FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

San Onofre Nuclear Plant at the Brink

by HARVEY WASSERMAN

In January, it seemed the restart of San Onofre Unit 2 would be a corporate cake walk.

With its massive money and clout, Southern California Edison
was ready to ram through a license exception for a reactor whose botched $770 million steam generator fix had kept it shut for a year.

But a funny thing has happened on the way to the restart:  a No Nukes groundswell has turned this routine rubber stamping into an epic battle the grassroots just might win.

Indeed, if ever there was a time when individual activism could have a magnified impact, this is it (see www.sanonofresafety.org and www.a4nr.org).

This comes as the nuclear industry is in nearly full retreat.  Two US reactors are already down this year.  Yet another proposed project has just been cancelled in North Carolina.  And powerful grassroots campaigns have pushed numerous operating reactors to the brink of extinction throughout the US, Europe and Japan, where all but two reactors remain shut since Fukushima.

In California, it’s San Onofre that’s perched at the brink.

By all accounts Southern California Edison should have the clout to restart it with ease.   The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been a notorious rubber stamp for decades.  The California Public Utilities Commission, which decides how much the utilities can gouge from the ratepayers, has long been in Edison’s pocket.  State water quality regulations could force Edison to build cooling towers, a very expensive proposition that would likely lead to a quick retirement.  But Gov. Jerry Brown has been deafeningly silent on the issue.

But San Onofre sits in an earthquake/tsunami zone halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.  At least 8 million people live within a 50 mile radius, many millions more within 100. The reactors are a stone’s throw from both a major interstate and the high tide line, with a 14-foot flood wall a bare fraction of the height of the tsunami that overwhelmed at Fukushima.

San Onofre Unit One was shut in 1992 by steam generator issues.   Edison recently spent some three-quarters of a billion dollars upgrading the steam generators for Units 2 and 3.  But the pipes have leaked and failed.  Units 2 and 3 have been shut since January 2012.  Edison has now asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to run Unit 2 at 70% power for five months to see how the reactor might do. An NRC panel has termed the idea “experimental.”

Edison is desperate to get the reactor running before summer.  But in the wake of Fukushima, and in the midst of a major boom in solar energy, southern California is rising up to stop that from happening.

*  A dozen cities, towns and public organizations—including a unanimous Los Angeles city council and the public school district of San Diego—have asked that public hearings and/or further in-depth, transparent investigations be held before the reactors reopen.

*  US Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) have asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to thoroughly investigate all relevant issues—-and to make them public—before restart can occur. The Boxer/Markey inquiry has included some heated dialogue with regulatory staff. It’s raised critical questions about whether Edison knew it was installing faulty equipment in the first place, a potentially explosive revelation given the dangers and costs involved.

*  Newly revealed correspondence between Edison and Mitsubishi over additional steam generator issues reveal persistent unresolved disagreements about the technology involved and what needs to be done about it, casting further doubt on what might constitute safe operating procedures.

*  In response to a suit by Friends of the Earth, the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has ruled that Edison’s restart application in fact constitutes a license amendment, which should require a full public hearing.  The NRC Commissioners could overrule its licensing board. But this was a unanimous decision and the public and Congressional outcry would be substantial.  It’s a huge setback for Edison, damaging what’s left of its credibility and likely pushing restart far into the future.  There’s also much Edison is likely to want hidden from the public record.

* NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane now says San Onofre cannot be licensed to restart at least until late June, which probably pushes any actual restart date until after the summer.

*  So this could become the region’s second straight peak season with no power from San Onofre.  Despite utility rhetoric, its absence last summer caused no blackouts or significant shortages, and none are expected this summer either. Edison’s argument that the reactors are needed to keep the region cool and lit will thus disappear.

*  Edison CEO Theodore Craver now says San Onofre could be permanently shut before the end of the year.  “Edison is hemorrhaging cash at San Onofre,” says FOE’s Damon Moglen.  Craver is “a financial guy” who is now just “looking for the right numbers to get to shut-down.”

It’s common in the nuke blackmail business for a utility to threaten to shut a reactor where jobs and power are desperately needed.  But Edison now has a more desperate theme.  The spread of solar throughout southern California will bring far more jobs than San Onofre can begin to promise.  A new feed-in tariff in Los Angeles has helped spread solar panels throughout the region.

Edison billed southern California ratepayers roughly $1 billion for San Onofre in 2012 even though it generated no juice.  The CPUC would probably let them do it again, but public awareness and anger levels have soared. Major media throughout the region have been pummeling Edison, largely over economic issues.

Should San Onofre stay dead, its power void will fast be filled by cheaper, cleaner, safer green technologies destined to make southern California a major focal point in the global march to Solartopia.

This shutdown would take the number of licensed US reactors down to 100.  With others on the brink at Indian Point, Vermont Yankee, Oyster Creek  and elsewhere, the race to shut the world’s nukes before the next Fukushima is turning the so-called nuclear renaissance into an all-out reactor retreat.

Harvey Wasserman is author of SOLARTOPIA! (www.harveywasserman.com) and HARVEY WASSERMAN’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES.  He edits
www.nukefree.org.  His GREEN POWER & WELLNESS SHOW is at www.prn.fm.
www.nukefree.org. His GREEN POWER & WELLNESS SHOW is at www.prn.fm.

Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth. His Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail