Economics for the Earth Blog

San Onofre: Federal regulator opens proceedings that could decide reactors’ future

Posted Nov. 19, 2012 / Posted by: Lisa Matthes

Friends of the Earth calls for transparency, public participation, no conflicts of interest

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In response to a petition from Friends of the Earth, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has opened two official proceedings that could determine the future of Southern California Edison’s crippled San Onofre reactors. On Friday, Friends of the Earth urged the NRC to commit to full transparency and public participation in those proceedings, and to exclude from the staff review all personnel who failed to exercise proper oversight over the installation of equipment whose failure shut down the plant.

At issue is whether the 2010 installation of replacement steam generators required an amendment of the San Onofre operating license. In its petition, Friends of the Earth presented evidence that the replacement generators were of a significantly different design than the plant was licensed for, and their installation should have triggered a formal license amendment hearing before a judge with expert witnesses and cross-examination.

Two weeks ago the NRC commissioners unanimously directed the Atomic Safety Licensing Board to decide whether a license amendment is needed to restart the Unit 2 reactor at partial power as Edison has requested. Commissioners also directed the NRC staff to review its original decision to allow installation of the replacement generators without a license amendment.

“Edison tried to spin the Commissioners’ orders as dismissals of our concerns, but in fact it was a significant victory for the public and a big step toward the public hearings that are required by law,” said Damon Moglen, energy and climate director for Friends of the Earth. “Now we’ve got to make sure the proceedings the commissioners ordered are conducted openly and fairly.”  

Newly appointed NRC Chairwoman Alison Macfarlane told a conference of industry executives recently: “It is incumbent upon us to communicate transparently with these [public interest] groups . . . and listen to their concerns.” Today, Friends of the Earth sent a letter to the NRC’s CEO urging him to make sure the staff proceeding upholds the spirit of Macfarlane’s statement.

“The NRC staff’s examination of the (licensing) issue is now part of the formal petition review process, which must be transparent and conducted by officials who were not associated with the original staff decision to allow (Edison) to proceed without a license amendment,” Friends of the Earth wrote to R. William Borchardt, the NRC’s executive director of operations. The letter notes that NRC rules require that the agency “consider any potential conflict arising from assigning any staff person to the review who was previously involved in the decision giving rise to the petition.”

Read the full letter from Friends of the Earth to Borchardt.

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