Letter to North County Times by Russell D. Hoffman June 14th, 2001

To: opinion@nctimes.com
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <rhoffman@animatedsoftware.com>
Subject: COMMENTARY: Safety issues at San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station (a response to Kevin Geisler's letter in the North County Times)
Cc: pdiehl@nctimes.com,

North County Times
Oceanside, CA

Re: Safety issues at San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station (a response to Kevin Geisler's letter in the North County Times)

June 14th, 2001

To The Editor:

Kevin M. Geisler, in his letter published in your paper today, has exhibited the same blindness that infects the entire nuclear industry, and has missed the point entirely of why the public should examine the safety record at San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station (known as SONGS because the "WASTE" is ignored by virtually everyone).

Nuclear materials and workers are subject to the same rules of physics -- including gravity -- as everything else, and accidents will happen. The nuclear industry and the NRC both insist on perpetuating the myth that no serious error will ever occur while they are handling nuclear fuel.  None.  Why is this necessary?  Because some accidents are so bad, they would immediately kill everyone onsite and start an evacuation of the entire coastal area -- and we would have to stay gone for thousands of years.  All it requires is a release of the fuel!  But as it turns out, from some impossible-to-fathom "logic", every possible accident scenario which could result in such catastrophic conditions, is considered by the industry and the NRC to be impossible, including human error.  This includes a reactor meltdown, water drainage or long-term pump failure in the spent fuel pool, a dropped Dry Storage Cask or other fuel component, and many other things -- all considered impossible by the NRC (their exact phrase is "not credible").

But they are credible, and they are not impossible.  And so before an accident occurs, it is necessary that every "normal" industrial accident that happens at a nuclear facility be subjected to fair public scrutiny.  Instead, accidents such as the recent dropping of an 80,000 lb load are routinely ignored, despite what they might portend for the public welfare.  A fully loaded Dry Fuel Storage Cask weighs about 400,000 lbs.  It's a lot harder to move than what they were moving, which was a crane being moved by another crane (known as a "gantry").  Much to their surprise, a strap broke.  It happened just as the reactor was being brought up to full power for the first time since a four-month outage due to a fire and explosion, followed by a reactor SCRAM, last February.  These guys are supposed to be responsible for a steady supply of energy to the public?  Get real!

But, getting real, the NRC did not even require reporting on this accident, and OSHA on the other hand, in an absurd loophole, by law considers themselves not to have jurisdiction over accidents at nuclear power plants (see attached letter from OSHA to this writer).  This is a very unusual thing, by the way.  OSHA (or Cal-OSHA, or the Coast Guard for marine issues) is responsible for just about every other industrial location except nuclear power plants.  They even are responsible for safety and health for civil servants and private contractors on military bases, and on Indian reservations if the contractors are not all Indians themselves.  Yet for nuclear power plants, they are mysteriously not responsible!  Thus, there is no proper regulation of this type of accident at the site!  NRC essentially ignores it (it's not even reportable to them), because it's not actually a nuclear fuel accident, while everyone else ignores it because they think the NRC or DOE has regulatory authority.

And yet, even the KNOWN HISTORY of crane accidents at SONGS is chilling:

On April 21st, 1997, when a licensed nuclear fuel operator at SONGS became "inattentive",  a Control Rod Assembly was bent while being withdrawn from the reactor.  In 1986 a crane incident resulted in an NRC fine -- and fines are hardly EVER handed out by the NRC (compared to the number of infractions, reported and unreported, that actually occur).  And before the reactor was even built, while they were putting it together, they dropped the REACTOR HEAD itself -- a 20,000 lb load -- 6 inches.  I'm sure there have been other incidents I haven't been able to uncover.

So in 25 years they have moved up -- up from dropping 20,000 lb loads six inches to dropping 80,000 lb loads 40 feet!  This is NOT the kind of progress we want for a company which is entrusted with protecting the public from the tons and tons of high-level nuclear waste they have generated over the years and now don't know what to do with.  (Dry Cask Storage, just approved by the California Coastal Commission who claimed to have no jurisdiction over the safety issues, is an abomination.  It's insane!)

It's not me that doesn't understand gravity.  It's the employees at SONGS who keep forgetting about its effects on their operations!

