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Friends of the Earth demands public disclosure of information regarding safety problems at troubled San Onofre reactors

Posted Mar. 16, 2012 / Posted by: Kelly Trout

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. — Nuclear watchdog Friends of the Earth is filing a public records request today with the California Public Utilities Commission calling for the urgent release of information regarding the serious safety problems at the troubled San Onofre nuclear reactors.

Seriously damaged tubes in the steam generators have been found in the two San Onofre reactors owned by Southern California Edison. The filing comes as Edison has admitted that seven steam generator tubes have failed critical safety tests in the last 48 hours at its reactor unit 3 in Southern California.

"With Edison's aging reactors at San Onofre failing critical safety tests, and a special Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspections team flying in to investigate, the public has a right to know exactly what the company is doing to assess and address glaring safety problems at its reactors," said Damon Moglen, Friends of the Earth's climate and energy project director. "Edison lobbied the CPUC into providing more than US$680 million of ratepayer money for new equipment at the plant, equipment that is already failing within months of being installed. This is outrageous. The public deserves to know how its money was misspent and whether these reactors should ever be allowed to restart given the damaged equipment and the failed safety culture of management."

The San Onofre unit 2 was shut down in early January 2012 for maintenance, at which point Edison discovered excessive wear and thinning of hundreds of steam generator tubes. At the end of January, unit 3 was closed when it leaked radioactive water. Further inspections at unit 3 have now revealed significant damage to its steam generator tubes. The steam generators at San Onofre have only been in operation for between 11 and 24 months. Shockingly, the damage found in the tubes would be expected after 15 years or more of operation. Further testing is underway, but at this point neither Edison nor the NRC understands why the damage to the tubes has taken place and why it happened in such a short period of time.

"Edison has now confirmed multiple tube failures during stress tests with much more testing yet to take place. They do not know what has caused such rapid damage in the first place. There can be no plan to restart these reactors unless both the causes and solutions are fully known and assessed by independent experts. Edison may think its profits are paramount but people across California know that the priority needs to be public safety and environmental protection — that's the critical lesson of the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima," said Shaun Burnie, nuclear specialist with Friends of the Earth.

Background for reporters:

Between 2009 and 2011, Edison installed four new steam generators into the two operating reactors at San Onofre, which began operation nearly 30 years ago. The steam generators were supplied by Mitsubishi in Japan. Each steam generator has more than 9,000 steel tubes that circulate water around the reactor core to convert its steam to power a turbine. These tubes are subject to enormous pressures, temperatures and vibrations. Leaks in tubes increase the risk of accident and the release of radioactivity.

Additionally, the reactors were never built to withstand serious earthquakes of the scale experienced by Japan at Fukushima one year ago. The decades-worth of nuclear waste fuel which has piled up at the reactors and is stored in uncovered pools of water poses a massive safety and radiation threat.

With these risks, it is widely recognized that a disaster involving the reactors or nuclear waste would create havoc given that it would impact more than 8 million people who live and work within the fifty mile radius and who might have to be evacuated.

To access the records request made by Friends of the Earth, click here: http://libcloud.s3.amazonaws.com/93/3d/7/1202/CPUC-SONGS-PRA.pdf

Contact:

Shaun Burnie, burnie.shaun@googlemail.com, 202 222 0715
Damon Moglen, dmoglen@foe.org, 202 352 4223

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Friends of the Earth is fighting to defend the environment and create a more healthy and just world. Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.

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