Oceans & Forests Blog

California officials join Friends of the Earth to demand formal public hearings

Posted May. 16, 2013 / Posted by: Adam Russell

New evidence exposes more major safety concerns

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the heels of a pointed ruling by a panel of judges against Southern California Edison’s scheme to rush the experimental restart of a severely damaged reactor at San Onofre, elected officials have joined Friends of the Earth in demanding that there be no restart decision until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds a formal adjudicatory public hearing with testimony from local citizens and expert witnesses. 

On Monday, the Atomic Safety Licensing Board -- in a devastating judgement against Edison and the NRC -- affirmed a petition for such a hearing, filed by Friends of the Earth. But NRC officials since then have said the ruling does not necessarily trigger the hearing.

Elected officials from cities throughout southern California, including Irvine and San Diego, have submitted letters to the NRC expressing their opposition to Edison's license application. The elected officials raised issues such as  the increased risk of accident, concerns over the potential release of significant radiation into the environment, and the consequences for human health, including increased radiation dose rates and the ability of emergency services to manage such a crisis.

Elected officials from cities throughout Southern California, including San Diego and Irvine, have submitted letters to the NRC expressing opposition to Edison's license application. The elected officials raised issues such as the increased risk of accident, concerns over the potential release of significant radiation into the environment, and the consequences for human health, including increased radiation dose rates and the ability of emergency services to manage such a crisis.

“It’s an elected official’s first duty to protect the citizens they represent, and Southern Californians should be proud of their public servants for telling the NRC that Edison’s scheme is dangerous and that it’s unthinkable that the agency is seriously considering allowing restart without a formal license review,” said Kendra Ulrich, nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “We join them in telling the NRC that to approve Edison’s request would be to utterly disregard the safety concerns of millions of people.”

Today, the last day for public comments on Edison’s license application, Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defence Council submitted to the NRC a legal analysis, supported by expert declarations, that further demonstrates there is no credible basis for approving restart of San Onofre reactor Unit 2 on Edison’s terms. The utility is ignoring significant and serious safety hazards identified since San Onofre shut down in January 2012 after a leak of radioactive steam. The documents (parts 12 and 3) include a declaration from former NRC Commissioner Victor Gillinsky, new technical evidence from Joe Hopenfeld, a former NRC steam generator specialist with four decades of nuclear industry experience, and international nuclear engineer John Large of London.  

The Friends of the Earth expert analysis includes details on fatigue damage not addressed by Edison or the NRC, such as information on multiple types of wear mechanisms that will lead to further steam generator tube damage and likely rupture. The potential consequences include loss of cooling function for the reactor core and a major release of radioactivity into the environment.

The three-judge ASLB panel -- charged with weighing Friends of the Earth’s contentions by a unanimous vote from the NRC Commissioners  -- agreed that the damage to San Onofre’s team generator tubes is “unprecedented” in the U.S. nuclear industry, and that Edison’s restart scheme is a risky and unproven “experiment.”

The ASLB made clear that Edison’s restart plan violates the terms of San Onofre’s operating license. The process under which the NRC is currently reviewing the utility’s request, including the agency’s preliminary finding of No Significant Hazards, in no way addresses the major safety issues plaguing the nuclear reactor. The ASLB found that the destructive vibrations in the San Onofre steam generators at San Onofre are not taken into account in the reactor’s official safety blueprint. These are not being addressed either in the current license application or Edison’s restart plan.

“Three senior ASLB judges have ruled that Edison’s prediction for future steam tube damage in the reactor ‘is grounded on theory that is not yet supported by actual experience,’ ” said Shaun Burnie, nuclear program director for Friends of the Earth. “This judgement blows apart the NRC's current plan to give Edison a No Significant Hazards ruling and restart approval for San Onofre. The evidence we have filed today further demonstrates that restarting San Onofre carries a major risk of accident.” 

Submissions to the NRC include elected representatives from the cities of San Diego, Laguna Beach Solana Beach, Del Mar, Encinitas, Redondo Beach, Malibu and Irvine, as well as California Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins and Assemblymember Shirly Weber. National and local environmental organizations have also submitted comments to the NRC, including the Sierra Club (Los Angeles chapter), Beyond Nuclear, Physicians for Social Responsibility (Los Angeles chapter), San Clemente Green, together with thousands of individual citizens comments opposing Edison's plans and NRC approval.

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Contact:
Kendra Ulrich (216) 571 7340, kulrich@foe.org
Shaun Burnie (202) 251-1862, sburnie@foe.org

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