Public at Risk: Scandals at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

August 1, 2019

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Versions appeared:
Escondido Grapevine, 08-Aug, 2019
Fullerton Observer, 08-Aug, 2019
Times of San Diego, 12-Aug, 2019

Beachfront in-ground nuclear waste storage silos at San Onofre

Two recent scandals force the question: Is public safety the top priority of either the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or SoCal Edison as they lurch forward in removing spent nuclear waste from cooling pools and loading into dry storage at the now shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS)?

In August 2018, a conscience-driven whistle blower exposed how, because of a system design flaw and human error, a 54-ton canister loaded with radioactive spent fuel nearly crashed down 18 feet during a procedure to load it into an in-ground dry storage silo. He also detailed a general atmosphere of neglect for public safety by both the NRC and Edison.

A subsequent Special Inspection led the NRC to conclude that the incident was caused by “inadequate training, inadequate procedures, poor utilization of the corrective action program, and insufficient oversight.” Torgen Johnson, project director at the Samuel Lawrence Foundation who was instrumental in getting SONGS shut down, finds this deceptive because it places all the blame on personnel while ignoring the “defective engineering, design defects, and sloppy fabrication” of the storage system at SONGS.

NRC imposed an $116,000 civil penalty on Edison and cited the incident as a Severity Level II violation, the second most serious possible violation. NRC spokesperson David McIntyre confirmed that no spent fuel licensee has ever received a Level I violation and that Edison is the first to receive a Level II, making it the single most serious violation in the country.

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Ticking Time Bomb at San Onofre Nuclear Plant

December 29, 2017

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Voice of OC, 01-Jan, 2018
Fullerton Observer, Jan, 2018
San Diego Free Press, 03-Jan, 2018
E-Magazine, 05-Jan, 2018
Times of San Diego, 06-Jan, 2018
Escondido Grapevine, 21-Jan, 2018

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) abuts I-5 Fwy and ocean. Photo: Jelson25, Wikimedia Commons.

The seaside nuclear reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente were permanently shut down in 2013 following steam generator malfunction. What to do with the 3.6 million pounds of highly radioactive waste remains an epic problem, however, pitting concerned citizens against Southern California Edison, the California Coastal Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Edison operates San Onofre, the Coastal Commission is charged with protecting the coastline, and the NRC is responsible for long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel and protecting the public.

The Problem
A reactor’s spent nuclear fuel must be stored safely for 250,000 years to allow the radioactivity to dissipate. San Onofre’s nuclear waste has been stored in containers 20 feet under water in cooling pools for at least five years, the standard procedure for on-site temporary storage. Long-term storage necessitates transfer to fortified dry-storage canisters for eventual transportation to a permanent national storage site which, under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the federal government is under obligation to construct.

However, the plan to build an underground repository at Yucca Mountain in the Nevadan desert was ditched in 2011 out of concern that deep groundwater could destabilize the canisters, leaving the United States with literally no plan on the horizon for permanent storage of nuclear waste from San Onofre or any other of the country’s nuclear power plants. In fact, under the NRC’s newest plan – the so-called Generic Environmental Impact Statement – nuclear power plant waste might be stored on-site forever.

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