As for Mr Geisler's absurd claim that solar energy could not more safely supply California's energy needs, the fact is, that it is a combination of renewable energy solutions which are needed.  Not coal, not oil, and most of all not nuclear power.  Offshore windmills (wind is the cheapest form of energy according to today's market prices), wave energy, tide energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, hydroelectric energy, biomass and other renewable sources, combined with a global ENERGY GRID so that energy can be moved around to wherever its needed whenever necessary, would solve our energy problems in a matter of a few short years.  A good organization working towards these goals is the Global Energy Network Institute, based in San Diego, CA. ( www.geni.org )

Furthermore, to ensure we don't have blackouts, a variety of steps could be taken, ranging from requiring the use of energy-efficient lighting and reduced off-hours light in commercial establishments, to legislating that all government buildings actually "go solar".  Similar legislation is being introduced in various counties in New York State for example (and we get much more sunshine than they do!).  Thousands of buildings around the country ARE using solar energy for heat and light, so the feasibility of it is not in question.  Only the public willpower to switch is missing, and heaven only knows why not.  As for the "dangerous chemicals" Mr. Geisler complains are generated in producing solar cells, the whole lot of them together can't "hold a candle" to the monstrous piles of nuclear waste and other waste produced in what is known as the "nuclear fuel cycle", which requires phenomenally dangerous chemicals to isolate the fuel, and even to simply maintain the water PH in the reactor coolant system.  (Hydrazine is used, which is also known as rocket fuel because that's what a lot of it is used for.  A known carcinogen, it's used at San Onofre for PH balance of the coolant water, and 20 gallons of it was leaked last Wednesday (on June 6th, 2001).)

Each nuclear power plant at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station produces about 300 lbs of high-level nuclear waste each day it operates, and another 1000 lbs of low-level nuclear waste, which is really just high-level waste with filler added, like water, steel, cloth, plastic, etc. -- things that, in nearly every other industry, can be recycled, but because they are irradiated must now be isolated from the environment.  We have no idea what to do with the spent nuclear fuel, despite 40 to 50 years of intense effort, and billions of dollars, spent trying to solve the problem.  Yucca Mountain, the current "Holy Grail" of nuclear waste solutions, will probably never be built.  And even if it is, there are other problems, problems with transport of the waste, and problems with storing mixed waste (radioactive AND chemically dangerous), and also, low-level radioactive waste regulations are in flux right now as well, and almost surely destined to get much stronger.  (As an example, cost of pump disposal at Hanford, Washington's nuclear waste dump went from negligible prior to 1992 to $1.5 MILLION after new EPA regulations went into effect.  Right now SONGS's disposal costs for pumps is negligible, but current proposed Low Level Radioactive Waste Legislation in California will probably significantly change their costs and procedures.  Not surprisingly, Southern California Edison is fighting that legislation.)

Each gram of high level nuclear waste, and, ideally, of low level nuclear waste as well, must be carefully isolated from humanity for something in the neighborhood of a million years.  Right now it's all staying at San Onofre, susceptible to the following catastrophic possibilities: airplane crashes, earthquakes, tsunamis, industrial accidents (including inattentive NRC-licensed nuclear fuel crane operators), RPGs (Rocket-Propelled Grenades), and other acts of sabotage (a wrench in the works).  Various experts predict that we can have vastly more powerful earthquakes locally than San Onofre is built to withstand (which is 7.0).

Gravity, which I assure Mr. Geisler I have not forgotten about, caused SONGS employees to recently drop an 80,000 lb load (that's the official weight).  Thank God this time, they did not drop their load, say, into the Spent Fuel Pool, and THANK GOD they didn't drop any fuel, spent or otherwise.  Any of these accidents would result in the permanent relocation of everyone in San Clemente and Oceanside, including Mr. Geisler, and the deaths of thousands if not tens of thousands or more.  Probably Carlsbad and a dozen other towns nearby will also have to be permanently evacuated.  It's an accident which would change the landscape forever, making one of the most beautiful places on the planet a desolate, poisonous hellhole.

