Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Vulnerability of Holtec’s nuclear waste canisters

Halting Holtec – A Challenge for Nuclear Safety Advocates, CounterPunch,    7 June 19, The loading of 3.6 million pounds of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel has been indefinitely halted at the San Onofre independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI), operated by Southern California Edison and designed by Holtec International.

Last month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) fined Southern California Edison an unprecedented $116,000 for failing to report the near drop of an 54 ton canister of radioactive waste, and is delaying giving the go-ahead to further loading operations until serious questions raised by the incident have been resolved.

Critics have long been pointing out that locating a dump for tons of waste, lethal for millions of years, in a densely populated area, adjacent to I-5 and the LA-to-San Diego rail corridor, just above a popular surfing beach, in an earthquake and tsunami zone, inches above the water table, and yards from the rising sea doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense from a public safety standpoint.

The near drop incident last August, revealed by a whistleblower, has drawn further attention to the many defects in the Holtec-designed and manufactured facility.  It has been discovered that the stainless steel canisters, only five-eights inches thick, are being damaged as they are lowered into the site’s concrete silos.  Experts have warned that the scratching or gouging that is occurring makes the thin-walled canisters even more susceptible to corrosion-induced cracking in the salty sea air, risking release of their deadly contents into the environment and even of hydrogen explosions.

Furthermore, critics point out, these thin-walled canisters are welded shut and cannot be inspected, maintained, monitored or repaired.

Systems analyst Donna Gilmore is the founder of SanOnofreSafety.org, and a leading critic of the Holtec system.  She explains her concerns this way in a recent email:

The root cause of the canister wall damage is the lack of a precision downloading system for the canisters.  Holtec’s NRC license requires no contact between the canister and the interior of the holes. The NRC admits Holtec is out of compliance with their license, but refuses to cite Holtec for this violation.

NRC staff said the scraping of the stainless steel thin canister walls against a protruding carbon steel canister guide ring also deposits carbon on the canisters, creating galvanic corrosion. The above ground Holtec system has long vertical carbon steel canister guide channels, creating similar problems.

Once canisters are scraped or corroded they start cracking. The NRC said once a crack starts it can grow through the wall in 16 years. In hotter canisters, crack growth rate can double for every 10 degree increase in temperature.

Each canister holds roughly the radioactivity of a Chernobyl nuclear disaster, so this is a critical issue people need to know about.

Unless these thin-wall canisters (only 1/2″ to 5/8″ thick) are replaced with thick-wall bolted lid metal casks – the standard in most of the world except the U.S. – none of us are safe. Thick-wall casks are 10″ to 19.75″ thick. Thick-wall casks survived the 2011 Fukushima 9.0 earthquake and tsunami.

U.S. companies choose thin canisters due to short-term cost savings. These thin-wall pressure vessels can explode, yet have no pressure monitoring or pressure relief valves. The NRC gives many exemptions to ASME N3 Nuclear Pressure Vessel standards (a scandal in and of itself).

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board December 2017 report to Congress raises concerns of hydrogen gas explosions in these canisters. The residual water in the canisters becomes radiated and results in buildup of hydrogen gas.

The gouged canister walls reduces the maximum pressure rating of these thin canisters, creating the perfect storm for a disaster.  Ironically, Holtec calls their system “HI-STORM”.

How many “Chernobyl disaster can” explosions can we afford? There are almost 3000 thin-wall canisters in the U.S.  Yet the NRC has no current plan in place to prevent or stop major radioactive releases or explosions.

Many are advocating that the San Onofre storage facility be moved to higher ground in thicker casks housed in more securely hardened structures.  Others are advocating for the waste to be shipped across country to New Mexico to a facility being proposed there by Holtec and a local group of entrepreneurs calling itself the Eddy-Lea Alliance.

Holtec International, a family-owned company, based in Camden, New Jersey, with mixed reviews from employees.  True to its name, the company has international ambitions for building small nuclear reactors (SMRs) and become dominant in the burgeoning global market of radioactive waste management.  It is working hard to convince the NRC and members of the public that concerns about its San Onofre ISFSI are over-blown and unfounded.

Holtec canisters are reportedly installed at three-dozen other reactor sites around the country, including Humboldt Bay in California.  Holtec is in the running, too, for a waste storage facility at the state’s Diablo Canyon nuclear site, scheduled for shutdown in 2025.

Holtec is also offering to buy four other US phased out nuclear power stations, – Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Pilgrim in Maine, Palisades in Michigan and Indian Point in New York.  As of this writing three of those proposed deals have yet to be approved, but on April 18, 2019, Holtec announced that it has closed the deal with Entergy to acquire the leaking and controversial Indian Point energy center just outside New York City after the last of its three reactors shuts down.

The pot of gold in the radioactive waste business is that, thanks to fees charged to ratepayers over the years, each plant has accumulated hundreds of billions of dollars in a decommissioning trust fund, which would all go to Holtec once the sales have been completed.

With Three Mile Island now scheduled for shutdown by the end of September, will Holtec attempt to buy TMI, as well? https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/06/07/halting-holtec-a-challenge-for-nuclear-safety-advocates/

 

June 8, 2019 - Posted by | General News

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