Anti-nuclear advocates and union workers clash
By Jim Shilander
Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission outlined the remaining steps in the process to determine whether Southern California Edison will be allowed to restart Unit 2 at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
Rick Daniel of the NRC told the crowd that filled the Capistrano Beach Church that the commission was anticipating holding at least two additional public meetings on the utility’s proposed restart plan, including one locally, which he anticipated would come in late April or early May. A technical meeting will also be held at the NRC’s headquarters in Rockville, Md., either later this month or in March, Daniel said.
Edison has proposed operating Unit 2 at 70 percent power for five months, then inspecting the steam generator tubes for wear.
Art Howell, the team manager overseeing the SONGS restart investigation, gave the crowd a brief overview of the review process to this point, noting that the agency was continuing to request additional information on Edison’s restart plan. Howell estimated that a final decision on restarting Unit 2 was not likely to come before late April, at the earliest. The utility had responded to 28 of the 32 requests for additional information on the restart plan.
“Assurance of tube integrity is a part of those answers,” Howell said. Another major question for the utility, he said, was whether the steam generators would be able to maintain integrity at 100 percent of thermal power.
Ryan Lantz, the branch chief for the SONGS Special Project Branch of the NRC’s region IV, noted that no tubes in Unit 2 had failed during its operational period, though they did experience some significant wear. Edison had plugged eight steam generator tubes that had experienced the most wear, along with an additional 507 as a precautionary measure. Lantz explained that even after closing that many tubes, the plant would still be capable of operating at full power.
As with the previous meeting in Dana Point last November, members of San Onofre’s workforce were bussed to the meeting, and just as in November, the union members often clashed publicly with the desires of anti-nuclear activists, who repeatedly called for a formal license amendment hearing that they hoped would include independent engineers.
Tom Lemmon of the San Diego Building and Trades Construction Council said the plant’s workers wanted to see the plant restarted.
“History has shown San Onofre has been a very safe plant,” Lemmon said. “If there’s a way to get the plant up and running, let’s get it up and running.”
Lantz noted that the NRC was not rushing the process.
“If we allow the plant to be restarted, we’ll be confident that it is safe. We would not allow them to operate in order to gather data,” Lantz said.
Ray Lutz of Citizen’s Oversight noted that the NRC’s, and Edison’s, previous approval process for the replacement steam generators had failed to catch the problems in Unit 3 last time.
“You have to go back into the previous process and find out what happened,” Lutz said. “What’s the guarantee that the new process isn’t the one that messed up in the first place?”
Greg Werner, another NRC official on the SONGS special project team, noted that the inspections and review process had included two outside experts, including a dean of engineering at UCLA and a retired designer of steam generators for a competing company.
Jim Andersen of the office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation noted that the agency was not making a decision on a restart until such a time as the staffs of all the regulating agencies had been able to review all the information provided to all of the regulator’s additional questions.
A number of anti-nuclear activists brought up the letter from Senator Barbara Boxer released last week that indicated that Edison and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries might have known about design flaws in the steam generators before their installation. One NRC official noted during the meeting that the generators were the largest that Mitsubishi had ever designed.
“The NRC has lost the sacred trust of the people of California,” Gene Stone of San Clemente said. “This wear is unprecedented in the industry.”
The panel also updated a number of related issues related to the investigation. The Atomic Safety Licensing Board has received legal briefs on a petition by environmental group Friends of the Earth as to whether the utility’s response to the NRC’s Confirmatory Action Letter constituted a defacto license amendment process. Dorman also indicated that the final decision on the restart would end up being made by Elmo Collins, the Regional Administrator for NRC Region IV, and NRR Director Eric Leeds.