Gravity indeed, is only one thing the employees at SONGS manage to forget.  They also forget about the waste disposal problem, and would sure like the public to try to forget about it too.  And it seems that until SONGS workers drop a spent fuel cask or have some other "serious" accident, the public does choose to forget, and the North County Times chooses to ignore what is happening at that plant, and to censor reasonable (if lengthy) debate on the subject.  I cannot answer Giesler's dogma in 200 words, and if that's all the time permitted to stop the atrocity San Onofre is heading towards, then I guess, thanks to the NCT and others, we will all just keep on heading for that train wreck.

Sooner or later, these embrittled and partially embrittled fuel elements are going to catastrophically destroy our coast.  Will only 200 words be allowed to cover the accident then?  You couldn't even name those who would be dead in the first minute at San Onofre alone, in 200 words!  Are you prepared to publish a SPECIAL EDITION with the evacuation routes?  Of course not, because I-5, I-15, and I-8 are the only major routes out and they'll all be clogged anyway!

I've posted a complete description of the crane incident, and the scandalous lack of government oversight in points up, at the following URL:

It's high time for the media to publish the full truth about nuclear power, AND about the viability of plentiful clean energy alternatives.


Russell Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA
Attachments (3):
Text of letter from US Department of Labor to Russell Hoffman, June 8th, 2001
Letter from Geisler published in the North County Times June 14th, 2001
Letter from Hoffman published in the North County Times June 9th, 2001


U. S. Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
71 Stevenson Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

Reply to the Attention of:
Dan Mooney (800) 475-4020

June 8, 2001

Dear Mr. Hoffman:

We have received your notice of alleged hazards against SAN ONONFRE (sic) NUCLEAR GENERATING STATION.  After careful review, we have decided not to conduct an investigation because:

1.    Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have jurisdiction over this establishment, please notify the Department of Energy regarding your concerns.

Your interest in workplace and safety is appreciated.


(signed for)

Leonard Limtiaco
Director, Enforcement & Investigations

<<<<< END OF LETTER FROM OSHA TO RDH JUNE 8th, 2001 <<<<<


Nuclear power is safe and cheap to produce

I feel the need to respond to Russell Hoffman's June 9 letter. He claims that nuclear power is unsafe because a crane fell at San Onofre.

The only thing it proved to me was that gravity still works. All right, a crane fell down and hit ญญ oh my god ญญ the ground! How exactly does that make the power plant unsafe to the public? Then if you do shut SONGS down, how do you replace the lost electricity? Unless he has been living in a closet lately, Hoffman might have noticed the blackouts running around the state. Nuclear power produces 20 percent of the electricity in California, at one of the lowest costs. You take that away and you'll be using candlelight to read an electric bill the size of your house payment.

And please don't tell me to use more solar power. If the solar power pushers had any idea how much pollution is created in the manufacture of solar cells, and how much toxic waste is created during their disposal, they would hop off that bandwagon and never ever get back on.


>>>>> My LETTER FROM JUNE 9th, 2001 >>>>>

SONGS is dangerous

I understand a 50,000-pound crane fell 50 feet at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station on June 1. A strap broke. That's a long fall. I bet it made quite a hole. I hope the North County Times will run over and get some pictures.
SONGS should be closed ASAP. It's dangerous.


To: opinion@nctimes.com
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <rhoffman@animatedsoftware.com>
Subject: NCT correction note
Cc: dmcswain@nctimes.com, pdiehl@nctimes.com

To whom it may concern:

In the letter I wrote to the NCT today (June 14th, 2001) which I sent you, I had to correct it for one item, namely that each nuclear plant produces about 300 lbs a day of HLRW, not SONGS itself, which produces, obviously, twice as much since there are two nearly identical plants located there (and a third one that was closed in the early 1990's because it couldn't meet revised and improved safety standards).

The figure of how much waste is produced there is from literature provided by SONGS to me on Monday (June 11th, 2001), and I converted from the 48 tons a year that they mentioned in the literature to a daily value, approximately.  It's actually about 263 lbs per day, but I had done the original conversion in my head just before a presentation to the California Coastal Commission yesterday.

According to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station literature, each nuclear power plant at San Onofre also produces about 156 tons (855 lbs per day) of so-called "low level" radioactive waste, but that's probably just the part that is above that dastardly level known as "regulatory concern".


Russell Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA


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Mail to: rhoffman@animatedsoftware.com
First posted June 14th, 2001.

Webwiz: Russell D. Hoffman