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Despite disturbing finding, Edison seeks to restart trouble-prone nuclear facility

Hearing Nov. 30 in Laguna Hills as nine cities voice concerns over safety issues

By Miriam Raftery

November 30, 2012 (San Diego)—Southern California Edison has notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of possible sabotage at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating facility, after finding coolant poured in the oil reservoir of an emergency backup generator at Unit 3, Energy News reports.

The FBI is taking over the investigation and criminal charges are possible, according to a plant employee who spoke under condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals, Huffington Post reported yesterday. The NRC has confirmed that Edison reported potential sabotage,Energy News reported.

"The FBI is aware of the alleged security incident that occurred at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating (SONGS) Station.  The FBI is presently reviewing the facts and circumstances concerning this incident," Special agent Darrell Foxworth with the FBI told ECM. "At this time there is no indication that this incident is terrorism related."

Previous news stories have speculated that a disgruntled employee could be the culprit due to recent layoff announcements.

Failure of emergency generators at Fukushima were key factors in that plant’s meltdown last year.  A meltdown at San Onofre would force evacuation of San Diego, portions of East County and also parts of Orange and Riverside counties and could potentially leave the region contaminated for generations.

If the coolant had not been found at San Onofre and the generators activated, Edison indicated that a control that prevents the generator from running too fast would have failed, John Reynoso, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission Inspector at San Onofre, said, Energy News reported on November 9 when the discovery was initially made. 

Fortunately, both Unit 3 and Unit 2 have been off-line since January 31st after radioactive leaks were found in steam generator tubes. (Unit 1 was previously decommissioned.) 

The employee said most workers are “baffled” about the alleged tampering, adding that “No one I know could imagine doing such a thing…You’re only endangering yourself and your coworkers and the surrounding public.”

Edison owns the plant jointly with SDG&E and the City of Riverside.  Edison has issued a statement indicated that a comprehensive investigation included “rigorous tests” and that security has been enhanced following the disturbing discovery. 

Despite the serious safety breach, Edison tweeted today that it has submitted plans to restart Unit 2 “but will not restart Unit 2 until the NRC says that it is safe to do so.”

But a growing number of activists, environmental groups and cities near the plant voice concerns that the facility may never be safe.  They have lobbied for permanent closure of the ailing nuclear facility. 

Over the past four years, San Onofre has  had more safety concerns raised by workers than any other nuclear facility in America, NRC data indicates.  Employees have complained of retaliation form management and fear of reprisals for reporting problems.

Ray Lutz, founder of Citizens Oversight Groups in El Cajon, has been an outspoken advocate for shutting down San Onofre. Tonight, he expressed astonishment at Edison’s announcement.

“Think about what it is that Edison is actually proposing,” he wrote in an e-mail sent to media.  “1-Start a defective nuclear reactor, run it at 70% and see what happens. 2- Do this while the FBI investigates one case of sabotage (are there others?). 3-Disregard a union leader’s claim that the workforce thinks a restarts is not safe.  `Safety first should be more than a slogan when it comes to nuclear power.’”

Equally troubling in the wake of an apparent sabotage attempt, Edison this week announced that it has established “virtual tours”  for the public to view interiors of the San Onofre  nuclear facility online. 

Lutz revealed that he has been informed that Pete Dietrich, Chief Nuclear Operator, told employees that Edison anticipates restarting Unit 2 on February 2.  “The workforce is being scheduled as if it is a done deal,” he revealed.  Yet a six-page letter sent to Dietrich by a utility workers’ labor union indicates workers fear it is unsafe to restart the facility.  “Dietrich told the union leader that the matter will be handed off to Edison’s attorney,” Lutz noted. “How is a lawyer supposed to answer questions about nuclear power?”

A report by Fairewinds Associations, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, raised more troubling concerns. The report concluded that San Onofre’s steam generators are “significantly worse” than those at all other nuclear facilities in the United States.

The NRC is slated to hold a public meeting on whether to restart the trouble-prone facility on Friday, November 30 from 6-9 p.m. at the Hills Hotel, 25205 La Paz Road in Laguna Hills.  Opponents plan to stage a press conference and a march from Dana Harbor led by Buddhist monks calling for permanent decommissioning of the nuclear facility.

In yet another bizarre twist, today Gene Stone with Residents Organizing for a Safe Environment went to survey the site for the monks, only to discover that Edison had placed an old steam generator beside the road for shipment to Utah for disposal, Gary Headrick with San Clemente Green repots.  “Although it is supposed to be ` low level radiation’ the Geiger counter he had with him spiked as he drove past (see video of meter going off).)  As a result the monks opted to move the location of their march due to radiation fears. 

The Coalition to Decommission San Onofre is demanding a full, transparent adjudicated hearing and license amendment process, with sworn testimony including experts independent of the nuclear power industry. 

Now numerous cities have joined that call, including Del Mar, Encinitas, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Mission Viejas, Santa Monica and Solana Beadch.  Two other cities, San Clemente and Vista, had joined calls by Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein for the NRC to modify its policies in light of the Fukushima meltdowns to protect residents and businesses in local communities.


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Tampering, sabotage, and terrorists?

Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my! 

Okay, let's wait 'till the facts are known. 

Any mechanic worth his or her salt knows that coolant in the oil of an engine  likely came from a mechanical failure,  i.e. a blown head gasket. A diesel engine provides  power but the generator is cooled by air via a   built-in fan . Emergency generators are always in stand-by mode so they are ready to provide maximum power in an instant. The one where I worked was at ninety to one hundred degrees every time that I checked it (a pre-heater). We ran it for thirty minutes every month.

"A disgruntled employee"?? Really? How many times has that been used to deflect attention from a management failure. We'll likely  never learn the real story but SONGS should be decomissioned. How long would that take? How about fifty years. So you can safely stroll along the beach at San Onofre in 2072.

" The plans of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority for decommissioning reactors have an average 50 year time frame. The long time frame makes reliable cost estimates extremely difficult. Excessive cost overruns are not uncommon even for projects done in a much shorter time frame."

Typical Genset: