2013 Synopsis of NRC November 20 Waste Confidence Meeting, SLO


At least 230 people attended an important meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on the evening of November 20. They came to voice their opinions on the NRC’s Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) and proposed Waste Confidence Rule.  The GEIS is an assessment of the environmental impacts associated with the continued storage of spent nuclear fuel after the closure of nuclear plants. The Waste Confidence Rule states that the NRC has confidence that, even though it has failed to figure out what to do with radioactive waste for the 60 years of commercial reactors, it will solve the problem “in time” to continue allowing the creation of more radioactive wastes.

Judging from the vast majority of the approximately 100 verbal comments delivered, this absurd assumption was the motivating force for most of the downwind residents in attendance. Some came from as far south as Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Those who arrived for the 6:00 pm Open House where they were invited to talk informally with NRC staff found the Mariotte Hotel darkened by a power outage. Those who arrived for the 7:00 pm formal meeting had to brave the rain and a lack of sufficient parking.  There was also a lack of sufficient chairs, so that as the meeting began the walls were lined with those left standing.

The NRC is traveling to twelve cities throughout the nation to hear public comment on its proposed regulations, which the Federal Court of Appeals ordered the agency to revise because the NRC had no technical basis for asserting that current on-site storage practices in fuel pools and dry casks would be safe for the indefinite future. The court ruling also forced the NRC to stop licensing or relicensing any nuclear facilities until its errors were corrected. The NRC has set a schedule to adopt its new Waste Confidence rule within two years so that it can resume the issuing of licenses, even though its own staff declared it would take at least seven years to do an adequate job.

The vast majority of speakers shared the opinion that Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is no place to store radioactive nuclear waste for the undetermined future, in large part because of the 13 earthquake faults that surround the two reactors.

Many, including San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill, urged the NRC to order PG&E to transfer the radioactive wastes into dry casks storage on an accelerated schedule, rather than leaving the rods in densely packed spent fuel pools. Some pointed out that the pools are vulnerable to accident or terrorist attack because they are not protected by thick concrete in the way the reactors are.  

Many speakers, including all of those who identified themselves as members of San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, urged the NRC to shut down Diablo Canyon and all nuclear plants because there is nowhere to put the waste, creating an intolerable burden on future generations  – all for the sake of boiling water for our needs today.

Fukushima was brought up many times as a warning and an illustration of the dangers posed by nuclear technology.  It was pointed out that the entire Pacific Ocean, and indeed the west coast of the United States, is seriously threatened by the radiation from Japan. Several also pointed out that right up until the minute before the earthquake and tsunami hit Fukushima, the plant operators were fully confident that their plants were safe.

Jane Swanson, a spokesperson for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, pointed out that in determining the risks of a spent fuel pool accident, the NRC relied on an outdated 1994 study of plants east of the Rocky Mountains. And then, in an unsupported leap of faith, it claims that the risks and consequences of an accident are the same for the west coast plants, despite their very unique geology.

Sherry Lewis of Mothers for Peace took PG&E to task for using the terms “used” and “spent” fuel to imply that the energy in the fuel rods was all consumed. On the contrary, she explained, the fuel has to be removed from the reactor core because the fission process has made it much more radioactive and unstable as elements not found in nature are created.

Among the other issues raised by the public were that California does not need the electricity from Diablo; that a combination of conservation and increased use of truly sustainable sources of energy can fill our needs. Several pointed out that nuclear power is not an answer to climate change because it produces carbon in the mining and enrichment of uranium and in the huge volumes of concrete used in construction.

Several speakers pointed out that NRC rules are useless because they are not enforced; a prime example being allowing Diablo to operate despite the fact that new information about nearby earthquake faults show that the plant could not withstand the predicted ground motions from some of the nearest faults.

The bottom line of most of the speakers was that the NRC should be in the business of protecting public safety, rather than protecting the profits of the industry it is supposed to regulate. The new proposed GEIS and Rule were strongly rejected.