Removing the terrorist threats to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station exposed by the Black Swan SONGS series can specifically strengthen this vulnerable nuclear installation.
Unlike the packs of contract-hungry nuclear and defense “consultants” that devour billions of taxpayer dollars in the feeding frenzy that marks the two industries, EnviroReporter.com offers the results of this investigation, and its recommendations, for free.
Reporting on major environmental issues can have striking results like the Ahmanson Ranch story did a decade ago. Other times, even when exposing state and federal EPA misuse of $41.5 million, outrageous betrayals of the public trust are perpetrated and – for now – go unpunished.
This is a way of saying that these recommendations are detailed even though we are not naïve enough to believe that they will be acted upon with reason and resolve. We are under no illusion that any of the entities that could enact our suggestions will do so. We offer them nevertheless because of the obvious: they should be followed.
There are short-term fixes that would yield immediate and lasting results at San Onofre. Long-term fixes, which should take no more than five years to accomplish, would secure SONGS for a long time.
The easily-built fence screen along the San Diego Freeway that EnviroReporter.com has already suggested to thwart a rocket attack on the spent fuel pools (SFPs) buildings is easy to complete with Caltrans. The heightened perimeter wall along Old Highway 101 is also a cinch but SCE would have to build it.
Call in the Marines
The Marine Corps Camp Pendleton commander could take decisive action after verifying with his own eyes the findings of this series. The general is responsible for the safety of everything in the base perimeter and that presumably includes SONGS. Protecting San Onofre protects the Marines and their base which should be all the justification needed for the brigadier general to act.
There are a number of vehicular options that would satisfy the instant suppression of the clear and present danger of the exposed SFPs building. These measures would also protect the spent nuclear fuel in dry casks.
To eliminate the threat of rocket attack entirely in the short term, three relatively-light Marine vehicles could be positioned outside of SONGS. Considering Camp Pendleton’s size and importance, it is likely the base would have the Helo Transportable Tactical Vehicle (HTTV) and the M1043A2 HMMWV Humvee light multirole tactical vehicle to fulfill this mission.
One Marine unit in an HTTV or Humvee could be positioned adjacent the northeastern corner of SONGS on the shoulder of Old Highway 101 facing south. This would mitigate the rocket attack threat from one angle as well as cover the parking lot terrorists would have to run through to get through to the dry casks area.
Cutting off that entry way by essentially guarding the length of it would go most of the way to protecting the dry casks in the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI).
A second Marine squad facing north could situate itself on the wide easement between the train tracks and Old Highway 101. These two units would have the whole perimeter covered but not in depth. That would have to happen across the San Diego Freeway.
The previously proposed Caltrans fence would interfere with these squads view of the southbound shoulder of the freeway, from where an attack could be quickly launched with an immediate getaway.
A third Marine vehicular unit would solve this problem by being stationed across the freeway to the east along El Camino Real where it would enlarge the security zone to include the civilian-accessible high ground. These three units would always remain in visual and radio contact with each other.
A fourth optional unit could complete the deployment being stationed on the beach and bluffs to keep a vigilant eye on the ocean. New restrictions establishing a boat ‘no-go’ zone could be implemented for the length of the secured part of SONGS along its flood wall out half a mile from the shoreline.
The 24-7 nature of this kind of protection would mean site-specific training, night vision equipment and appropriate procedures. This knowledge and equipment are already on Camp Pendleton property and so should mean no additional cost to the American taxpayer. What would be gained is regional relief that a SONGS black swan would never take off.
Additional security within San Onofre’s perimeter is achievable only if Southern California Edison is a willing participant. But such precautions cost money and SCE is already trying to charge its customers $2.6 billion to decommission the plant as it tries to protect its assets even with its multi-billion dollar debacle. This has resulted in a howl of protest by folks who are more energized than ever to take on SCE over San Onofre.
Despite this, EnviroReporter.com strongly suggests that there are protective short-term solutions and literally concrete long-term fixes that would make the ISFI invulnerable to terrorist attack and much more secure against any kind of tsunami or flooding on the west side of the site. It bears noting again that it is good news that the earthquake faults closest to SONGS are slip-strike faults, which do not displace water and cause of tsunamis.
SCE could immediately erect a formidable security fence along the stretch of perimeter from the parking lot entrance on Old Highway 101 northwards to Beach Club Road where it could turn westward to terminate by the guard kiosk. This fence could have security cameras that have feeds in the SONGS security post and the Marine vehicles outside. The current outer fence backset from the street and bordering the parking lot should be looped with razor wire at a minimum.
San Onofre’s ISFSI sits outside of the reactor and SFP’s security perimeter. Should a terrorist squad elude any Marines on Old Highway 101 and then breach the new suggested property line fence topped with razor wire and make down to the dry casks, only armed guards right on the spot will be able to stop them from exploding any C-4 backpack bomb. EnviroReporter.com recommends tripling the amount of barbed wire atop the ISFSI fence and building a permanently staffed armed security guard post.
The permanent solution to both security threats exposed by EnviroReporter.com is expediting the dry casking of the cooled-off spent fuel rods still in the two vulnerable spent fuel pools buildings using the dry cask fabricator already on site at the 130 acre Mesa Complex east of the San Diego Freeway. There the dry casks could then be transported the relatively short distance to a more secure new ISFSI at the Mesa Complex which would be much farther from any potential access point that could be exploited by a terrorist on foot or vehicle. With no dry casks left at the current ISFSI and, in five years, two empty SFPs, the terrorist threat nearly evaporates.
This could also obviate the need to send these highly radioactive rods to interim storage sites somewhere else when there is still no permanent repository for America’s huge amount of nuclear waste. Such is the high level nuclear waste temporary storage plan of four Senators including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, (D-OR), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Lamar Alexandar (R-TN) and Lisa Murkoswki (R-AK).
