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San Onofre Owners Face Federal Fine Over Nuclear Storage Mishap

March 26, 2019 1:43 p.m.

GUEST: Rob Nikolewski, energy reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

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Related Story: San Onofre Owners Face Federal Fine Over Nuclear Storage Mishap


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The near Miss reported by a whistle blower last summer at the shuttered nuclear power plant had Santa No free has now resulted in a fine by the NRC last August and nuclear waste filled canister was left unsupported on a storage cavity during transfer than Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a $116,000 fine against southern California Edison. The incident temporarily shut down the effort to transfer nuclear material from so called wet storage to dry storage casks on the Santa No free site and the incident put renewed focus on safety concerns surrounding the decommissioning of the nuclear plant and the storage of nuclear waste at the facility. Joining me as rob, Nick Galeski, he's the energy reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune and rob, welcome. Thank you. So remind us about this incident. Would you, what actually happened?

Speaker 2: 00:54 Well back on August 3rd of last year, they were transferring canisters, the 29th canister of 73 that they eventually plan on transferring from what storage to drive storage. As you mentioned, what happened on August 3rd was the canister ended up being suspended about 18 feet from the floor of the cavity. In which the cancer was supposed to be downloaded into what made it even worse was the fact that the cancer was not just 18 feet up, it was suspended on this inner ring. But what was really scary, it would be that it was unsupported by the very heavy equipment and the slings that are supposed to support the canister to keep it from falling lasted about 45 minutes. In fairness to Edison, it wasn't like it was sitting there for 45 minutes and no one knew. They knew fairly quickly, but it took 45 minutes for them to download the canister.

Speaker 1: 01:50 Did the NRC say that incident could have had serious consequences?

Speaker 2: 01:54 Yes, they did. If the cancer had fallen, and there was one of the things that came out in yesterdays and, and our decision was that the NRC said that they did a special inspection or independent inspection where they took a look at the possibility of a canister falling 25 feet, which is a little bit more than the 20 feet that they, a cavity is at Santa no fray. And what the NRC said was what they felt was that if a canister had fallen 25 feet, that the canister would not have breached, but they think that the fuel assemblies inside the canister would have probably been damaged, but then they said, well, there would not have been a radiological release because the cancer itself would have been robust.

Speaker 1: 02:37 Yeah. A worker at an Edison community meeting first revealed that canister mishap did Edison gets slapped for not reporting it?

Speaker 2: 02:44 Well, they got shited I should say because the $116,000 in fines, that was because of the cancer incident itself. They got their wrist slapped so to speak, in regards to not reporting what happened within 24 hours. The other thing too was in, it's more of a, I guess a political or public relations screw up on the part of Edison was the fact that Edison didn't tell the public at this community engagement panel, which happened about five days after the event and there happened to be a worker who was dare on August 3rd during the event. Who Said who stood up afterwards and said, well, since folks here at Addison didn't say anything, I just wanted to see if they were going to say some people, but since they didn't, I'm going to stand up. And that's when he revealed what what had happened and in fairness to him and in defense of him, everything that he mentioned about what happened that day, that he felt that there was a lack of oversight, lack of training. They weren't replacing people with people who were adapted their jobs and replacing, they were, they were not replacing them with people who are just as adapt. All those things came to pass.

Speaker 1: 03:52 So what procedures are now in place to make sure this doesn't happen again?

Speaker 2: 03:56 Edison has added a lot more oversight. They've added more people. They've also added some extra safety measures as far as the equipment itself, there's a video camera up top so they could actually see the canister getting downloaded. There's also an alarm system that now goes off if something's left unsupported, so they've made a number of efforts to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Speaker 1: 04:19 Did the NRC allow Edison to resume these dry storage transfer? Yeah,

Speaker 2: 04:25 not yet. It was announced yesterday by the NRC that Edison has done inspections on these canisters to check for scratches. They've got video remote video and also robotic operations that are taking a look at the canisters themselves to see if there are any scratches or, or if there is any damage. And until that data gets reviewed by the NRC, the NRC says they're not going to allow Edison's resume transfers until that happens.

Speaker 1: 04:53 Speaking of you as a reporter, a sort of witnessing this, uh, interaction with the NRC yesterday, were you surprised at this $116,000 fine?

Speaker 2: 05:04 Yes and no. And wouldn't Lyman from the Union of concerned scientists who a nuclear expert, he was a little skeptical if there was going to be a fine. And the fact that there was a fine, it was $116,000 gladdened tinged heartened him. He thought that in the past couple of years that some of the regulatory agencies, including the NRC had been a little bit more, allows I fair, and they haven't been really, they've been a little bit less prone to to hand out fines. So the fact that they did hand out a fine and Dr Lyman's opinion was something that was good. The other thing too that should be pointed out is that Edison, technically they had 30 days to come back and either protest the fine or try to get it reduced, but they came out the same day within a couple hours after the NRC made their announcement and Edison said we were not going to contest the fine, and here's the other crucial that the shareholders of Edison are going to pay it, not the rate payers.

Speaker 2: 06:01 There have been critical voices raised about that $116,000 that it's a quote, a paltry amount. Everything's relative. Right. You know, if it's a $116,000 which is twice as much as each, I guess the from the way the NRC hands out these fines, they do it in increments or trenches of $58,000 so they dinged them twice, so that's 116 so think you can look at it and say, wow, that's a, that's a, it's not just a slap on the wrist, but then if you look, look at it from another perspective and say the Edison International is $1 billion company, billions plural. Then maybe it is just a slap on the wrist. So I guess it all depends on how you look at it. One last thing, your reporting points out again that this dry storage area, it's about a hundred feet from the ocean. We keep hearing that just about all parties concerned, want to see the nuclear waste moved from the Santa No free site.

Speaker 2: 06:53 Has there been any movement in that direction? Not a whole lot. What ends up happening is until the federal government comes up with a nuclear repository and Yucca mountain got shut down a number of years ago, so that's off the board. Some people on Capitol Hill trying to revive it, there's talk about a consolidated in Rome storage facility, possibly in west Texas, possibly in southeast New Mexico. But that hasn't become a reality yet either. There's also some talk about moving it to the Mesa, which is a higher area at Santa, no fray. But that it's complicated too, because even if Edison wanted to move it there and they, they, they have no intention to, but even if they did want to move it, they get us can't, they just can't willingly move it to the Mesa because that land is leased to the u s navy and the US Navy has no interest in moving up there. They say, Hey, the NRC says where it's at is a safe site and we have no intention of moving it there. So, um, until any of these things happen, uh, it's really hard to see this spent nuclear fuel going anywhere else. I've been speaking with rob, Nick Leschi, he has the energy reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune and rob, thank you so much. Thank you.

Speaker 3: 08:08 Yeah.