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Due to the fact that the facility sits on land leased from the federal government, workers at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating station do not enjoy the same whistleblower-protection rights of other employees in the state, including at Diablo Canyon, California’s other active nuclear plant, the Sacramento Bee reports.

The lack of worker protections, including the inability of those who feel they have been wrongfully terminated to sue in state court, is an issue due to San Onofre consistently logging far more substantiated safety claims than other nuclear reactors. Workers have also reported fear of retaliation to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission during surveys, which in 2010 led to a reprimand of plant operator Southern California Edison.

Commission and Edison officials both say that improvements have been made to combat the culture of repression at the plant since, and point out that whistleblowers are still protected under federal law.

Meanwhile, InsideClimate News reports that California Attorney General Kamala Harris is considering instituting an independent review committee specifically tasked with serving as a public San Onofre watchdog.

The idea has been raised before, dating back at least to 2009, when the California Energy Commission recommended consideration of whether such a group would be beneficial, a recommendation subsequently ignored by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The only other nuclear site in the country with such a group in place is Diablo Canyon, whose review panel was birthed in a 1988 legal settlement.

“While an extra set of expert eyes is always a plus for the state as reactors age, it is the make-up of the committee and their independence that is important,” Rochelle Becker, executive director of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, told the Reader via e-mail. “The Alliance hopes that if the state decides to create such a committee for [San Onofre], they will only appoint those who are willing to place the state's interest before that of the industry. Ratepayers deserve to be assured that any future investments have had independent scrutiny by the state as it is obvious to all that the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] process did not provide adequate assurance for [Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric] customers, Southern California, or the state.”

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