Hirsch also criticized the backup systems that would supposedly protect nuclear reactors and their pools should the power cut out. Backup generators at these complexes aren’t required to keep enough fuel on site to keep power online for extended periods. EnviroReporter.com reported in SONGS’ Lethal Legacy last October that there is a seven day supply of emergency fuel at San Onofre and a few more hours’ worth of juice out of the backup batteries before the spent fuel pools began overheating with killer consequences.
The lunacy of assuming spent fuel pools will be properly maintained for hundreds and thousands of years with nary a hiccup like earthquakes, terrorist attacks or a major CME strike isn’t just stupidity, it is a threat to the national security. Now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has assured that the surviving ten percent of the American population will have hundreds of meltdowns and burning spent nuclear fuel rod pools to contend with.
“The latest iteration of the Waste Confidence Rule relies on a remarkable regulatory fiction: that just leaving large amounts of extraordinarily hazardous and long-lived material sitting on storage pads at numerous locations around the country will not result in unacceptable environmental impacts because institutions will continuously guard, regularly maintain, and periodically repackage the waste for hundreds of years, or even hundreds of thousands of years,” Hirsch concluded. “This seems, to use a favorite phrase of the NRC, “non-credible.””
Nuclear plants around the world churn out more than just tons of high-level radioactive waste yearly that wants for a permanent repository that will be safe for the required hundreds of thousands of years. Atomic power pioneers could not have foreseen that they built high value terrorist targets that if attacked and destroyed would kill scores and ruin the land with radioactivity.
One elemental way to remove the threat is to remove the target. Advocates of using dry casks to store spent nuclear reactor rods have long argued that system is safer than overstuffing spent fuel pools. The NRC’s decision to allow the pools to remain in place indefinitely has crippled any chance of moving the hot rods into dry casks that don’t need electricity to cool as they maintain a stable temperature without power or much human oversight.
But even this solution seems less than ideal. No two dry cask designs are the same as the activists who helped put the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station out of business have recently learned. They are questioning SONGS majority owner Southern California Edison’s decision to spend $400 million on a dry casking system they consider inferior.
SCE has set an ambitious goal of moving its spent fuel rods to dry casks by June 2019. That would sound sensible in light of the array of security concerns EnviroReporter.com exposed in Hit Men for Hot Zones last October. The decision on which dry cask to use is imminent according to SONGS Chief Nuclear Officer, Tom Palmisano, who was before the California Public Utility Commission August 12.
Getting the choice right is crucial to San Clemente residents Donna Gilmore of SanOnofreSafety.org and Gene Stone of Residents Organized for a Safe Environment. They are concerned that SCE will choose either a French or American design for the dry cask’s stainless steel canister walls that are thin.
“Recent information provided by the NRC technical staff indicates dry storage canisters may need to be replaced within 30-42 years or sooner, due to stress corrosion cracking of the thin (1/2 to 5/8 inch) stainless steel canisters (due to our coastal environment),” wrote Gilmore and Stone in an email August 20. “The NRC stated that if one of the canisters becomes defective (e.g. 75% through-wall stress corrosion cracks), there is no way to repair or replace the canister; especially if the spent fuel storage and transfer pools are demolished, as Edison plans to do. And before a canister can be transported (inside a transport cask), the canister must not have cracks.”
The SONGS activists recommend that the fuel rods be inserted in 20 inch thick cast iron German casks and housed in reinforced concrete buildings. Stone and Gilmore advocate no more than 24 fuel assemblies per cask in order to keep their decaying heat down and maintaining an empty spent fuel pool in place to have a functioning workspace to replace casks or canisters.
To their credit, Gilmore and Stone take the issue of nuclear safety seriously at one of the most at-risk sites in the country from earthquakes and terrorist attacks as EnviroReporter.com revealed in Black Swan SONGS in mid-October 2013. Yet it took just a week after the exposé concluded for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to say it planned to terminate its bi-yearly evaluation of SONGS’ emergency procedures after SCE did a final risk assessment of its spent fuel pools. So much for the community input that SCE claims it values so much.
It’s common practice not to evaluate emergency contingencies at nuclear power plants by FEMA once they’ve gone offline said Richard Grundstrom, FEMA’s Technological Hazards branch chief to San Diego’s KPBS Radio News October 24. “The likelihood of it involving a risk beyond the site boundary is pretty small,” Grundstrom said, “and so we don’t do any evaluations of exercises or plans or procedures at those locations anymore.”
FEMA’s failure to understand the threat of any kind of a natural or terrorist disaster at offline nuke plants, like San Onofre, makes a mockery out of government emergency planning, such as it is. Instead, FEMA fell in line with the NRC not even considering the consequences of what NASA has pointed out is going to happen. This is government at its most fatally inept.
