Nuclear Safety Groups Petition NRC

Thursday, January 17, 2013
By Alison St John
Photo by David McNew / Getty Images
Above: The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at San Onofre State Beach on March 15, 2012 south of San Clemente, California.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing in Maryland heard testimony on a petition alleging the power company skirted regulations when it replaced San Onofre’s steam generators in 2010. The new steam generator tubes in one reactor unit leaked small amounts of radiation last January, resulting in the plant being shut down. It has not reopened.

The petitioner, Friends of the Earth, presented a 39-page power point. Arnie Gundersen said the incident last January was “a near miss.” He said there is evidence the plant operator, Southern California Edison, decided even before it gave the contract for the new steam generators to Mitsubishi, that it did not want to trigger a license amendment.

He argued that Edison should have known before it installed the new equipment that the design was significantly different from the old design, not a “like for like” design, and the company should have notified the NRC of the differences.

FOE’s attorney, Richard Ayers, said NRC should take appropriate enforcement action to deter others in the industry from making similar mistakes in the future.

The plant’s operator, Southern California Edison, offered no testimony other than to ask if Friends of the Earth has any more evidence since it filed the petition last year. Ayers said evidence is being withheld by the company.

In a question and answer session at the end of the hearing, Daniel Hirsch of the nuclear safety group, Committee to Bridge the Gap, told the NRC the hearings are Kafkaesque, because Edison won’t release some very pertinent documents.

“You are placing the burden on Friends of the Earth to tell you what’s wrong with a document you will not permit them so see,” he said. “So I’m asking you for the rationale behind a public agency keeping those documents secret from the public, and then demanding that the public critique something they do not have access to.”

Doug Broaddus of the NRC said it has no authority to make the documents relating to the development of the new steam generators public.

“It’s something that the licensee has control over,” Broaddus said. “It’s not something that is submitted to us, so it’s not something that we could make available. “

The NRC review board will consider the petition within a few weeks.