During 2012, Friends of the Earth has focused on the serious problems with the steam generators at San Onofre – the very same ones that in January caused a leak in the two then-functioning reactors and led the plant to stop operations. Steam generators are critical major components inside a nuclear reactor – both for generating steam used to produce electricity, and also as a vital safety mechanism for helping to cool the reactor and preventing the release of large amounts of radiation into surrounding areas.
Friends of the Earth has commissioned technical reports from one of the nation’s leading independent nuclear engineers, Arnie Gundersen. These reports clearly show that the severe damage at both reactors increases the risk of a major accident, and that neither San Onofre reactor can be operated safely. This information has been shared with citizens’ groups in Southern California, as well as City Councils, members of state legislators, and members of Congress.
Friends of the Earth is particularly concerned that the operator of San Onofre, Southern California Edison, did not follow correct regulatory procedure when it decided to replace the old steam generators with new ones, which are now severely damaged. Edison’s choice to submit the drastically-altered design under an inappropriate process meant that the utility avoided the in-depth critical safety review that would have caught the problems before they posed a danger to the safety of Southern Californians. Instead, the reactors now have the most defective and damaged steam generators of all comparable equipment in the history of the U.S. nuclear industry.
In addition, Friends of the Earth is concerned that the body that oversees nuclear safety in the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission failed to recognize the significance of the design changes and hold Edison accountable to their own regulations to ensure that public safety was put first. To address this significant oversight failure, Friends of the Earth has filed a petition with the NRC, calling for the commission to enforce their own regulations that require an amendment to the federal operating license for the reactors and a full evidentiary public hearing on the San Onofre crisis.
San Onofre is also an old nuclear reactor site and will require extensive retrofits to and upgrades to bring the reactors up to current federal and state standards. These retrofits will require extended outages and will cost millions – potentially billions – in ratepayer money. Friends of the Earth believes that this money would be much better spent on renewable energy development, energy efficiency programs, grid upgrades, and storage. To this end, we are intervening in the Long-term Procurement Proceeding in order to provide expert analysis and testimony before the California Public Utilities Commission with a concrete plan for transitioning away from reliance on San Onofre and on fossil fuels.
While the present campaign focus is on the risks from the damaged steam generators and economic costs, Friends of the Earth is deeply concerned with other public health and environmental hazards posed by the San Onofre nuclear reactors. These include the risk of accident from earthquakes and from high-level nuclear waste, and the impact the reactors have on the marine environment.