By Eric Heinz 

During the public comment section of the Aug. 9 Community Engagement Panel (CEP) meeting in Oceanside, a contractor working with the company Holtec, which is loading the spent nuclear fuel at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), said an incident occurred that could have caused safety issues at the offline nuclear power plant.

David Fritch, who works on the “fuel loading campaign” managed by Holtec, said that on Aug. 3, one of the canisters being loaded into the cavity enclosure container (CEC) concrete structure caught the edge of the cylindrical structure that holds them and was hanging off the edge.

The “outer ring” of the CEC the cask was hanging from is about 18 feet high and because the crane lowering the canisters was losing its tension on the line, Fritch said it had the potential to drop.

“There is a very snug fit in the CECs, and it is not unusual for it to take the downloading team a few manipulations to get the canister aligned appropriately,” a statement from Southern California Edison (SCE), the majority owner of SONGS, stated.

SCE provides oversight to these procedures.

The canisters are built to withstand a 25-foot drop, according to SCE, but that didn’t ease many people’s fears after Fritch’s statements.

Edison wouldn’t comment on which company employs Fritch, but Tom Palmisano, SCE’s vice president of decommissioning and chief nuclear officer, said during the CEP meeting that Fritch would not face retaliation, after Fritch said “I’m not sure if I’ll have a job after saying this” during public comment.

Fritch said he is a safety inspector tasked with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation oversight, and that he was deeply concerned with the lack of protocol that was administered during the loading process.

“Southern California Edison has directed its contractor, Holtec, to take corrective actions, including additional training, after evaluating performance errors discovered during the loading of a spent nuclear fuel canister on Aug. 3 into dry cask storage at the San Onofre nuclear plant,” according to a statement from SCE public relations officials.  “At no point during this incident was there a risk to employee(s) or public safety, and immediate lessons learned have already been integrated in our processes.”

SCE also stated it would discuss performance concerns with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Through third-party communications, the Dana Point Times was unable to reach Fritch for comment as of Thursday, Aug. 16.

Real-time data provided by radiation monitoring is something people have demanded since the spent nuclear fuel storage process began. Although SCE had safety monitors to gauge radiation levels, it’s not immediately available to the public.

There will also be a special CEP meeting, likely in October, to overview the extreme situations of danger that come with storing spent nuclear fuel.

FIND OUT MORE: To view the meeting in its entirety, find the link to the meeting video online at www.danapointtimes.com.

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