It was a great feeling of support when Joe Street, a staff member of the California Coastal Commission (CCC), began his presentation with a statement that more than one hundred letters to deny the plan had just arrived in his email, and they were still coming in. Way to go team, especially on such short notice!
He went on to explain that the CCC does not have jurisdiction over matters of nuclear safety but could rule on how that might impact access to our coastal resources. After an impressive, well informed public comments session took place, some commissioners freely expressed their concerns about the types of casks selected and more.
Here is the bottom line before having to read on on much further. The CCC felt (incorrectly) that they had to approve a plan that relied on dry casks that are prone to cracking, can't be inspected, have no early detection monitoring, not repairable, and not transportable without special improvements to bridges and railways. If cracks were detected, they would not be allowed to be transported at all. Given all those factors, the end result will likely be a permanent nuclear waste site at San Onofre, intentionally or not. Such a shame, when other proven cask designs that meet those reasonable expectations have been determined by Edison to be infeasible or too expensive, (let me remind you that this is the same company that proposed to restart a defective nuclear reactor without fixing it first, and run it at a lower rate for five months just to see what happened). If we want a better outcome, it will take a surge of people power to reach the higher ups, perhaps even Governor Brown. I hope you will continue to support such an effort.
Please read on for more details...
Perhaps the most disturbing fact lay just beneath the surface and never really came to light. That is because once "the people" have spoken, there is no opportunity to rebut what is said by Edison and the NRC. All of their reassurances about safety and reliability were based on the claim that they had never detected any problems with any of the of the dry cask storage sites around the country. That was later contradicted by probing questions which confirmed that there was no technology available yet that can tell if those canisters have developed any cracks. Unfortunately, the dots were never connected, which might have shown that all of their false claims of a perfect safety record were unsubstantiated and without basis.
As things stand now, the Coastal Commission has attached a few conditions to the permit pertaining to future review of safety and reliability, even when it was not exactly within their jurisdiction. Commissioner Mary Shallenberger made the perceptive point that if we are to require Edison to demonstrate cask integrity and stability of bluffs in twenty years, why would we not establish that from the beginning? Unfortunately, that observation got very little traction and they all ended up voting for the plan to go forward anyway, almost as if it were a foregone conclusion, (see reporter's comment at very bottom of page). They feared that a negative decision would make them responsible for a catastrophe due to the risks associated with keeping the waste in spent fuel pools. That was a false choice, because Edison could continue to use the dry cask storage containers they have already been approved to use. They have the same issues, but at least the casks would not be buried in sandstone bluffs just inches above the waterline. The choice to deny Edison's request could still have allowed overcrowded pools to continue to be emptied while allowing time for better options to be considered.
It wasn't until after the meeting that the whole crux of the matter became vividly apparent. Mark Lombard, who is the top NRC person in charge of spent fuel storage and transportation was having an informal discussion with a few of us. He gave a simple answer to the question, "Why would the NRC allow Edison to select a type of storage system that is inferior to better choices that are available today"? Mark said, "It is up to the utility company to determine the system they prefer to use, as long as it meets NRC standards". So the next obvious question was asked, "Why doesn't the NRC raise their standards?" After some nervous laughter and awkwardness, Mark decided to leave rather abruptly. That really is where the answer lies. They should simply require that any dry cask system should be capable of inspection for early warning monitoring, be repairable and transportable without any special improvements to roads, bridges and railways, and not prone to CRACKING! Such a cask does exist but NRC standards have eroded over time, due to constant heavy pressure from the industry. It is time for them to get a backbone or be overruled. Too much is at stake to leave things where they stand.
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