Climate & Energy Blog

San Onofre: Feds' 'roundtable discussion' a meaningless show that shuts out the public

Posted Oct. 9, 2012 / Posted by: Becca Connors

Nuclear watchdogs press for legal hearings on reactors’ future

DANA POINT, Calif., -- Tonight’s “roundtable discussion” on the current shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear reactor site is a disappointing and unacceptable effort by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to make a show of public participation while denying the public any meaningful voice, say national nuclear watchdog groups.

On June 18, Friends of the Earth filed a petition asking the NRC to hold a legally binding hearing to determine whether Southern California Edison should get a license amendment before being allowed to operate San Onofre’s twin reactors with defective replacement steam generators. Friends of the Earth, later joined in support by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), argued that the replacement generators were substantively different from the ones they replaced -- differences that led to unprecedented damage to hundreds of tubes that carry steam from the generators.

Both the NRC staff and Edison responded to the petition by asking that it be denied and the public given no rights to a hearing. More than three months later, the NRC has yet to even place the issue on its agenda.  Meanwhlle, Edison announced last week that it plans to restart one of the reactors, without repair and with no intention of seeking a license amendment.

Here is a statement on the Dana Point meeting issued by Friends of the Earth, NRDC and the Committee to Bridge the Gap:

The irony here is that the inherent design flaws in the  replacement steam generators went undetected precisely because the licensee and NRC Staff failed to subject them to the more exacting safety review that would have accompanied a license amendment proceeding. The NRC and Edison now propose to double-down on this original omission by again denying the public its rightful statutory role, this time in assessing the safety of a proposed  San Onofre reactor  restart.  

Edison now proposes to operate Unit 2 at 70 percent of its licensed power rating. Like the unexamined changes to the design of the replacement steam generators, this significant change rises to the level of a license amendment proceeding in which, by law, the public is entitled to participate. This process is necessary for transparent, detailed, independent scrutiny of equipment and potential operating conditions that differ from those provided for in the existing license.

A public meeting simply talking about the fact of Edison and the NRC staff’s private review of the safety of these replacement steam generators is not a substitute for the open license amendment process that permits testimony from independent experts, and a decision by an independent panel with no previous involvement in the case.

For these reasons, we believe the Dana Point meeting is but a reflection of a decision-making process that fails to include independent experts or even an impartial judge. It is an illusion of public participation that treats the public as a mere observer, and not as a participant as the Atomic Energy Act and NRC rules require. It is exactly this process -- excluding the public and avoiding necessary independent review -- that allowed the most defective steam generator design in the history of the U.S. nuclear industry to be approved. Continuing this private process only between Southern California Edison, who designed the crippled equipment, and NRC Region IV staff, who allowed for the flawed design in the first instance, does not meet the requirement of a regulatory process leading to high confidence that the statutory requirement for “adequate protection of the public health and safety” will be maintained.

Rather than limiting the public’s role to more such “informational” but ultimately disempowering informal meetings outside the license amendment process, the Commission should cease its unseemly “pocket-veto” of Friends of the Earth’s pending petition, and allow members of the public to exercise their statutory rights to an adjudicatory hearing on the nuclear safety issues outlined above.

To read the full statement from the groups: http://libcloud.s3.amazonaws.com/93/e3/c/2485/NRDC_FOE_and_CBG_letter_9_Oct_2012.pdf

CONTACT:
Bill Walker, Friends of the Earth, 510-759-9911
Christopher E. Paine, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202-422-4853
Dan Hirsch, Committee to Bridge the Gap, 831-332-3099

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