A visit to my local power plant

According to the Congressional Research Service (using NEI data), there were 62,683 metric tons (138,192,360 lbs) of commercial nuclear spent fuel accumulated in the United States as of the end of 2009.

  • Of that total, 48,818 metric tons – or about 78 percent – were in pools.
  • 13,856 metric tons – or about 22 percent – were stored in dry casks.
  • The total increases by 2,000 to 2,400 tons annually.
  • –Nuclear Regulatory Commission Spent Fuel Storage FAQ

    Before vacating the Cold Fusion Now HQ in beautiful Eureka, California and taking the show on the road, we squeezed in a visit to our local Pacific Gas & Electric Humboldt Bay Power Plant HBPP.  A geologist friend of mine Bob MacPherson and I had made an appointment to see the Plant Manager Paul Roller to tour the facility.

    Currently, providing 163 MW of power for Humboldt County, California  from 10 brand new Wärtsilä natural gas engines, the HBPP is dismantling Units 1 and 2 of the original heavy fuel oil reactors from the late 50s which had then moved to natural gas in the 60s. 

    In addition, the facility is decommissioning a Unit 3 nuclear reactor built next to the old natural gas units, and underground 66 feet below sea level, in 1963 and which had been shut-down since 1976. (See HBPP timeline here.)

    I wanted to see how the spent fuel assemblies were going to be stored on-site.  Though the Unit 3 nuclear reactor had been closed for the past 35 years, the radioactive fuel rods had been stored at the plant in a pool of water 40 feet below the surface.

    Spent fuel pools are steadily filling up in the US.

    Most spent fuel in the US is stored in pools of water, but a geologically active region like the Pacific coast of the United States is challenged by both earthquakes and tsunami presenting added difficulty to safely storing this high-level radioactive waste, and this facility sits on the Cascadia Subduction Zone and Little King Salmon faults along the Ring of Fire.

    In 1988, the HBPP was granted “site-specific permission” from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct an Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI), in what is called SAFSTOR. This meant that the plant operators could take the radioactive fuel assemblies out of the waterpools, and put them in more secure dry containers for interim storage.  (See the NRC page on HBPP here.)

    Mr. Roller is in charge of the decommissioning and first brought us up to his office to talk about the layout of the facility and how it changed over the decades.  He mapped out what the power plant would look like after decommissioning. Then he showed us the method of SAFSTOR that they were implementing using models.  It took about an hour as he was patient and careful about answering all of our questions.

    Today’s conventional nuclear power poses a high contamination risk from mining the radioactive fuel through it’s eventual form of weapons or waste, and I was upfront about not wanting to invest scarce resources in any more of these types of power plants.  However, I told him truthfully that I was glad to hear about their new design for storage of the fuel assemblies that could better prevent tragedy occurring on our coast, and I was grateful for his time and openness about the process.

    Models of the inner and outer casks for storage of radioactive spent fuel assemblies. The stainless-steel inner cask on the right holds the fuel assemblies. The carbon-steel outer cask is on the left.

    Mr. Roller described an inner cask made of 40 tons of stainless steel is big enough to take 80 used radioactive fuel assemblies – with the surrounding water. After setting down inside, the water is drained through a small hole near the bottom of the canister, and a 10,000 kilogram (22,000 pound) lid is robotically welded shut.

    Again through the small hole, the container is evacuated and filled with helium gas. Then, the small hole is welded shut. The inner container is then put into a carbon steel canister with 54 bolts sealing the top and similarly filled with helium.

    This is a model of the inner cask with its 10,000 kilogram lid welded shut.

    The steel vaults stand 12 feet high and are partially buried so the top of the cask is at 44-feet elevation. This height accounts for a 40-foot tsunami wave hitting the low-elevation coastline. The nearby natural gas reactors stand at 12-feet elevation.

    The casks are designed to maintain integrity and withstand 1.3 horizontal g-forces and 1.6 vertical g-forces. According to Mr. Roller, “At Fukushima, the vertical g’s recorded were 0.52. The only thing built to withstand these forces in Humboldt County are these storage facilities.”

    After the Fukushima disaster, the HBPP issued a press release that was published in our local weekly, the Arcata Eye [1] outlining the strength of the facility:

    “The Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) project was completed in 2008 and the facilities have been designed to withstand an 8.8 magnitude Cascadia subduction zone earth quake and a tsunami surge between 28 to 43 feet above sea level. The underground vault affords greater seismic stability, greater protection from tsunamis, reduced maintenance, enhanced aesthetics, and uses conductive cooling, making it completely passive, meaning that the facility is able to perform its job without requiring any actions to be taken by plant workers.”

