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Shut down San Onofre: Dangerous nuclear reactors pose too great a threat

Posted Apr. 5, 2012 / Posted by: Becca Connors

San Onofre reactor safety failures remind us (again) why the United States cannot afford the risks of nuclear reactors.

In late January of this year, Friends of the Earth, while preparing an analysis on the Fukushima-daiichi nuclear accident, was investigating how the implications of that accident would impact nuclear safety in the United States. The Fukushima reactors were decades-old and operating under poor regulatory oversight -- and the United States has many reactors operating in the same situation.

Trouble at San Onofre nuclear site

And then suddenly the risks of nuclear power were made apparent here in the U.S. -- once again. On January 31, reactor number 3 at the San Onofre nuclear site in southern California suffered a ruptured tube in the steam generator. The ruptured tube caused non-radioactive steam to come into contact with radioactive steam and as a result an undisclosed amount of radioactivity was released into the reactor building and then into the environment.

In the days that followed the reactor operator, Southern California Edison, admitted that not only was there a problem with the steam generator in reactor unit 3, but that severe damage had been detected in reactor unit 2 during its outage inspection. Further investigations by Edison revealed even more serious damage to the tubes in the steam generator in unit 3. These steam generators were only installed in the last two years and were expected to last for a couple of decades. What's worse, Edison passed the cost of the new equipment on to the ratepayers in California and it cost them hundreds of millions of dollars.

Current status

Both reactors have remained shutdown since January. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has flown in a special team to investigate the problems at the reactors. Edison has said it is committed to safety, but its track record stretching back decades says otherwise. It is rated one of the worst reactor sites in the United States -- and the homes of more than 8 million people in Orange County, San Diego and the Los Angeles area lie within 50 miles of the San Onofre nuclear reactors. These latest developments expose the risk of catastrophic failure of the San Onofre reactors.

Taking action

Friends of the Earth calls on Edison to not restart either of the two reactors at San Onofre until a full and comprehensive understanding of the cause of the problems is reached and Edison guarantees that these problems will not occur in the future. This is the minimum that the people of California deserve.

On June 18, Friends of the Earth filed a legal petition to require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep the crippled reactors at San Onofre shut down until and unless their operator, Southern California Edison, undergoes a review of its operating license, including a public hearing, and obtains a license amendment from the NRC. In this way, we're pushing the NRC to reverse its track record of lax oversight. Edison had deceptively passed off its defective replacement steam generators to the NRC as a "like for like" replacement of existing equipment, thereby evading the rigorous license amendment review that NRC rules would otherwise mandate.

We have filed a public records request with the California Public Utility Commission calling for the urgent release of information regarding the serious safety problems at San Onofre. We released a series of technical studies by nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates, who provided the first public technical assessment as to what is going wrong at San Onofre and why we should be worried. We also ran a television ad to call attention to the problems at the San Onofre reactors. The ad draws comparisons between the safety issues at Fukushima and at San Onofre and urges residents to contact Edison to demand that the reactors remain shut down.

Take action: Tell Boxer and Feinstein: Lead in protecting Californians from dangerous reactors

Senators Boxer and Feinstein chair key committees overseeing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- and they can intervene. Californians: please email your senators today. Urge them to use their oversight authority to ensure San Onofre's malfunctioning reactors remain shut down.

Reports

Steam generator failures at San Onofre, March 27, 2012

San Onofre cascading steam generator failures created by Edison, April 10, 2012

Steam generator failures could have been prevented, May 15, 2012

San Onofre's steam generators: Significantly worse than all others nationwide, July 11, 2012

Media coverage

InsideClimate News: Troubles at San Onofre nuclear plant awaken activists

AP: NRC Chair to visit troubled California plant

LA Times: Ad campaign calls for permanently closing San Onofre

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