2013-09-10 Mothers for Peace asks Board of Supervisors to Push for Faster Transfer of Wastes into Casks

The overcrowded spent fuel pools present the greatest dangers at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.


On September 10, 2013, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (MFP) addressed the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors during public comment time.  MFP asked the Board to send a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) urging an accelerated schedule for moving the radioactive wastes currently stored in overcrowded and unprotected spent fuel pools at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant into dry casks.

Jane Swanson and Linda Seeley, spokespersons for MFP, delivered a prepared statement on behalf of the organization, which for 40 years has had intervenor status with the NRC. This means that MFP, a non-profit organization comprised of volunteers, has equal legal status with PG&E and with the NRC Staff in matters pertaining to the operations of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.

They explained the timeliness of the request for such a letter, and the reasons why it is urgent that the Board of Supervisors take action now to protect the safety and property of those living in San Luis Obispo County. Below is the text of their message, including links to documents from either the NRC or the Union of Concerned Scientists to support MFP statements and positions.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission  (NRC) is currently revising its Waste Confidence Act. According to the NRC,

“The Waste Confidence Decision and Rule represent the generic determination by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that spent nuclear fuel can be stored safely and without significant environmental impacts for a period of time after the end of the licensed life of a nuclear power plant.”

As part of this revision the agency is conducting twelve public meetings throughout the nation, one of which will be held in San Luis Obispo on October 7. These meetings are a part of the NRC’s response to a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C., which has required the NRC to study the environmental impacts of storing spent fuel indefinitely in either pools or dry casks.  As of yesterday, September 9, the NRC’s Draft Waste Confidence Generic

Environmental Impact Statement is online and available for Comment until November 27.  See it at http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1322/ML13224A106.pdf

(It is approximately 580 pages in length.)

The greatest danger to the public posed by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is its overcrowded spent fuel pools.

In 1988 the NRC gave the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant permission to increase the density of its spent fuel pools by a factor of five. See http://gao.justia.com/nuclear-regulatory-commission/1988/2/nuclear-waste-rced-88-79fs/RCED-88-79FS-full-report.pdf This has major safety implications, as the original design of the spent fuel pools deliberately left sufficient space between the spent fuel rods to prevent fires in the event that the borated cooling water was drained from the pools. But under the current conditions, the rods are so close together that in the event that the top 18 inches of the rods lose cooling water, a fire would be inevitable, and would release radioactive particles into the atmosphere.

If, after a five-year cooling period in the pools, the spent fuel rods are moved into dry cask storage, they are much less vulnerable to fire that might lead to a release of radioactive materials. Note that at Fukushima the dry casks continue to function to passively cool the spent fuel contained in them, despite the fact that some of them were flooded by the tsunami of 2011. In contrast, two and a half years after the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami the spent fuel pools that lost their cooling water remain out of control, contaminating the ocean, air, food supply, people and other living beings in northern Japan and beyond. For an overview of the advantages of dry casks over pools, see http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear_power_risk/safety/safer-storage-of-spent-fuel.html

The advantages of dry cask storage over pool storage is further documented by a team of experts on the hazards of spent fuel pools which includes the current chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Allison Macfarlane.


Another reason such a letter from this Board would be timely is that a draft nuclear waste management bill is under consideration in the U.S. Senate, but it does not at this time include provisions for more rapid transfer of spent fuel from pools to dry casks.


In testimony before that Senate Committee, the Union of Concerned Scientists summed up the situation:

“There was another consequence from expanded onsite spent fuel storage. Spent fuel pools initially designed to hold slightly over one reactor core’s inventory of irradiated fuel now hold up to nearly 9 reactor cores of irradiated fuel. Unlike the reactor cores, the spent fuel pools are not protected by redundant emergency makeup and cooling systems and or housed within robust containment structures having reinforced concrete walls several feet thick. Thus, large amounts of radioactive material – which under the NWPA [National Waste Policy Act] should be stored within a federal repository designed to safely and securely isolate it from the environment for at least 10,000 years – instead remains at the reactor sites.

