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NUKE Waste:
Too Close for Comfort

Don Mosier | Rimini Road

The Samuel Lawrence Foundation sponsored a webinar by Professor Ian Fairlie on October 19th entitled “Is It Safe to Live Near The San Onofre Nuclear Power Station?” Here are some highlights from the presentation. Some are well known, others less so.

First, the well-known:

• Spent fuel rods should be stored in thick cast iron canisters (as in Europe), not the thin -walled stainless steel Holtec canisters being used. This decision placed lower cost above greater safety.

• There continue to be releases of radioactive material into the ocean, although the exact amount is difficult to ascertain. Surfers should go elsewhere for at least 3 days after each release.

Now, the less well-known:

• Discharges of tritium (3H) into the air continue at the rate of 25 Curies/year. This is an enormous amount of radioactivity and 3H is an isotope that is readily incorporated into the food chain. For comparison, 25 curies are equivalent to 1014 dental X-rays (that’s 10 with 14 zeros).

• Because of this known discharge of radioactivity as well as exposure data from European studies of those living near nuclear power stations, Professor Fairlie suggests that living within 3 miles of San Onofre power station is inadvisable for women of childbearing age, young children, and that no food grown within that radius should be consumed.

• Professor Fairlie was particularly critical of the decision to place the Poseidon desalination plant in Carlsbad so close to the discharge pipes from San Onofre. The reverse osmosis treatment to get rid of the ocean salt will actually concentrate tritium and other radioactive isotopes in the water. The coastal currents usually flow from south to north, but not always.

• He was also critical of the absence of any emergency evacuation plan or any provision of potassium iodide tablets to protect against release of radioactive iodine.

A final anecdote was telling for the future of storing radioactive waste in the U.S. Finland is building an underground waste repository called Onkalo at a projected cost of greater than $5 billion, which is way more than the cost of the electricity generated during the operating life of their nuclear power stations. This is like buying a new car for $25,000, driving it for 20 years, and then paying $100,000 to have it scrapped. Maybe not a sound investment!


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