Food and Technology Blog

Edison rolls the nuclear dice

Posted Oct. 5, 2012 / Posted by: Kendra Ulrich

A dangerous gamble with the safety of Southern California

If you have ever been to Las Vegas, you’ve seen it: People so caught up in the excitement of the casino that they just can’t resist the lure of the next bet or the thought that maybe this time they’ll win.

Unfortunately, it seems that San Onofre nuclear operator, Southern California Edison, has the same weak spot for a high-stakes gamble. In a stunning announcement yesterday, the utility said that it plans to restart one of the crippled San Onofre nuclear reactors without any repairs. Edison argued that the Unit 2 nuclear reactor wasn’t quite as damaged as its twin, Unit 3, and so the bet was a bit safer. The utility promised it would slow down -- by 30 percent for at least five months. Edison promised it would be extra careful while playing this dangerous game. Edison pledged that it would stop -- for a little while at least -- in five months to check in on how it is doing.

But, the reality is that the move to restart Unit 2 amounts to turning Southern California into a giant game of craps, and if Edison loses this nuclear dice throw, it’s the 8.4 million people living within 50 miles of the San Onofre nuclear reactors who lose the most -- everything: health, homes, businesses -- an entire way of life.

You see, this isn’t the first time that Edison has bet the safety of Southern California communities on their ability to win -- massive profits for themselves -- with replacement equipment for these aging, dangerous nukes. In 2006, Edison gambled on being able to drastically alter the replacement steam generator design and side-step critical safety review by misrepresenting the changes to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- the federal agency charged with ensuring the safety of U.S. nuclear reactors. They thought they could get away with cheating the regulations. And they did, for a short time anyway.

On January 31, 2012, a radioactive leak in the Unit 3 reactor exposed just how badly Edison had lost: further inspections revealed that its redesigned steam generators were showing unprecedented levels of accelerated damage. Thousands of tubes were damaged, and over a thousand were worn so thin or deemed at risk of this unexpected wear that they had to be plugged. In fact, of their kind, the San Onofre steam generators are the most damaged and defective in the history of the U.S. nuclear industry.

Now Edison wants to roll the nuclear dice again, this time with equipment they know is dangerously flawed. This is an unacceptable gamble with the safety of Southern California. We cannot allow that to happen.

Six years ago, when the flawed design was initially proposed, the NRC staff looked the other way and proceeded to approve the drastically altered defective equipment under an inappropriate rubber-stamp process. It must step up now and hold Edison accountable to guaranteeing that the equipment is vetted by truly independent experts testifying before an impartial judge -- and that requires the full license amendment and public hearings that Edison should have been required to undergo six years ago.

Today, Friends of the Earth released a TV ad to inform Southern California of Edison's dangerous gamble. We urge citizens to call NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane and ask that she immediately intervene. Edison’s corporate profits should not be wagered against the lives and livelihoods of Southern Californians.

We need you to take action right now!

Please make the call to NRC Chairwoman Macfarlane at 301-415-1750 and urge her to intervene and require that Edison be prevented from to restarting either reactor without a license amendment, public hearing, and the guarantee of public safety. Here is a suggested script for residents of California:

Hi, my name is ___________. I am a resident of __________ in Southern California, and I am calling to urge Chairwoman Macfarlane to intervene in the proposed restart of San Onofre Unit 2 nuclear reactor. I was deeply disturbed to learn that Southern California Edison plans to restart the reactor with no repairs to the severely damaged steam generators. This poses a real threat the safety of my family and me. To me, safety is best assured by requiring Edison to submit to a license amendment process and public hearings, so that truly independent experts can analyze the design and testify before an impartial judge. I urgently request that the Chairwoman require Edison to submit to this critical process and ensure that public safety is put first. I congratulate the Chairwoman on her new position, and fully support her in taking decisive action on this critical issue.

Here is a suggested script for those living outside of California:

Hi, my name is ___________. I live in ___________, and I was deeply troubled when I learned about the proposed restart of the San Onofre Unit 2 nuclear reactor and I am calling to urge Chairwoman Macfarlane to intervene. I was deeply disturbed to learn that Southern California Edison plans to restart the reactor with no repairs to the severely damaged steam generators. This poses a real threat the safety of those living in Southern California. To me, safety is best assured by requiring Edison to submit to a license amendment process and public hearings, so that truly independent experts can analyze the design and testify before an impartial judge. I urgently request that the Chairwoman require Edison to submit to this critical process and ensure that public safety is put first. I congratulate the Chairwoman on her new position, and fully support her in taking decisive action on this critical issue.

It’s important to be clear, concise, and respectful. Please call her now and report your call in the comments!

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