However, knowledge of this extinction event-level threat is clearly no path to panacea. Action must be taken with all the muscle a united nation, and world, can muster. The chances of that happening are practically non-existent. No evaluations or exercises are in store for preparing America, let alone the planet, for the certain coronal mass ejection that will slam into Earth.
America may have the most atomic power plants of any nation with 100 nuclear reactors online but that’s just 23 percent of the total worldwide. The 437 operational reactors in 32 countries are on both sides of the Equator but the Northern Hemisphere has by far the most nuclear sites. Seventy new nuclear reactors, and their associated spent fuel pools, are currently under construction around the globe, the largest number in China.
None of these countries have completely hardened their electrical grids against the effects of a major coronal mass ejection pulverizing the planet in solar plasma. Nor have the same system-wide fixes, including having backup transformers in place at key locations throughout the grid, been initiated.
Even progressive countries like Germany, who are weaning themselves off of nuclear power, aren’t protected from the fallout from neighboring fission-friendly France. The Germans may have just nine reactors but the country borders upwind France putting it in the cross-hairs of any French nuclear disasters, CME-caused or not. Italy, which voted to shut down all its reactors decades ago, also borders France and would receive the brunt of French fallout from the Gallic country’s melting reactors and blazing SFPs.
War with the so-called Islamic State means that nations with nuclear plants have to think outside the reactor about what a successful EMP would do to their sites and countries. Much concern has also been raised about foreign fighters trained by ISIS returning to their home countries intent on bringing terror back with them. Nuclear reactors and SFPs are tempting high value targets which, if destroyed, would spread terror far beyond the borders of resultant radioactive contamination.
Doubling down on a visible deterrent with beefed up security at these oft-times vulnerable nuclear power sites should be a national priority at least in the United States. Hardening the target, short of removing it altogether, should be a NRC-mandated order based on this new acknowledged war. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of plutonium.
Former head of the CIA, R. James Woolsey, agrees protecting America’s grid from a hostile EMP attack ought to be a top national priority. Woolsey wrote a forceful and detailed opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal August 12 that laid it out pretty clearly. “What would a successful EMP attack look like?” Woolsey wrote. “The EMP Commission, in 2008, estimated that within 12 months of a nationwide blackout, up to 90% of the U.S. population could possibly perish from starvation, disease and societal breakdown.”
Of course an EMP attack on the United States like the one Woolsey describes would pale in scope compared to the Big One CME but that makes his recommendations no less imperative. America’s role in leading the world would be no better served than facing the menace of a nuke generated electromagnetic pulse or the sun’s plasma by bulletproofing the electrical infrastructure.
“Surge arrestors, faraday cages and other devices that prevent EMP from damaging electronics, as well micro-grids that are inherently less susceptible to EMP, have been used by the Defense Department for more than 50 years to protect crucial military installations and strategic forces,” Woolsey opined. “These can be adapted to protect civilian infrastructure as well. The cost of protecting the national electric grid, according to a 2008 EMP Commission estimate, would be about $2 billion—roughly what the U.S. gives each year in foreign aid to Pakistan.”
While Woolsey’s clarion call to action seems a no-brainer, don’t expect any concrete steps anytime soon. A bipartisan House bill introduced in June 2013 called the Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage, or Shield Act, is hung up in the Energy and Commerce Committee. Another bipartisan House bill, the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, has sat without being voted on since October 2013.
With the sun beating down on our necks, and ISIS looking to cut them, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that these bills could save millions of American lives and trillions of dollars. The problem is even our rocket scientists are faring poorly in a country that ranks behind 22 other nations in science and after 29 in math. Many Americans just can’t grasp the threat because it is beyond much mainstream media and an underfunded public science infrastructure to explain it to them clearly.
So where does that leave us? Staring at the Sun with fingers crossed hoping we’re not in the coronal mass ejection crosshairs of solar plasma bearing down on Earth at six million miles per hour. Hoping against the inevitable is a uniquely human trait. In this case, though, the whole planet will pay the price. It will be Earthnocide.
Coronal Mass Extinction
The million mile long filament of plasma twisting and churning across the Sun that NASA reported October 6 will probably not come anywhere near our world. The CME was gauged to be too far east on the face of the Sun to be Earth-directed October 7.
The filament CME was moving at a relatively slow 447,387 miles per hour according to an October 8 bulletin issued by the Space Weather Prediction Center. “It appears narrow and directed well south,” the notice read, “but analysis will continue as more imagery becomes available.”