San Onofre emergency backup diesel generators flawed for nearly three decades

This letter was sent to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, with a copy to the Orange County Register.

Dear Chairman,

We were stunned to learn recently that for nearly three decades, the San Onofre nuclear reactors have been operating with inherently flawed backup emergency diesel generators, flaws that could have caused these generators to shut down as a result of a major earthquake. According to documents submitted to the NRC on May 14 of this year by Southern California Edison, the operator of the San Onofre plant, the effect of a major seismic event on the high-frequency sensors that would trigger the shutdown of the backup generators had not been analyzed. Upon discovering this issue, the sensors were immediately turned off, indicating significant safety concerns.

Allowing the San Onofre nuclear reactors, located directly next to major fault lines, to operate with such a fundamental safety issue unexamined for three decades is a dramatic failure on the part of the commission. The loss of both offsite and onsite power, or station blackout, is the very condition that led to the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi (Japan). As you are aware, the seismic vulnerability of nuclear reactors has become an even more urgent issue in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. We are well aware of your particular concerns in this area. Tuesday’s news underscores the need for immediate and urgent action.

This critical safety flaw, only now revealed, posed an unacceptable risk to the 8 million people who live within 50 miles of the San Onofre nuclear plant and the untold numbers that would be affected by radioactive fallout from a catastrophic accident at this plant. We are writing today to demand a public explanation from the NRC as to how the commission could fail so drastically to fulfill its responsibility to our families, our communities and the citizens of this country to ensure the safety of San Onofre.

This critical problem with the emergency backup generators, and the astounding amount of time before the issue came to light, is but one example of the perfunctory oversight and pervasive lack of safety culture within the NRC and the nuclear industry.

The San Onofre nuclear reactors have been offline for four months due to the rupture of tubes in the recently replaced steam generators. Southern California Edison presented this as a like-for-like replacement, and the commission rubber-stamped the licensing. Had the NRC examined these replacement steam generators, it would have uncovered significant modifications of the original design that led to their failure and the release of radioactive steam less than two years after installation.

This lack of adequate oversight not only poses a threat to our communities but has come at a cost of $670.8 million. We, as ratepayers, have been forced to foot the bill for these critically flawed steam generators. Although Southern California Edison also shares in the responsibility to adequately maintain and evaluate the safety of the San Onofre plant, it is your responsibility to hold them accountable.

We are deeply concerned about the lack of transparency and disregard for safety on the part of Southern California Edison and that the NRC has failed in its responsibility to ensure the safety of San Onofre. We find it unacceptable that we have been living with this unknown threat for decades.

We look forward to your timely response to our concerns.

Gene Stone, Residents Organized for a Safe Environment
Donna Gilmore,
Gary Headrick, San Clemente Green

About Donna Gilmore

This entry was posted in Diesel Generators, Earthquake, NRC, Press Release, Southern California Edison and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to San Onofre emergency backup diesel generators flawed for nearly three decades

  1. I will be watching this space to see how they respond. The two house subcommittees who were supposed to be questioning NRC commissioners in a hearing last week postponed it, and in their postponement notice it did not sound as if Gregory Jaczko was going to be included in the rescheduled meeting. I wonder if these lawmakers are going to be hearing from safety advocates in these hearings? Or just from the NRC? The whole business of Jaczko “bullying” people is total hogwash. He might be chair, but it was four to one and they voted against him and ultimately bullied him off the NRC. Why didn’t he scream louder about the safety issues, I wonder…but what’s scarier is that elected representatives are going to have hearings on safety culture and none of it is going to be from independent sources, only from the NRC commissioners themselves who will have all the license in the world to spin BS with no one to call on them?

    I would love to see a citizen activist group represented at those hearings.

  2. Like Burkey I too will be watching this space. Incredible to see how such incompetence can be sustained in such a vital area.

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