Garrett Harris 10:11 p.m., May 23
It’s official: both of the troubled nuclear generators at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station will remain offline throughout the summer, according to plant operator Southern California Edison.
Edison expects to present a safety plan to restart the plant’s Unit 2 reactor, which was originally taken offline for routine maintenance, by the beginning of July, though gaining approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume operations will take at least another month. Plans for Unit 3, in a state of emergency shutdown after tubes in the plant’s steam generating unit burst, leaking radiation into the atmosphere, will take longer to develop.
On another front, the website Politico earlier this week publicized a list of allegations brought forward by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) charging personnel intimidation and retaliation against whistle-blowers at Commission regional offices.
The accusations that safety concerns within the government monitoring agency are being suppressed mirror those already voiced by San Onofre workers. Despite reported fear of employer retaliation, the plant for at least the past two years has led the nation in substantiated safety claims.
Piling on, Judge Richard Posner in Chicago recently issued a statement critical of a “strange and dangerous” lack of oversight concerning security clearances at nuclear power facilities throughout the country.
“The safety of nuclear energy facilities cannot be taken for granted,” wrote Posner, criticizing policies that did not involve the Commission in a process that resulted in the firing of two employees at a different plant after one failed a drug and alcohol test and another was found to be lying about his alcohol abuse.
Finally, nuclear power activists with San Onofre Safety and other groups penned a letter this week to Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko bemoaning the recent discovery of flaws in San Onofre’s diesel backup generators that could have led to their inadvertent shutdown in the event of an earthquake, which in turn could have caused a nuclear meltdown.
Last year, the Reader spoke with nuclear expert/muckraking journalist Greg Palast, who expressed little faith in the ability of the generators to function properly even if the earthquake sensors were operating properly. He pointed to a test of a similar backup system at the dismantled Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant in New York, in which all three of the backup generators failed shortly after coming online.