Nuclear activists call the plan Mobil Chernobyls in response. One hundred environmental and clean energy groups submitted comments May 24 in opposition to the plan which is still in the “discussion draft” phase.
“This draft legislation is extremely disappointing,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, which coordinated the comments in a press release. “It simply attempts to revive rejected policies of the past while moving our nation no closer to a permanent solution for radioactive waste disposal than we are today. In particular, its misguided emphasis on ‘consolidated interim storage’ would result in the mass transportation of lethal nuclear waste over our roads, rails and seaways while not reducing the number of existing waste storage sites—which is every nuclear reactor site. Moreover, unlike previous Senate proposals, this one would effectively break the linkage between an ‘interim’ site and progress on a permanent solution and thus place any kind of permanent repository even further into the future than it is now.”
The future is now with the threats exposed in the Black Swan SONGS series. The fastest way to get the job done is to first secure the perimeter against tempting terrorist targets and truck the ISFSI’s dry casks over to the Mesa Complex. This would expedite dry casking of the long-ready spent nuclear fuel rods stuffed into San Onofre’s two SFPs and their transfer to the ISFI which is a negligible distance over the San Diego Freeway to the closest thing to permanent storage on site: a new Hardened On-Site Storage, or HOSS.
“Irradiated fuel must be stored as safely as possible as close to the site of generation as possible,” said the March 2010 Institute for Energy and Environmental Research paper. The so-called HOSS Principles were signed by dozens of nuclear watchdog and environmental groups. “Waste moved from fuel pools must be safeguarded in hardened, on-site storage (HOSS) facilities. Transporting waste to interim away-from-reactor storage should not be done unless the reactor site is unsuitable for a HOSS facility and the move increases the safety and security of the waste.”
A robust siting of the dry casks in a large area still on Camp Pendleton land would remove the dangers of having to move so many incredibly heavy and radioactively hot rod assemblies on the roads and rails of the aged American infrastructure. This work could begin immediately if it weren’t for one big catch. More money can be made using the Marine Corps, i.e. taxpayer, property building a new power plant rather than safely storing the toxic fuel SCE generated over decades which needs to be maintained and controlled for thousands of years.
San Diego Gas & Electric, which owns a one-fifth stake in San Onofre, wants to build a new 1,000 megawatts plant on the Mesa Complex property. Preliminary talks with the U.S. Navy at Camp Pendleton were revealed in July. This move would also provide SCE with another excuse to do nothing and let thousands of spent nuclear fuel rods sit in pools not designed to hold them for decades, pools EnviroReporter.com has exposed as being vulnerable to a devastating terror attack.
Some of the recommendations for SONGS could be applicable to other nuclear reactors and spent nuclear fuel rods pools installations in the U.S. But, the NRC’s long record of favoring nuclear industry profits over policies that would better protect the public make it highly unlikely that it would force Southern California Edison to toughen up its defenses let alone any other at-risk nuclear facility in the nation with spent fuel.
A sober look at the Pennsylvania Peach Bottom Power Plant reveals the fact that the reactors were built in 1958 of the same boiling water reactor MKI design as Fukushima Dai-ichi’s doomed reactors. With “a weak outer containment,” as accurately characterized by the New York Times, the MKI features its spent fuel pool suspended about four stories off the ground in the same building as the reactor.
This double jeopardy design is such that even though Fukushima Unit 4 didn’t have a meltdown because the reactor wasn’t fueled, its damaged SFP high in the air is at imminent risk of collapse. Additionally, its degrading metal structure sits on sandy soil just four inches above the highly radioactive groundwater swamping the site.
Coming attempts to conjure broken spent fuel rods out of the warped and damaged SFP rack will be one of the most dangerous and technically daunting disaster operations ever attempted anywhere. Should Unit 4’s SFP collapse and fall to the ground, the broken rods will be exposed to the air and each other in the rubble. An unforgettable fire will erupt and the site would have to be abandoned because the radiation would be too intense to get anywhere near it. Tokyo would be lost as well as the top third of Japan.
Peach Bottom has the same design that includes a crane on rails above the SFP. Above that is a roof which is not covered in thick concrete as a cutaway diagram of the MKI shows. Damage or destruction of this area would result in severe consequences. An explosion might destroy the SFP through outright blast or the crane could collapse into the pool possibly rupturing it.
An EnviroReporter.com analysis of the MKI design concludes that the building housing the reactor and its SFP are at huge risk of a devastating AT-4 rocket launcher armed with an Anti-Structure Tandem (AST) warhead. Peach Bottom’s two MKI reactors, with their spent fuel pools high in the buildings, sit along the Susquehanna River which has no boating restrictions. A boat can float to within 300 yards of Peach Bottom’s two SFPs.
An earthquake and tsunami won’t take out Peach Bottom. Using the same resources except a site inspection, EnviroReporter.com has determined that it appears strongly that Peach Bottom would be vulnerable to AT-4 an attack. If successful, it would bring catastrophe to millions downstream that rely on the river for drinking water and irrigation of crops and animals.
A terrorist squad with AT-4s could easily boat right up to Peach Bottom on the river and take out the SFPs judging from the distance, strength of reactor buildings and ease of incursion and excursion. The other side of the river is close enough that it would take only minutes to escape to the landing at Peter’s Creek opposite the plant. There are also very few people in the area. Indeed, terrorists could attack Peach Bottom from the densely wooded area across from the reactors and simply stroll back to their unseen getaway cars.
The way to lessen the threat would be to have a force on force deterrent that begins with marksmen on the reactor rooftops 24-7, river restrictions that would keep boaters from venturing too close or staying too long in the reactors’ stretch of the river, and keeping a wary eye on the woods across the river.