|Surfer walks the beach near the San Onofre nuclear power plant|
Are Southern Californians about to witness the restart of an unsafe nuclear power plant? Southern California Edison, the utility that owns the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) north of San Diego, which leaked radiation more than a year ago before being shuttered, is evidently looking to sidestep safety evaluations of the plant's damaged steam generators and reboot as soon as June, with minimal public input.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has preliminarily approved a "No Significant Hazard" request by Edison that allows the plant to reopen before any public hearings are held. Operators admit they don't yet know how to fix the problem at the damaged plant. Their solution? Start and stop at 70 percent power, and see what happens.
A growing number of residents, activists and pols think this is far too risky. The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously today to urge federal regulators not to allow the restart before a formal public process determines whether Edison’s experimental restart is safe and all needed repairs or replacements are subsequently completed.
Los Angeles is the latest in a growing list of So-Cal cities that have expressed serious concerns about the safety of restarting either of San Onofre’s twin reactors. Cities that have passed resolutions or sent letters of concern to the NRC include Del Mar, Encinitas, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Santa Monica, Solana Beach, Vista, Berkley and Fairfax. In addition, the San Diego Unified School District board passed a similar resolution.
Damon Moglen, director of the climate and energy campaign at Friends of the Earth, asked The Reno Dispatch, "How can the NRC seriously consider allowing the restart of this reactor without public hearings, when Edison still doesn't know exactly what went wrong, still hasn't fixed it and has no idea if their experiment of running at partial power will work? It would be the height of arrogance (for the NRC) to ignore not only the inherent risks, but the request for public hearings from Los Angeles and other cities throughout Southern California."
Acting on a petition from Friends of the Earth, the NRC is conducting two official proceedings which could require Edison to seek a full license amendment with adjudicated public hearings, expert testimony and rules of evidence.
Meantime, Kendra Ulrich, nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth, says San Onofre’s steam generators are so damaged that they should never have been granted a license in the first place.
"Edison is saying that even though these two reactors are total lemons that failed after two years, and even though they don't know how to solve the problem, they now want to conduct an experiment running at reduced power because they are so afraid at running at full power," says Ulrich.
While Edison wants to restart the reactor as in time for the Summer heat, the NRC still has final say on if or when the plant reboots. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) which oversees the NRC, said in a statement earlier this month that NRC's proposed determination to grant the "No Significant Hazards" consideration is "dangerous and premature," and could pave the way for a restart "before the investigations of the crippled plant are completed."
Boxer said, "It makes absolutely no sense to even consider taking any steps to reopen San Onofre until these investigations look at every aspect of reopening the plant given the failure of the tubes that carry radioactive water. In addition, the damaged plant is located in an area at risk of earthquake and tsunami."