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Those increasingly frequent shutdowns at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station are starting to draw scrutiny from one of the nation's top independent nuclear industry watchdogs. Last week federal regulators said a cooling-water valve that was missing some parts forced the latest shutdown of the plant's Unit 2 on February 15. In November, two separate incidents involving electrical shorts and an alarm tripped by an electronic monitor also caused power-downs at the plant, co-owned by Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and the cities of Riverside and Anaheim. A year ago in January, what was described by an Edison spokesman as a "minor" leak in a cooling-water pipe also forced one reactor to be turned off for repairs and the inspection of the other for similar problems. Plant operators have insisted that none of the incidents are connected and don't represent any kind of a threat to public safety, but the early '80s vintage of the facility, along with gaps in the plant's safety paperwork, is causing some to take a second look.

In a letter to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week, nuclear safety engineer David Lochbaum of the Washington, D.C.-based Union of Concerned Scientists, charged that San Onofre's annual "emergency core cooling system performance" report, filed in December, was incomplete. Lochbaum's letter noted that the report, prepared by consultant Westinghouse Electric Company on behalf of the plant operators, contained an unusual disclaimer: "Neither Westinghouse Electric Company LLC nor any person acting on its behalf...makes any warranty or representation, express or implied including the warranties of fitness for a particular purpose or merchantability, with respect to the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the information contained in this report..." That caused Lochbaum to observe, "I profess to being confused... Maybe the information is complete, maybe it is accurate, and maybe it is both complete and accurate. But Westinghouse clearly isn't representing that the information is complete and accurate..." Then Lochbaum added, "If information contained within this nonguaranteed report is later determined to be incomplete and/or inaccurate, is the licensee off the hook...because of this express statement that the report may lack 'usefulness'? In order to receive a timely written reply from the NRC on this matter, I hereby make the formal allegation that the [San Onofre] licensee failed to comply with the requirements of 10 CFR 50.9 by submitting the Westinghouse report with its express nonguarantee of completeness and accuracy."

Words from his sponsor Ex-New York Times correspondent turned public-TV documentarian Hedrick Smith parachuted into town last week to shoot his take on the long, controversial saga of soon-to-depart San Diego Unified School District chief Alan Bersin. Though Smith reassured those he interviewed that the show about the district's "reforms" under Bersin would be carefully balanced between Bersin backers and detractors, skeptical anti-Bersinitas point to a description of the program on the website of the L.A.-based Broad Foundation. "The Foundation is one of a consortium of funders supporting the production of a national primetime PBS documentary entitled 'Schools That Work' by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith," the Broad site says. "The documentary will highlight school districts and models of reform that have demonstrated success at improving student achievement and narrowing achievement gaps, including Houston, San Diego, and the former District 2 in New York City." In the summer of 2000, the Broad Foundation, run by billionaire Democrat developer Eli Broad, gave $170,000 to two small East Coast liberal foundations that ended up contributing about the same amount of money to a nasty $720,000 TV-ad campaign designed to defeat avid Bersin foe Frances Zimmerman in her school-board reelection race. The Broad Foundation later insisted it had nothing to do with those contributions. In November 2002, Broad personally poured $65,000 into last-minute hit pieces against school-board candidates and Bersin critics Jeff Lee and John de Beck. "I made an independent expenditure because I want to see the dramatic improvements in student achievement continue in San Diego," Broad said in a statement at the time. Incumbent de Beck won; Lee lost. Last November, Broad again came through with $45,000 for campaign attacks on Lee's wife Mitz Lee, who won her race on an overt promise to dump Bersin.

Long adieu Last week's departure of columnist Joseph Perkins as the Union-Tribune's voice of the Right is causing tongues to wag among some longtime staffers, who recall a Perkins column from 2001. "He included [NBC Today show host] Katie Couric as a high-profile woman who decided to have a child without a husband, saying she was a bad role model," remembers ex-editorial writer Alan Miller. "When he included her in the mix, there was a revolt in the newsroom." The paper subsequently ran a note saying that Perkins's column "incorrectly stated that Today show host Katie Couric is a single mother by choice." The item went on to point out that Couric's husband, Jay Monahan, had died of cancer in 1998 at age 42.

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