Safety Concerns About San Onofre Nuclear Power Station

by on January 21, 2010 · 2 comments

in Civil Rights, Energy, Environment, Health, San Diego

Editor: This was sent to us by an OBcean who wanted us to know about Gary Headrick’s address to the San Clemente City Council about his safety concerns at the San Onofre Nuclear power station (officially San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station).  Headrick made the following remarks before the San Clemente City Council on January 20th.

by Gary Headrick

City Council Members of San Clemente:

I need to take a few minutes of your time to bring something urgent to your attention. I recently wrote an article about the whistle blowers at San Onofre. Since then, another person with many years in management at the power plant has come forward with more serious allegations, but wishes to remain anonymous. This and other revelations are compelling reasons to temporarily halt progress at San Onofre before they fire up the new generators. The normal channels of communication through the NRC and FEMA have failed, and now we can only seek immediate action from Governor Schwarzenegger.

I can’t understand why the NRC allows work to continue at the plant, especially during such a critical procedure, in spite of continuing safety performance issues. Meanwhile, whistleblowers are apparently being punished by SCE for exposing a culture of fear other employees face when reporting safety violations.

Now I have been given new information that could also be a serious threat to all of us. This senior person at San Onofre confided in me that a conversation was overheard about taking short cuts on the testing procedures of the new generators, making up for delays due to poor craftsmanship. This person says there is tremendous pressure to get one of Edison’s biggest sources of revenue back on line as soon as possible, no matter what it takes.

Many recent events point to additional concerns:

On December 15th, LA Times reported that a backup generator failed to start over the weekend at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, triggering a low-level emergency known as an “unusual event,” Southern California Edison said Monday. An “unusual event” could lower plant safety but does not result in the release of radioactive materials, the utility said. Southern California Edison was required to report the incident to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Gil Alexander, a spokesman for the utility.

On January 7, I read in the SC Times, “according to Gil Alexander, the installation of the generators has gone according to plan.” Posed with a direct question about whether the new generators are being properly and adequately tested, Alexander responded saying that the new generators were tested for meeting strict criteria even before they left Japan, ( I did not read anything reassuring about following the typical procedure my source called “Hot Functional Testing” taking place on site, which is allegedly being avoided due to the delays).

As you know, early this morning, this same spokesperson had to respond to yet another mishap. He said, “one of the emergency sirens for San Onofre inadvertently sounded. There was no emergency at the plant. Inadvertent siren soundings are rare. Preliminary testing found a possible equipment malfunction may have occurred”. As a result of this false alarm, hundreds of panicky residents tried desperately to find out what to do next, exposing the truth about our lack of preparedness, and the real possibility of mechanical failures.

On January 13, the OC Register reported that “When plant workers recently were inspecting the welding around the two 640-ton steam generators, they found air pockets in some of the welds on one generator.”  (Had it not been for the whistleblowers that have managed the welding operations at the plant for the past 25 years, and finally had to go public with their safety concerns, I wonder if these welding flaws would have ever been discovered).

Another so-called maintenance “hiccup” occurred when workers examined a piping system that directs water to the Unit 2 reactor to keep it cool during an emergency. Workers found pinhole leaks not visible to the naked eye in the 26-year-old piping. It took several weeks to replace the affected areas with new piping.

On January 14, Harry Sherwood, FEMA Director of Region Nine (the entire Pacific hemisphere) spoke to various organizations in attendance about the limited role FEMA plays when it comes to safety concerns at San Onofre. Their role is mainly to respond to disasters. He said, if people feel that the NRC is not doing enough about safety issues, then we should take it to our state government representatives.

So here we are, challenged to “connect the dots” before we find ourselves in a catastrophe of the worst kind. The warning signs are all around us. Safety violations at the plant continue, flawed and outdated mechanical systems are being pushed beyond their intended lifespan.

Another often overlooked fact is that San Onofre sits next to the Newport-Inglewood fault, which gave us a 4.7 earthquake last year, and experts have long feared would produce a devastating temblor. How devastating would that be to have to deal with radiation along with all the other damage an earthquake could bring? As witnessed by the recent false siren warning, the general population is unprepared.

It shouldn’t be up to average citizens to have to take on this disaster just waiting to happen, but that appears to be the case. Please write a letter to the Governor, on behalf of the citizens of San Clemente, to temporarily halt progress at San Onofre immediately, so we can get adequate answers to our very valid concerns. We want to know if the new generators are flawed with “poor craftsmanship” before they are contaminated by nuclear fuel rods, and can no longer be returned to Mitsubishi. We want to know that the public is well informed about evacuation procedures, and we want to know that on-going safety concerns are finally addressed, all before Unit 2 is re-activated.

I have to wonder if this whole procedure of replacing generators in Units 2 &3 is designed to circumvent the intent of the California ban on new nuclear power plant construction in 1976 until “there exists a demonstrated technology for the permanent disposal of spent fuel,” according to the California Energy Commission. If they want a new plant, or even an extension to operate, they need to meet this requirement. If they can’t meet this standard, they should proceed with the original plans to decommission Units 2&3 as planned, and reject the generators from Mitsubishi. Replacing the generators without upgrading the aging support system would be a foolish ploy, putting immediate financial gains ahead of the safety concerns of our community.

Please do whatever it takes to get a letter off to the Governor as soon as possible. It is only a matter of weeks before this opportunity slips away. Otherwise I fear that, like Haiti, the world will be watching San Clemente in horror as emergency responders attempt to extract us from our own disaster.

Editor: Here is a link to San Onofre’s official website.  Here’s an article from today’s Union-Tribune about how regulators have worries.

Problems at nuclear plant concern regulators

Situation at San Onofre not considered “dangerous”

By Michael Burge, / Union-Tribune / January 21, 2010

NORTH COUNTY — Nuclear regulators are concerned that operators at the San Onofre nuclear power plant botched a series of calls last week, resulting in the simultaneous shutdown of two safety backup systems and placing operators on standby to shut down a nuclear reactor.

The situation was not considered dangerous, because the systems in question come into play only in an emergency. Plant workers were able to bring up one of the backup systems after 15 minutes, forestalling a reactor shutdown.

For the remainder of the article, go here.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Editor January 22, 2010 at 11:10 am

Gary Headrick is a prominent citizen and civic leader in San Clemente, to our north. His web is . His statement was sent to us by another Gary, Gary Laliberte, who wanted help in getting the message out to see if there’s something we could do to call attention to this pending disaster a few miles north of San Diego.

Laliberte thought of OB Rag first. He told us ” Your paper doesn’t follow the conservative Big Business point of view. ”

Gary Laliberte lives now in Dana Point, but who spent many years in OB, and who attended SDSU in the 70’s and hung in OB. Laliberte’s web site is – he is a small businessman trying to make a difference. He was one of the first State Cerified Collection Recycler’s in San Diego, and had a food waste collection program for grocery stores (Lucky,Albertsons, Apple, Henry’s, Jimbo’s) in San Diego County. This was the first collection program of it’s kind in So CA.


Michael Feinstein May 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm

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