    We took a quick walk around the property. This is a view of the hill where the five vaults, which can hold a total 390 fuel assemblies, are located partially underground. Work is ongoing so it’s currently surrounded by those cement blocks and I took the photo through a chain link fence. Interestingly, being the highest elevation in the area, the nearby coastal town of King Salmon goes to this same hill during tsunami alerts.

    Storage containers are being partially buried underground on the hill.

    A rendering of the final landscaping shows the storage casks partially emerging from the top of the hill in the upper left. Just to the left you can see the edge of King Salmon.

    The little spot on the top of the hill shows the top of the storage casks.

    This site is only interim. There is no clear national policy in the US on long-term storage or recycling of toxic nuclear wastes. The 104 licensed commercial nuclear plants operating in the US are generally responsible for storing their own used fuel assemblies.

    Because of another appointment, Mr. Roller wasn’t able to give us the full plant tour, but he showed us a few labs staffed by engineers who were also local residents and concerned about the safety of Humboldt Bay. I got the impression there was an excellent team running the facility.

    Yes, that was some cold fusion materials in the Plant Managers office. Mr. Roller was very interested to learn of the recent developments in clean energy reactors and excited to receive some recent issues of Infinite-Energy magazine, as well as a copy of Nuclear Transmutation: The Reality of Cold Fusion by Dr. Tadahiko Mizuno.[4] Genuinely interested in hearing about cold fusion, Mr. Roller was bewildered at why, if this was so promising for clean energy, weren’t more people working on this, and indicated that he would investigate himself. I gave him a couple of complimentary Cold Fusion Now stickers to enjoy after his surely imminent conversion.

    The Humboldt Bay Power Power plant generates 163 MW of electrical power using 10 natural gas reactors that can be dialed down below baseline to accommodate new power sources. I’ll be following up with Mr. Roller soon to see if he is ready to dial down a few Wärtsilä’s and purchase a some ultra-clean E-Cat modules as replacements.

    How about making an appointment with your local power plant for a tour? Be friendly, and you’ll learn how your local power is generated. Have a conversation and communicate with those who maintain and operate your local power station and see the level of commitment the staff has.

    Bring some information about LENR with you, and tell them where they can order an ultra-clean replacement for those rods.

    But yo yo yo – the left coast here is Ruby’s sales territory!

    Related links

    1. Arcata Eye PG&E Statement On The Humboldt Bay Power Plant – March 21, 2011
    2. Nuclear Energy Institute, Key Issues from an industry-funded association.
    3. Nuclear Regulatory Commission HBPP public webpage here.
    4. Introduction to Nuclear Transmutation: The Reality of Cold Fusion available for free download. Also, a book review by Jed Rothwell from Infinite-Energy.
    5. Pacific Gas & Electric’s Humboldt Bay Power Plant public webpage here.
    6. Times-Standard Officials say Humboldt Bay Power Plant fears unwarranted March 26, 2011.
    7. Tokyo Electric Power Company presented Integrity Inspection of Dry Storage Casks and Spent Fuels at Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Station 6-1_powerpoint November 16, 2010 at ISSF 2010.

    Related articles

    Message from Amateur-lenr Toshiro Sengaku March 13, 2011

    Dangers of nuclear fission power plants exposed by Ruby Carat March 16, 2011

    M. King Hubbert on Nuclear Energy by Ruby Carat March 22, 2011

    No fear of radiation from cold fusion by Ruby Carat April 3, 2011

    Nuclear physicist on cold fusion by Eli Elliott June 8, 2011

    FINALLY…. Like audio? I found this 20 second Youtube of the alarm going off at the Humboldt Plant on December 17, 2010 though I don’t know why:

    2 Replies to “A visit to my local power plant”

    1. Thanks C&J. I didn’t write about alot of aspects of that afternoon, one of which was the security. We made an appointment weeks prior and were instructed to wear solid shoes, only natural fabric clothing (the entire facility is busy with the decommissioning) and bring ID.

      A special nuclear security force patrols the plant. They have a patch on their uniform with the iconic model of the atom on it. You check in with them upon entering, and they give you an orange vest, hardhat, and visitor pass. We were then met by our escort.

      It was a short visit, but we were asked to come back anytime.

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