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Nuclear watchdog petitions NRC to require relicensing of faulty San Onofre reactors

Posted Jun. 18, 2012 / Posted by: Kelly Trout

Friends of the Earth alleges Edison misled NRC on replacement steam generators

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Friends of the Earth today filed a legal petition to require the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep the crippled reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station shut down until and unless their operator, Southern California Edison, obtains a license amendment.

The troubled San Onofre reactors, located in Orange County, Calif., were shut down in January after a leak of radioactive steam. Subsequent investigations commissioned by Friends of the Earth have revealed that the new steam generators, which have only operated for 11 and 22 months respectively, are defective. The petition filed today contends that Edison misled the NRC about the steam generators’ design, which allowed the utility to run the reactors with fundamentally flawed technology, endangering 8 million Californians who live within 50 miles of the plant.

“The crisis at San Onofre is the result of a perfect storm of error,” said Damon Moglen, climate and energy director for Friends of the Earth. “On the one hand, Edison made significant design changes without seeking an amendment to its license as required by NRC regulations; on the other hand, the NRC appears to have been asleep at the regulatory wheel. The result was the failure of critical equipment that could endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions of Southern Californians, and leaves California ratepayers stuck with the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of defective technology.”

The petition filed today states that Edison — while fully aware that it was making serious changes in the design of the new steam generators — deliberately mischaracterized the new technology as a “like for like” replacement, thereby avoiding NRC or public review of the altered design. Under NRC rules, the substantial changes to the design of the new steam generators required a rigorous license amendment review by the NRC, including an adjudicatory public hearing. Instead, the agency accepted Edison’s misleading characterization.

“The bottom line is that these changes should have required a major review and a new license,” said Dave Freeman, former head of the federal Tennessee Valley Authority and a senior advisor to Friends of the Earth. “The San Onofre steam generators were in fact operated without the necessary license until they broke down. Federal regulators must be forced to follow their own rules and prove to Californians that this is about ensuring their safety — not protecting Edison’s profits.”

A series of technical reports, produced by nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen and Fairewinds Associates commissioned by Friends of the Earth, have revealed that the extensive design changes made by Edison raised 39 different safety issues which should have triggered a license amendment review under NRC regulations.

“Any one of these 39 separate safety issues should have triggered the license amendment review process by the NRC,” said Gundersen. “By claiming that the steam generator replacements were a ‘like-for-like’ design and fabrication, Edison avoided the more rigorous license amendment process that should have prevented this accident and the ongoing crisis at San Onofre.”

In conjunction with the filing, Friends of the Earth is asking the NRC to stay any effort by Edison to restart the San Onofre reactors until a thorough license amendment review, including an adjudicatory public hearing, can assess the risks and ensure public safety is protected.

Summary of the legal action filed today by Friends of the Earth regarding the San Onofre reactors.

Download a pdf copy of the legal petition filed with the NRC today.

See Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates' supporting declaration to the legal petition.

Download a pdf copy of the stay order filed with the NRC today.

Contact:
Kelly Trout, 202-222-0722, ktrout@foe.org
Damon Moglen, 202-352-4223, dmoglen@foe.org

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Friends of the Earth fights 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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