San Clemente Green Getting it Wrong

An email from San Clemente Green, a San Clemente-based activist organization led by Gary Headrick, recently trumpeted a report from the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. In “aha!” style the email (and social media post) claimed the NWTRB had concluded that “most dry storage nuclear waste containers will need replacing before they can be moved to another location…” That’s a big deal and would be huge news—if it were true. It’s not.

SC Green Canisters Replaced 2

The San Clemente Green email says:

In the final page of the report under Recommendation 3... "The Board recommends that, for planning purposes, DOE should allow for a minimum of a decade to develop new cask and canister designs for SNF (spent nuclear fuel) and HLW (high level waste) storage and transportation, or DOE should conduct its own detailed evaluation of the time needed to complete the design, licensing, fabrication, and testing of new casks and canisters."

Recommendation 3 does not mean SCE would have to repackage the fuel it has now in dry storage canisters. Here's in part what the recommendation says:

"Advance Planning for the Development of Casks and Canisters for SNF and HLW Is Needed. To implement an integrated, nationwide waste management program, DOE will need to complete the development and licensing of existing canister designs (e.g., the DOE standardized canister) and develop new canister designs for some DOE-managed HLW. DOE will also have to develop and obtain NRC approval of transportation casks for all DOE-managed SNF and HLW." (Emphasis added).

So what is “DOE-managed SNF and HLW?”

According to DOE, “U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-managed spent nuclear fuel (SNF) comprises a broad range of fuels, resulting mostly (85% by mass) from defense-related nuclear activities (primarily weapons plutonium production reactors and naval propulsion reactors). A smaller amount is from DOE research and development activities, domestic and foreign research reactors, and commercial sources.

“It’s located at four primary sites: Hanford, INL, Fort St. Vrain and Savannah River Site.”

But the report was not silent on commercial nuclear spent fuel canisters, such as those used at SONGS.

Here’s what the NWTRB said about dual purpose (storage + transportation) canisters: “…the only significant technical/engineering steps that remain to prepare for transportation are fabricating impact limiters for the (transportation) casks and completing a railcar to carry the casks.” (p. 12)

NWTRB Report
Click graphic to read full report.

And they also said this about spent fuel canisters such as those used at SONGS: “…few technical issues remain unresolved. For example, barring unforeseen problems, certain types of commercial SNF likely could be shipped within a year or two of resolving institutional issues, such as determining a destination and obtaining funding.” (p. xxvii) (Emphasis added).

Finally, the NWTRB wrote this, likely the most significant statement for those of us looking to move the waste off-site as soon as reasonably achievable: “It is important to note that, at the 15 commercial nuclear sites considered to be shutdown sites as of April 2019, all dry-storage canister types in use are welded canister types that are approved by the NRC for both storage and transportation. Therefore, these canisters could be ready to be transported by DOE early when the national transportation campaign begins.” (p. 73)

Gary Headrick missed all of that as he rushed to put out his latest bit of misinformation. The question needs to be asked, who is he serving by misleading the public, elected officials and others with this false information? And perhaps more importantly, is anybody actually believing it? If so, finding a solution to long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel may be more difficult than we imagined.