Garrett Harris 10:11 p.m., May 23
“Nuclear safety in action,” is how San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station operator Southern California Edison spokesperson Jennifer Manfre describes the ongoing emergency shutdown at the facility in the North County Times.
After four months, experts have determined that a faulty model that underestimated the pressure of water and steam passing through the two reactors’ four steam generators was responsible for design flaws by equipment manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
Despite repeated promises from Edison that the plant won’t be brought back online until it is safe to operate, environmental watchdog group Friends of the Earth has applied for “intervener” status in any forthcoming Edison proposal to modify the generators. Afforded such status, “not only do you get to look at the documents that the company sent to the NRC, but you also get to look at their internal files, and sometimes that's a gold mine,” says David Lochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists. In the San Onofre case, he suggests, “you might find out exactly what [Edison] knew about the condition of the tubes . . . you get all of their records related to the subject.”
Friends of the Earth garnered national attention last month when a report the group commissioned was released that raised concerns about the plan being pushed at the time to plug the damaged generator tubes and continue operations. Report author Arnie Gunderson was the first prominent scientist studying the matter to suggest that complete replacement of the nearly new generators might be necessary.
“This group seems to be seeking a proceeding that doesn't even exist,” says Manfre of the Friends request for a Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing on the grounds that the plant improperly reported major design changes, a charge Edison denies.
“If [Edison] did [make changes] consistent with our regulations,” said outgoing Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko, “then maybe we need to take a look at changing our regulations.”
Meanwhile, the California Public Utilities Commission is considering its own probe into San Onofre, though they’re awaiting more information from federal regulators before launching an investigation.
Also, the Independent Systems Operator, a nonprofit which oversees a large portion of the state’s power grid, is making contingency plans in case San Onofre remains offline as far into the future as summer 2013, when stopgap measures such as reactivating retired natural gas plants in Huntington Beach won’t be available.