February, 2000.  This morning, prior to writing this QUIZ, this author spoke to Kathryn Gillick of the North County Times, who had written the 4/26/03 energy article referred to above (Summer Energy Surplus Predicted).  She admitted to not knowing how much spent fuel is stored at San Onofre.  She admitted to not knowing how much spent fuel would be required to make a "dirty bomb".  She could not tell me how much generating capacity our four nuclear power plants produce -- I'm not even sure she knew we have four operating reactors in the state.  She then claimed she had a vital appointment, and promised to call me back this afternoon.

Spent nuclear fuel rods are undoubtedly much more carcinogenic than "Depleted" Uranium, although when  D.U. is vaporized, its alpha-releasing particles can be inhaled or ingested, allowing the radiation to attack the human body from within. Spent fuel nuclear releases the full spectrum of radioactive particles -- alpha rays, beta rays, gamma rays, and even x-rays.  None of these rays can be detected by the human sense organs, except in vast quantities, when one might feel a warm glow -- if you ever feel that warmth, your days -- perhaps even your hours or minutes -- are numbered.

The fact that alpha particles can be stopped by a few sheets of newspaper or by your own skin is hardly cause for comfort.  The problem is that the radioactive elements which release alpha particles can be inhaled or ingested.  They can also "bioaccumulate" in the food chain, so that even if the percentage of radioactive poisons in the environment is relatively low (whatever that means), the amount we put into our bodies can be quite high.

Probably American nuclear power plants ARE safer than Russian nukes.  Remember Chernobyl?  It killed thousands, or 10s of thousands, or possibly (most likely, actually) hundreds of thousands.  However, to be safer than foreign reactors is NO COMFORT.  For nuclear to be a viable option, it needs to be safer than ALL POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES:  Wind, wave, tide, hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass, solar, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), and of course, coal, oil, and natural gas.  Since nuclear is NOT safer than ANY of these energy sources, WHY are we still using it?  You've got to ask YOURSELF that -- I haven't got an answer!

Several decades ago, California ceded virtually all authority for safe operation of our nuclear power plants to the Atomic Energy Commission (now split up into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy).  This was done on condition that the plants would be run safely.  They have not been, but California regulators have refused to take back control so they can force the plants to be shut down.  The NRC, for example, refused to properly investigate an incident where a crane was dropped at the plant because it happened outside the "nuclear zone".  However, a Freedom of Information Request by this author to both the Orange County and the San Diego County divisions of CAL-OSHA, which are responsible for crane safety at all other industrial sites in the area, could not produce a SINGLE INSPECTION REPORT -- ever.  In fact, virtually ALL regulatory control for the power plants has been ceded to the NRC, in a most unusual arrangement not duplicated in any other industry in the country, NO MATTER HOW DANGEROUS.  OSHA has no control at nuclear power plants (I have a signed letter from an official of OSHA to that effect), and nor do any other regulatory bodies get involved (EPA, for example).  The fox is guarding the hen-house.

This quiz well be posted online here:


At 01:25 PM 4/30/2003 , wrote:

Have you contacted the NRC about these problems? I believe they think the
problems are trivial and not worth their time and effort.

I on the other hand think the problems are virtually impossible even if we
had the best scientific people in the country working on the problems.

I think we should get in touch with the Harvard MBA Department to come up
with some catchy phrases to make the problems go away.

Keep the faith

Jack Shannon