San Onofre's Nuclear Roller Coaster

San Onofre's Nuclear Roller Coaster

For those on both sides of the debate over whether to fire up the Unit 2 reactor at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), last week was a roller coaster.

Unit 2 has been shut down since late September while two aging steam generators were swapped out. An official from Southern California Edison, which owns the plant, had revealed the reactor would restart last Thursday.

On Tuesday, President Obama announced a renewed government effort to fire up reactors nationwide, announcing $8 billion in loan guarantees and more to come for new nuclear power plants.

That night, the San Clemente City Council took no action on requests from residents to seek a delay in the restart at SONGS.

Councilman Wayne Eggleston said the city has shared concerns about the plant with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has jurisdiction over the plant.

Those concerns were justified considering the environmental group San Clemente Green leaked an anonymous memo from plant employees who said Unit 2 should not restart until safety questions are answered.

The memo also revealed that a quarter of SONGS employees fear retaliation from management if they call attention to safety problems, and that workers there made 10 times more safety complaints in 2009 than the mid-range level for the industry.

But Edison claims it not only has a zero-tolerance policy for retaliation, it encourages employees to raise safety concerns.

The NRC claims it also takes worker safety concerns seriously, its inspectors have closely monitored SONGS and its confident the plant is safe to restart.

Edison gave 3:15 p.m. Thursday as the time Unit 2 would re-start.

And then it didn't.

Asked about a new start-up time, Edison would not reveal one, blaming energy "market reasons."

"Unit 2 start-up was delayed--not that we are taking any credit for it," Gary Headrick, San Clemente Green's founder, wrote on the environmental group's website. "This gives us an opportunity to do more public outreach for safety preparedness and to follow other ways of formally voicing our concerns."

Since San Clemente has no jurisdiction, the city plans to work extra hard in coming months to prepare all residents for emergencies like wildfires, earthquakes and, yes, nuclear incidents.

That should make everyone feel better.


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