Where I Differ From the Environmentalists on San Onofre


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Emphasis.  Basically, we differ on emphasis.  The environmentalists are right, in this case, but they’re not emphasizing what I think is the most compelling part of the story.

They are concerned about the possibility that a restarted San Onofre can “go Fukushima” on us under bad circumstances — a low probability event but one with unimaginably high costs.  My concern is not with what’s possible, but what’s pretty much definite.  Without restarting the Unit 2 reactor, So Cal Edison potentially has to recoup any money that it can recoup from Mitsubishi, the manufacturer of the defective generators.  Getting a utilities commission to include it in what ratepayers must pay — as if it were the ratepayers rather than the shareholders taking the speculative gamble here — is far from a clear thing.  Shareholders may lose money — and they’d rather than it come from the ratepayers.  They’d be happy (probably happier) to get it from Mitsubishi, but Mitsubishi has other ideas about that.  Of the three major sources of money to cover the cost of the reactors that may well have doomed San Onofre, only one of them — the ratepaying public — is snoozing and potentially losing.

And that, unlike an offshore tsunami, is not speculative.  That’s probable.

San Onofre reactor wearing green pasties

“Anything you can find, Dr. Anon, I can steal.” (OK, it’s a Raiders of the Lost Ark reference. Just forget it.)

But let me give the environmentalists — my allies on this one, after all — their due.

Here’s what Friends of the Earth has to say on its page where you can submit comments to the NRC by tomorrow’s deadline about the prospect of the NRC allowing an “experimental restart” — whatever that is — of San Onofre for five months at a little under 3/4 power:

The comments included below are regarding Docket ID NRC20130070.

Both San Onofre reactors are severely damaged. Restarting Unit 2 experimentally, when the root cause of the problems hasn’t been found, Edison’s own experts disagree on even the secondary cause of the issues, and disagree on the length of time left before another accident could occur — which could be somewhere in the range of a few months to a little over a year — puts the public at unnecessary and unacceptable risk.

We ask that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission deny Edison’s narrow license amendment and request for a no significant hazard determination, both of which fail to address the significance of the problems at San Onofre and could lead to a restart of the San Onofre nuclear reactor Unit 2.

Additionally, Senator Boxer has asked the NRC to complete a comprehensive investigation and provide full opportunity for public participation and independent expert testimony. I agree. The investigation may reveal critical information that would provide important insights into the safety of the restart proposal. To pave the way for restart without having all relevant information in hand would be both premature and irresponsible.

The narrow license amendment request and request for a no significant hazard determination consideration amount to an end run by Southern California Edison to rush restart of their damaged reactors, rather than ensuring safety. As the regulatory body charged with ensuring safety, you must reject these requests and hold Edison accountable to a thorough vetting of all the safety issues raised by their restart plan and the numerous areas where the restart scheme does not comply with the terms of their license.

We were deeply disturbed when on April 10 the NRC staff ignored the requests of Senator Boxer — and the public — and instead announced a “preliminary finding” that a San Onofre restart at 70 percent power posed no significant safety risk.

The safety of Southern California cannot be reduced to merely wordsmithing and removing Edison’s requests from the context in which they are requested — which is to restart a severely damaged reactor.

I urge the NRC to reject Edison’s unacceptable license amendment and no significant hazard consideration requests. The NRC must ensure that Edison undergoes the appropriate thorough license amendment process for the multiple areas of noncompliance with their operating license, that all relevant investigations are completed, and that public hearings on these requests are held before any decision on a licenses amendment or restart proposal is made.

That’s nice enough, but I decided to write my own comment instead.  I understand that this is an environmental issue, but it seems to me that it’s as much or more of a consumer and taxpayers’ issue:

Dear Nuclear Regulatory Commission,

The comments included below are regarding Docket ID NRC20130070.

I don’t think that the NRC should be propping up what is, for So Cal Edison, essentially a business decision. If they are allowed to start up the plant and run it for five months — and the odds are good that it would work well for that time, although that has little to do with how well it would work as a long-term power source — it would strengthen So Cal Edison’s case that the cost of the new generators should be passed on to ratepayers as part of the “base” they are required to pay. This would be so even if they can’t collect damages from Mitsubishi, which likely was primarily at fault, for the product defect. (Arguably, of course, this also undercuts So Cal Edison’s case to fight their hardest in court.)

The restart isn’t helping the public; it’s helping So Cal Ed’s ability to obtain additional money from its ratepayers and pass it to its shareholders and managers — in exchange for those ratepayers not getting the service they had been told they had the right to expect.

This is not about generating power to serve the community; it’s just about claiming that a defective product sold to the public “obviously” isn’t THAT defective (or how could it run for five months?) so the public should just shut up, give up, and pay for it.

So Cal Ed is asking the NRC to sneak in the change before the ruling of the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board goes into effect. That ruling appropriately requires Edison undergo a relicensing process so that it is not allowed “to operate beyond the scope of its existing license” — at which time So Cal Edison can just scoop up what money it can and then decommission the plant anyway rather than trying to comply with the committee ruling.

This is shabbiness. The NRC’s role is not to help So Cal Ed shove an additional pile of money into its pockets on its way out the door — and the NRC should have no part of such a scheme. At best, it’s siphoning money from ratepayers; at worst, there could be another accident during that five months — and ratepayers are the ones hurt in that case as well.

To understand my reference to the licensing board, you can check this link, among others.

The NRC has been considering whether to allow Unit 2 to restart and run at reduced power, which engineers from plant operator Southern California Edison believe will stop vibration that damaged tubing.

Friends of the Earth, an advocacy group critical of the nuclear power industry, argued that the plan to restart San Onofre’s Unit 2 reactor is a change to the plant’s operating license, which requires an extended, court-like hearing.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board agreed. The three-member board concluded that the restart would allow Edison “to operate beyond the scope of its existing license.”

So that’s the environmentalists’ attempt, my consumerist attempt, and some background from earlier this week.  What do you have to say — while you still can?  Clock’s ticking — deadline tomorrow!


About Greg Diamond

Worker's rights attorney now moving into "good governance" litigation. North Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Orange County and occasional candidate. Proud to be prolix. Unless otherwise specifically stated, his writings never speak for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Brea but generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and without compensation, although in 2014 he may receive some compensation for campaign consulting and fundraising for the campaign of Jorge Lopez for Orange County Assessor.