Activist Group Misrepresents Spent Fuel Storage Canister Warranty, Risks

Some issues never seem to go away, no matter how much sunlight one shines on them. Take the subject of the warranty on the Holtec spent nuclear fuel canisters and storage system.

In May 2015, more than five years ago, Southern California Edison responded to a request for information submitted by a member of the public regarding the warranty for the Holtec canisters and storage system. SCE’s letter detailed the length of the warranties: 25 years for the canisters and 10 years for the storage system itself.

But rather than treating these for what they are, a simple manufacturer’s warranty, activists continue to use these time periods as a substitute for the much longer design and service life periods of the canisters.

Case in point, in a recent email blast, Charles Langley of Public Watchdogs wrote this:

Here’s why it is dangerous:

The thin-walled canisters are only guaranteed to last 25-years…

Holtec Test Canister
The Holtec system test canister is lowered into its storage vault.

Difference Explained

It's not uncommon for design and service lives to be significantly longer than initial warranty periods – and our Holtec canisters are no different.

The design life is the minimum duration for which the component is engineered to perform its intended function, as defined by the final safety analysis report (SAR) for the Holtec UMAX storage system. That time period is 60 years. The service life for the canisters is 100 years or more. From the Holtec SAR, service life is “…the duration for which the component is reasonably expected to perform its intended function, if operated and maintained in accordance with the provisions of (the SAR). Service Life may be much longer than the Design Life because of the conservatism inherent in the codes, standards, and procedures used to design, fabricate, operate, and maintain the component.”

Langley is aware of the information we reference above, his email blast links to the very letter it comes from. But rather than provide the full context, he curiously omits it. Here’s what the SCE letter he links to says about warranties:

Where the design life of the system is founded in technical basis, the warranty life is a solely contractual item determining which party holds responsibility for necessary repairs or rework should the need arise. The warranty for the system is a written guarantee by Holtec promising to remedy any Defects in the Work due to faulty design, materials or workmanship which appear within a period beginning on the date of ISFSI Scope Completion and continuing for a contractually agreed upon duration following the ISFSI Scope Completion Date. (emphasis added).

We have seen other instances where the 25-year warranty is used instead of the 60-year design life or 100-year service life for the canisters. It is meant to mislead and deserves to be called out when it happens.

It's worth mentioning that SCE selected canisters well-suited to the coastal environment. We chose 316L stainless steel, which is corrosion resistant. The canister walls are 5/8-inch thick, which is thicker than standard industry canisters. The limiting factor for the service life of the canisters is a slow-developing process called chloride-induced stress corrosion cracking, which would only exist in the canister’s weld areas. To greatly reduce the possibility of CISCC ever occurring, we laser-peened the canister welds, a process that adds a protective layer of compressive stress. This is vital context that is often missing from activist discussions about canisters.

We believe the issue of spent nuclear fuel storage and relocation to an off-site facility is not served by misinformation, indeed, it can have a negative effect on the ability to develop options for future short or long-term spent fuel repositories. We continue to support the dissemination of factual information about nuclear fuel storage while pursuing our shared interest to see the fuel moved out of Southern California.

(Posted Aug. 29, 2020)