[Paragraph omitted.]

UCS wants to see the status quo ended by reducing the inventories of irradiated fuel in spent fuel pools. We strongly advocate accelerating the transfer of irradiated fuel from spent fuel pools to dry storage. In our view, currently available and used dry storage technologies can be used to substantially reduce the inventory of irradiated fuel in spent fuel pools, with a goal of limiting it to the equivalent of one or two reactor cores per pool.”

The complete testimony of Union of Concerned Scientists is available at http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=89dbc888-171c-4f77-8ecf-83a0055fcfb9

The state of California is also urging the transfer of spent fuel to dry casks. The California Energy Commission’s (“CEC”) 2011 Integrated Energy Policy Report stated that

“In light of the accidents and/or plant shutdowns following earthquakes at Fukushima Daiichi (2011), Kashiwazaki-Kariwa (2007), and at the North Anna nuclear plant (August 23, 2011) and other considerations, the Energy Commission, in consultation with the CPUC, recommends the following:

To reduce the volume of spent fuel packed into storage pools, and consequently the radioactive material available for dispersal in the event of an accident or sabotage, PG&E and SCE, as soon as practicable, should transfer spent fuel from pools into dry casks, while maintaining compliance with NRC spent fuel cask and pool storage requirements and report to the Energy Commission in the 2012 IEPR Update on their progress.”

For full context, see p. 10 of http://a4nr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/090613-A4NR-Open-Brief-009.pdf

An agenda item to produce a letter from this Board urging an accelerated schedule for the transfer of spent fuel to dry casks for reasons of safety and economic security would be timely in the next few weeks. The letter should be sent to the following:

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Pacific Gas & Electric Company

Senator Boxer, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

Senator Feinstein, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Committee

Congresswoman Lois Capps, Committee on Energy & Commerce, including its subcommittees on Energy and Power, Environment and the Economy, and Health.

California Energy Commission

We also suggest such a letter be cc’d to the following agencies whose responsibilities are impacted by the potential hazards posed by the overcrowded spent fuel pools at Diablo Canyon nuclear plant:

Cal Fire

Office of Emergency Services, County and State levels

California Highway Patrol

This request is not without precedent. Over the years, the Board has sent communications to PG&E and to the NRC expressing Board views on such topics as seismic studies and the timing of PG&E’s application for license renewal.

Nine members or supporters of MFP also addressed the need for the Board to take a position urging transfer of radioactive wastes. Among them were the former Cal Fire Chief, Fred Frank. Two members of the SLO County appointed Waste Management Committee, Fred Frank and Klaus Schumann, reminded the Board that approximately 10 years ago this committee reported to the Board of Supervisors that the spent fuel pools presented the greatest danger from the Diablo plant. Jaye Adams noted that now is the time for the County to give input to the NRC, as the agency has finally recognized that it must seek and pay attention to local communities impacted by NRC decisions.

In discussion after Public Comment time, Supervisor Hill offered to write a letter as an individual, and Supervisor Arnold suggested the Board should ask PG&E to make a presentation to the Board on the topic of moving spent fuel from the pools to dry casks at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.

If the Board does invite PG&E to make such a presentation, MFP would be interested to hear the views of the plant operator on this topic. MFP would also expect to be invited to make its own presentation, being given equal time. Speaking in three-minute segments at public comment time is not equivalent to being on the agenda and giving a PowerPoint presentation.

A more meaningful opportunity for the Board members to become better informed on this topic would be for them to attend the NRC Waste Confidence meeting to be held October 7 at the Marriott Hotel in San Luis Obispo. Details are on the NRC website at


Regarding the sending of a letter to the NRC and other entities as listed above, MFP strongly feels that it is the responsibility of this Board to act as a unified whole to make sure that San Luis Obispo is never on the map as “the American Fukushima”. A letter from one supervisor does not have the same weight as one from an elected Board of Supervisors.

It is essential a letter from the Board be received by the NRC prior to the close of the NRC’s deadline for comment, which is November 27, 2013. See