Local Officials Join Activists in Caution Over San Onofre

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San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (Photo Credit: Enformable)

At a packed public meeting in Capistrano Beach Tuesday, local elected officials joined environmental activists in calling for a trial-like hearing before the idled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) is allowed to restart.

“The restart of Unit 2, even at reduced power, is a dangerous experiment that threatens the safety of 8.2 million Southern California residents,” San Diego Mayor Bob Filner declared in a letter read aloud to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials at the meeting.

“I urge you not to authorize the restart of SONGS until both a full license amendment hearing has been conducted by the NRC and the [California Public Utilities Commission] finishes its investigation,” Filner’s message continued.

Tuesday’s NRC meeting was filled with hundreds of activists, union workers and officials. It came on the heels of the NRC announcing an “expansive investigation” into whether Southern California Edison misled regulators and rejected safety measures that could have prevented a January 2012 radiation leak.

Edison has disputed assertions last week by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that Edison knew about major problems with the plant’s replacement steam generators before they were installed.

The NRC plans to decide as early as April on a request by Edison to restart part of the plant at reduced power. Regulators acknowledged the seriousness of that decision, with San Onofre Oversight Panel Co-Chairman Art Howell saying the extremely rapid tube wear is a “serious safety issue, and it has to be resolved.”

Several elected officials from cities in San Diego and Los Angeles counties urged extreme caution in approving any restart proposal.

“I have to tell you, evacuation is not an option for 10 million people,” said a representative of Los Angeles Councilman Paul Koretz. The original approval process for replacement steam generators obviously didn’t work, he added, so “this time you need to get it right.”

Union leaders, meanwhile, said the plant is safe to operate under Edison’s plan.

“I will tell you that my members — the rest of my coworkers — would not operate that plant if it was unsafe,” said Daniel Dominguez of the Utility Workers Union of America. “I will tell you that from an engineering or mechanical fix, we, the workers, do not have an issue with the plan that Edison has put forward.”

Activists also repeated calls for the NRC to release a Mitsubishi report that supposedly shows that Edison officials were warned about tube wear problems in the generators before they were installed but opted not to implement safety measures.

“Why is it that the public is not allowed to see that document?” asked activist Gary Headrick.

Officials said they’re keeping the report under wraps because it contains proprietary information.

Edison has acknowledged that a design flaw in replacement steam generators, which did not undergo a thorough independent analysis by the NRC, caused the leak. The utility asserted during the approval process that the new generators wouldn’t create a greater safety risk than the old ones.

Edison has strongly denied that it was aware of problems ahead of time.

A Los Angeles Times editorial on Sunday called for the public release of the Mitsubishi report, saying the public is entitled to “information about who knew what and when.”

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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