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San Onofre Emergency Procedures Concern Senator Boxer

Photo by Alison St John

This undated photo shows the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at dusk.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer noted in her Nuclear Regulatory Commission remarks that during the recent San Diego wildfires, one blaze burned a half-mile from San Onofre.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer held an oversight hearing Wednesday on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s oversight of decommissioned nuclear power plants like San Onofre. Boxer is concerned that emergency response procedures may be relaxed.

Even though the San Onofre nuclear power plant 50 miles north of downtown San Diego is being decommissioned, tons of spent radioactive fuel will remain stored on site indefinitely.

Boxer noted in her remarks that during the recent San Diego wildfires, one blaze burned a half-mile from San Onofre.

The senator said power companies regularly ask for exemptions from emergency response measures at nuclear power plants once they are decommissioned, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has never yet denied any of these requests.

The NRC said Southern California Edison, which operates San Onofre, did submit documents on March 31, requesting they be allowed to make changes to their emergency response measures at the plant. The NRC is reviewing that request.

Edison spokeswoman Maureen Brown said the NRC is expected to take about a year to review their request, and in the mean time, emergency drills and procedures will continue as usual.

Gene Stone of "Residents Organized for a Safe Environment" said he is concerned that once those plans are approved, the NRC is no longer obliged to have an inspector present at the plant.

UCSD's David Victor, chair of a Community Engagement Panel set up by Edison to review the decommissioning process, said this subject will likely come up in the fall.

Boxer also is pressing for documents she says the NRC is withholding from her investigation of how faulty steam generators were installed at the plant, leading to its shutdown.

"The NRC's recent track record does not inspire confidence," she writes.

An NRC spokesman said the agency has no immediate comment on Boxer's allegations that they are obstructing her investigation.

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