INuclear Shutdown News chronicles the decline and fall of the nuclear power industry in the US and beyond, and highlights the efforts of those who are working to create a nuclear free future. Here is our April 2018 report.
Holtec company wants to build "interim" nuclear dump for high level radwaste from shutdown nuke plants across the US in New Mexico
Readers of Nuclear Shutdown News will recall last month's report, that featured the shenanigans of the Holtec's company's mishandling of high level nuclear waste it is removing from the San Onofre nuclear plant in Southern California, which closed in 2013.
As reported previously, when nuclear plants permanently close, they leave behind used nuclear duel in vast quantities, 3.55 million pounds in San Onofre's case. This so called "spent" fuel (commercially spent, that is) includes radioactive chemicals like plutonium that remain lethal to humans and other living things for thousands of years. By the way, plutonium and other such radwastes (radioactive wastes) do not exist in nature. There were developed by US scientists in league with the military who were working to bring about the Atomic Bomb.
San Onofre's majority owner (the other one being San Diego Gas & Electric) hired Holtec to remove the radwaste from pools that most be constantly cooled to prevent fires or meltdowns inside its nuke plant and put it somewhere else--but still within the area of this iconic surfing hot spot.
The first idea was to dump it in the bluffs above the plant, adjacent to frenetic Interstate 5 and Camp Pendleton Marine base just to the east. Public opposition to this forced revision of this proposal, but instead Plan B was to construct a disposal site only 100 feet from the booming Pacific Ocean. Holtec actually started doing this earlier this year, transferring the spent fuel to "dry"casks that keep the fuel cool without using water.
But while doing so on March 5, a bolt broke in one of 4 new model casks Holtec had already filled with plutonium-laced radwaste.
Work stopped on the job--but for only 10 days. Edison claimed there was no way to check to see if the other casks had the same problem, and all involved claimed there was really no problem anyway,
Such was not the case at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant 3000 miles away, however. On March 30 the Rutland (VT) Herald reported "Vermont Yankee's fuel move is still on hold."
The Vermont Yankee nuke shut down at the end of 2014. Its owner is New Orleans-based Entergy. The Herald reported, "Entergy ..suspended moving its old nuclear fuel to dry storage after a problem was revealed at San Onofre nuclear plant in California." This happened even though older model Holtec canisters were being used in Vermont.
Ghosts of Alamagordo
But Holtec has bigger--much bigger--plans for this nuclear waste, ones that could potentially put the entire nation, or perhaps the whole world at risk.
On April 11 the Albuquerque (NM) Journal reported "Activists kick off New Mexico tour to protest nuclear storage."
The newspaper continued, "Activists are taking their opposition to the proposed interim storage site for the nation's spent fuel in southeast New Mexico on the road."
The paper reported "representatives of the 'Halt Holtec' tour gathered in downtown Albuquerque with an inflatable rendition of a cask that would be used to transport waste to a site located between Carlbad and Hobbs in Lea County."
Leona Morgan, co-founder of the Nuclear Issues Group, said "I look at this place (NM) as the birthplace for nuclear colonialism. It's been targeted for too long as a national sacrifice zone for radioactive contamination."
Morgan cited its history as "uranium mining and enrichment, detonation of the world's first nuclear bomb (in Alamagordo Mew Mexico in July 1945, one month before a 2nd one was dropped on Hiroshima), and site of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant," the Journal reported.
The latter facility, a dump for US military plutonium and associated high level radwaste, had a serious accident in 2014. According to the no nukes group Beyond Nuclear, this had been considered impossible, but a "single barrel burst, nearly a dozen workers suffered inhalation, and the place was shut down for three years at a cost of billion."
Holtec is saying its proposed site would go on only until the US federal government gets it act together to build a permanent one, which was supposed to happen no later than 1982.
The Journal article also quoted Sister Marlene Perrotte of the New Mexico Interfaith Power & Light: "If we have the whole picture, where does it go from here? It is possible that we inherit the temporary as permanent."
The'Halt Holtec' tour was to visit Santa Fe, Gallup, Roswell, Artesia and Carlsbad.
On March 1, the Sierra Club characterized the population around the proposed site as "largely Latino and Native American, including Pueblo, Dine, Apache and other tribes, a severe violation of environmental justice."
These environmental groups said there could be 10,000 rail shipments to the Holtec site over 10 years. And we all know accidents DO happen.
The site may operate or as long as 100 years. A single canister weighs 185 tons.
Holtec has applied to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a 40 year operating license. The public comment period lasts only until the end of May.
But this battle is just beginning.