San Onofre consistently has the highest number of safety and discrimination allegations (complaints) compared to all other U.S. nuclear power plants, according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) data. Safety allegations are complaints of unresolved safety problems at the nuclear facility. Employees and contractors report these to the NRC when nuclear facilities ignore or refuses to resolve safety problems in a manner that protects public safety.
Discrimination allegations are complaints from employees, contractors, or subcontractors of harassment, intimidation, or discrimination for raising NRC-related safety or regulatory concerns.
Poor safety culture is a key factor in all major worldwide nuclear disasters, including the on-going nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan which began March 11th, 2011.
A May 15, 2012 workplace culture report found that workplace culture problems at Southern California Edison created a climate of distrust.
Many employees don’t trust their managers and leadership to be honest, accountable or provide leadership. They don’t trust in the systems arranged for their benefit to help them, and instead expect negative consequences for utilizing them. They don’t trust in policies, practices, information or communication.
Lack of trust often leads to feelings of hopelessness. Employees eventually surrender, going through the motions at work, without engagement or motivation. They protect themselves by avoiding any circumstances that might require them to trust, and productivity and creativity are impeded.
Edison’s response to the IT workplace culture problems is to layoff hundreds of IT employees by misusing the H-1B visa program. The Senate Judiciary Committee recently held a hearing into abuses of the H-1B skilled guest worker visa program by Edison and others. Edison fired well trained current workers and replaced them with less experienced workers from India at significantly lower pay. They even forced them to train the new workers and sign agreements to silence them. Edison hired Infosys, based in Bangalore, and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in Mumbai. They are two of the largest users of H-1B visas.
Disney planned to do the same as Edison. However, after public outcry, Disney announced in June 2015 it was rescinding the layoffs and cancelling plans to outsource those jobs. Since Edison is basically a monopoly, they can ignore such public outcry.
The NRC minimizes significance of safety and security problems by using “non-cited violations“. Non-cited violations do not require verification the problem has been fixed.
For example, the NRC gave San Onofre a non-cited violation to fix a fire hazard — incorrectly sized circuit breakers and poor quality fire barrier material. These circuits will not trip if the electrical cables overheat. This electrical system supports the charging pumps. According to the NRC, the charging pumps provide borated water makeup to the reactor cooling system, reactivity control, chemistry control and a number of other functions. The charging pumps are critical to the safe shutdown of the nuclear reactor.
The electrical engineer who reported this problem has not received a response from either the NRC or Southern California Edison (SCE) as to whether this fire hazard has been fixed and if it has been fixed correctly. The problem was reported in 2006 to the NRC. The NRC did not take action against SCE until August 2011.
See information on this and other existing fire hazards at San Onofre in this 5/14/2012 CBS report and video “Previously Classified Documents Unveil Potential Fire Dangers At San Onofre“. Would you believe San Onofre’s current method of dealing with inferior electrical systems is to have employees watch the cables to see if they catch fire? Yes, it’s true. And the NRC approved this plan for San Onofre as well as other nuclear reactors around the country. The job is so boring, employees have forged “fire watch” reports for years. CBS report by investigative reporter Randy Paige.
- Safety Allegations Charts 2007-2012
- Safety Allegations Chart 2012
- NRC Safety Allegations On-Site Statistics (5 year)
- NRC Safety Allegations Discrimination Statistics (5 year)
- “Chilling Effects” Letter – Safety Culture Problem -03/02/2010
- Integrated Inspection Report 5/8/2011
- NRC Statistics on Allegations
- Operator and management errors caused 11/1/2011 ammonia leak and emergency alert – 02/9/2012
- NRC April 28, 2011 Meeting Summary, San Onofre Performance Results, San Juan Capistrano (no mention of public or whistleblower concerns)
- NRC Executive Summary – San Onofre 10/27/2010 (San Onofre performance problems, steam generator issues, fires, once-through cooling, facility facts)
Whistleblowers speak out
“…if the fuel is not considered damaged/failed, it is not placed in a damaged fuel can in the dry storage container prior to being stored in the ISFSI. The real issue is that fuel is experiencing additional damage/degradation while in spent fuel pool storage and potentially in dry cask storage. I do not believe that this has been seen previously…The purpose of the damaged fuel cans in the dry storage containers is to prevent the migration of fuel within the dry storage container during a transportation accident such that a criticality accident cannot occur.”
Spent fuel that has been classified as damaged for storage must be placed in a can designed for damaged fuel, or in an acceptable alternative. The purpose of a can designed for damaged fuel is to (1) confine gross fuel particles, debris, or damaged assemblies to a known volume within the cask; (2) to demonstrate that compliance with the criticality, shielding, thermal, and structural requirements are met; and (3) permit normal handling and retrieval from the cask. The can designed for damaged fuel may need to contain neutron-absorbing materials, if results of the criticality safety analysis depend on the neutron absorber to meet the requirements of
10 CFR 72.124(a).
- Letter from wife of San Onofre Nuclear Operator to Governor Brown 5/2/2013
- Employee memo to California Energy Commission – San Onofre safety issues 8/1/2011
- Note tells of San Onofre staff fear, retaliation worries over whistle-blowing – SignOnSanDiego 2/19/2010
- Leaked Internal San Onofre Memo – allegations and retaliation fears 2/3/2010
- Workers at San Onofre Nuclear Plant Report Culture of Fear, Deep Mistrust 10/4/2012
- SoCal’s Nuclear Plant Safety Questioned – CBS News 3/29/2011. James Chambers, a 27-year veteran of San Onofre, helped ensure the plant was operating within its safety guidelines. He says management pressured him to stop making complaints.
“If the workers at the power plant are afraid to tell the truth, that jeopardizes the health and safety of the public,” Chambers said.
- Truth about San Onofre from wife of licensed nuclear reactor employee 12/9/2010
- Whistleblower Interview: San Onofre – How Safe Is It? 1/4/2012
- Rick Busnardo speaks out at NRC 11/5/2009 public meeting. Rick Busnardo and Mike Mason, identifying themselves as veteran plant employees, said they strongly support nuclear power but are concerned with the ability of workers to raise safety concerns. In the past two years, a safety-conscious work environment has been lost, Busnardo said. Mason said he used to feel comfortable going into the plant vice president’s office and now he doesn’t.
- NRC 11/5/2009 meeting summary ignored all public comments, 11/20/2009
- See also Edison set to restart San Onofre reactor Feb. 18, OCRegister, Fred Swegles, February 3, 2010
- Former aerospace engineer, Joe Holtzman, speaks out about safety problems at San Onofre, NRC 11/5/2009 meeting.
- Employees speak out about safety and retaliation CBC News 3/29/2011
- James Chambers, speaks out about why San Onofre has so many safety allegations (NRC September 16, 2010 Dana Point hearing)
- Nuclear Oversite Lacking Worldwide – Fairewinds Associates