Holtec International, the company that has been providing Diablo Canyon with dry casks for storing spent radioactive fuel, is lashing out after it lost a contract to provide additional canisters for PG&E’s nuclear power plant in Avila Beach.
“Bluntly stated, PG&E’s decision reveals a blatant disregard for the interests and welfare of the host community of the San Luis Obispo area,” a Holtec executive wrote in a letter to PG&E.
He goes on to threaten to “employ all appropriate avenues available to us to reverse your ill-conceived decision and protect the well-being of the people of California and PG&E.”
PG&E announced this month that it had chosen Bethesda-based Orano USA to handle the storage of the final loads of spent fuel from Diablo Canyon, which is due close in 2025.
In addition to manufacturing its horizontal, above-ground storage modules for PG&E, Orano will be in charge of transferring spent fuel out of the storage pools at Diablo and into dry casks.
“PG&E’s technically knowledgeable personnel appear to have been sidelined or muzzled and the body of PG&E’s literature on evaluation of the available technologies summarily buried. Plainly stated, the decision to award the dry storage contract to Orano whose freestanding modules are apt to slide and fall in the Pacific Ocean under California Coastal Commission’s postulated earthquake is a preposterous and reprehensible act.”
The letter was signed by Pierre P. Oneid, Holtec’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer.
“Sandia’s 2012 study, “Seismic Considerations for Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage in Dry Casks,” investigated the seismic response of typical vertical and horizontal spent fuel cask systems under a total of 1,165 evaluations… Sandia concluded that horizontal systems … will not tip over during severe seismic events or walk more than a few centimeters on the pad.” Roberts added that Orano’s system — the NUHOMS, or Nuclear Horizontal Modular System — is fully licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (Holtec claimed it was not licensed by the NRC and “never tested.”)
When asked to comment, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility (A4NR) raised no concerns with PG&E’s decision to go with Orano.
The organization “has confidence in the integrity of the vendor procurement process put in place, including review of any protests filed by unsuccessful bidders,” spokesman David Weisman said.
That’s encouraging, since A4NR has been among the most vigilant watchdogs of decommissioning — a critical role, because few of us have the wherewithal to judge whether one dry cask system or another is best for storing the radioactive fuel generated at a nuclear power plant in our own backyard.