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Outgoing NRC Chair Says Agency May Need To Rethink Its Safety Regulations

Aired 5/24/12 on KPBS News.

Outgoing NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko says the agency may have to review its safety regulations. Meanwhile rallies call on power companies to decommission California's two nuclear power plants.

The outgoing chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, said today the agency may have to review its safety regulations, in view of ongoing problems at San Onofre.

San Onofre, which provides about 20 percent of Southern California’s power, has been shut down since January after radiation leaked from its newly-installed steam generators.

Evening sets on the San Onofre atomic power plant December 6, 2004 in northern San Diego County, south of San Clemente, California.
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Above: Evening sets on the San Onofre atomic power plant December 6, 2004 in northern San Diego County, south of San Clemente, California.

Jaczko resigned earlier this week under pressure from other board members, who objected to his style and his stand on safety issues. He will remain until a replacement is appointed. He said today if it turns out the operator, Southern California Edison, complied with NRC requirements when it installed the new generators, then the NRC needs to rethink its regulations.

Meanwhile anti-nuclear activists are rallying today to build public support for decommissioning both nuclear power plants in California.

Protestors in San Diego, Irvine and Fresno are calling on Sempra Energy, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric to cut their investments in nuclear power. All the companies have a stake in either San Onofre in San Clemente or Diablo Canyon, near San Luis Obispo.

In San Clemente, Gene Stone of Residents Organized for a Safe Environment said San Onofre has the worst safety record of any nuclear power station in the country. He said the steam generators are just the latest problem and the plant should shut down for good.

“We think it’s time to decommission San Onofre and move on,” he said, “This plant could not be built today this close to 8 million people. “

In San Diego, activist Ray Lutz called on Sempra, which owns a 20 percent share of San Onofre, to pull out of nuclear power.

“This is a company that can say, 'I’m not in the game,’” Lutz said, “'take me out - my 20 percent is over.’”

Gregory Jaczko, Head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, speaking to the media after a visit to the San Onofre nuclear power plant, April 6th, 2012.
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Above: Gregory Jaczko, Head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, speaking to the media after a visit to the San Onofre nuclear power plant, April 6th, 2012.

Sempra has been silent on the situation at San Onofre and did not acknowledge a recent letter from the protestors asking the chairman for a public response.

For its part, Southern California Edison said on its website San Onofre will only be returned to service when it is safe to do so.

Jaczko said Edison has not yet submiited plans to solve the problems or restart the plant.

Senator Barbara Boxer asked last week for documentation on Edison’s steam generator replacement and the NRC ’s approval process.

This week, staff of the Energy and Public Works committee, of which Boxer is chair, said they have received hundreds of pages of technical information from Southern California Edison detailing the application for the steam generator replacement. They said Edison will provide briefings sometime this week.

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