Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
No conclusions from San Onofre safety meeting, but monks protest, radioactive material left near street, unions grumble, FBI investigates
A Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting to discuss the future of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating station went forward last Friday after being delayed when the originally contracted host hotel backed out over attendance concerns.
No concrete plans were laid for either of the plant’s two nuclear generators, idled since late January, to resume service, though plant operator Southern California Edison reaffirmed their assertion that, though similar damage was found in both the Unit 2 reactor and in Unit 3, Unit 2 remains safe to operate under lower-than-normal power generating conditions. Unit 3 was the reactor that suffered a tube rupture, causing a small release of radioactivity and triggering the plant’s emergency shutdown, though it had been in operation for almost a year less than Unit 2. Both generators were replaced in the last 3 years, with a total cost of at least $680 million.
But activity at the meeting was overshadowed by outside events, including reports of possible sabotage, a protest march led by Buddhist monks and public dissent from the Utility Workers Union of America, which represents plant employees and has been a vocal backer of restart plans at recent meetings.
The monks, who had originally planned to march past the plant and begin a seven day fast nearby, were re-routed when environmental activist Gene Stone discovered higher-than-normal levels of radiation emanating from old generator pieces being stored near the road in preparation for shipment.
“As I drove slowly past the old steam generator part, my Geiger counter spiked to 587 . . . I decided to change the monks’ route to stop in San Clemente for the safety of the protesters,” Stone told The Capistrano Dispatch.
Upon contacting the Commission, Stone was told his reading was likely accurate but still within legal limits.
Meanwhile, the plant’s union questioned the wisdom of firing 700 workers while trying to restart the plant, especially given the unknown potential results of firing up the idled Unit 2, where hundreds of steam tubes were found to be damaged to some extent.
“Local 246 cannot support the restart of SONGS Unit 2 if we do not have sufficient confidence that it can be operated and maintained safely by, and without undue risk, to our members,” said union business manager Daniel Dominguez in a release.
Further complicating matters, Edison reported that the discovery of coolant in the oil chamber of an emergency backup generator in late October could be the result of intentional sabotage, and has called in the FBI to investigate. Speculation that disgruntled workers finding their jobs on the chopping block could be responsible has been reported in the ensuing weeks, though anonymous plant workers have strongly denied any such motivation, given that such an act would put all local residents, including the families of such workers, at tremendous risk in the event of a power failure at the plant.