Fed Regulators Vet San Onofre Nuke Safety

By Published On: May 15, 2009

In response to what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission deemed “willful violations” of safety at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, federal regulators targeted the utility’s questionable “safety culture” during a May 7 meeting at Dana Point. “Instances of failures to follow procedural guidance during surveillance, troubleshooting, and nuclear fuel movement activities” in part, prompted the hearing, according to a March 4 letter to San Onofre owner Southern California Edison from NRC regional administrator Elmo Collins. Nuclear fuel--uranium originally that turns into plutonium after burning in the reactor--is highly radioactive. If not contained, it is deadly. Its radioactive components last an expected 240,000 years. The state is allowing Edison to spend $780 million in ratepayer funds to update San Onofre with new steam generators, which could extend the facility’s operating lifespan. Edison has not publicly determined that it plans to extend the licenses for the reactors--which now expire in 2022. “It would appear impossible for the NRC to ensure public health and safety during steam generator replacement,” noted Rochelle Becker, Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility executive director. The NRC is extending licenses for many of the nation’s nuclear plants for an extra 20 years. Pacific Gas & Electric, which owns the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, has not committed to a license renewal application. But, state regulators approved $14 million for the utility to spend in assessing the feasibility of such an extension. Diablo’s license expires in 2025. In a related move, the NRC set up a May 28 meeting to address inspections at the Diablo Canyon plant. Regulators, in a letter to PG&E, did not flag as deep a concern as they did at San Onofre, but stated inspections at the facility would be ongoing for nine months.

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