Friday, September 18, 2009

Trouble, trouble, trouble in and around San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station

September 18th, 2009

Dear Readers,

Southern California Edison (SCE), the owner of San Onofre Nuclear Waste Generating Station, is in a heap of trouble. With your help, it might shut them down forever.

First of all, they're actually having trouble with the federal regulators. Imagine that! Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is demanding better quality control from these "closet criminals" who try to hide every mistake they make. The NRC even demanded an extra public meeting after six months instead of the normal one year. That occurs on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 -- not that the public is REALLY welcome, but technically, they're invited as long as they don't try to hand out literature inside the room. This practice was banned entirely effective immediately, as a response to a complaint filed by this author and his spouse earlier this year about Victor Dricks, the local public relations henchman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the San Onofre district. He tried to get my table banned at the last hearing, and has successfully done so this time. It is a clear attempt by the NRC to intimidate not only THIS activist, but all activists who seek to inform the public about nuclear power.

And the funny thing is, SCE had packed that same hearing with employees, who showed up with their badges and pro-nuclear attitudes. But unfortunately for SCE, I was expecting a lot of activists to show up, but only a handful actually did. Nearly half of the SCE employees took a copy of my book, The Code Killers. Because of the large SCE attendance, I was able to hand out about 80 copies -- every one I had brought.

Doing so resulted in two SCE whistleblowers contacting me. One told me that the book is banned on site at the plant -- but that the management actually use it themselves because it is, after all, accurate! I was told that a post-it with my URL ( ) is attached to one of the monitors in the instructors' area, and they are told NOT TO USE information from my web site in their courses. I have this from a very reliable plant veteran who has worked there for more than 25 years and works there still.

Even besides any effect my book might be having on the enthusiasm of plant employees to work in the nuclear field, SCE was and is having plenty of trouble with the work force anyway. They fired the majority of them as a group last month -- fired the main subcontractor after 40 years of running the plant (Bechtel), and every sub-subcontractor that Bechtel had hired. SCE had to bring in and train, new operators and other staff. SCE employees themselves were not released -- about 800 people, or about a third of the total work force. So most of those books I handed out actually went to people who were released from the plant a few months later, as a group. Bechtel no longer operates ANY nuclear power plants. (There is still a division of Bechtel with a contract on site -- they are installing the new Steam Generators (SGs). It's a different corporate division. They hope to get the second reactor's SG replacement contract, but it's not very likely.)

San Onofre's numerous safety violations had so riled up the regulators that management peppered its own ranks with high-level people from other nuclear power plants around the country, after a bunch of their top people quit before being fired in disgrace. I mean, they were decimated. This is the SCE people, not Bechtel. And the "good" ones that were kept weren't so good, either -- the plant STILL has an attitude of "cover it up, don't let the regulators see it, or we'll all be in even bigger trouble." The SCE employee who ASSURED ME THAT IS STILL THE ATTITUDE THERE has over 25 years at the plant, and counting.

So while the NRC thinks they are tightening the screws and making SCE run the plant correctly, all they are REALLY doing is making them try to hide the truth from the regulators! Good job, NRC. NOT. This is the federal agency the California environmental agencies rely on without question to protect your safety. It isn't being done.

Some of these new top people at SCE came from the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio, which nearly melted down in 2002, AND hid numerous crimes from the federal regulators, and from the Monticello plant in Minnesota, which would have melted down if it ever needed its Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS) to save it in the first 30 years of operation, because the shipping bolts had been left on and it wasn't actually available! These are where the replacement guys for the bad guys within SCE came from. Do you feel safer?

The Bechtel employees were replaced with The Shaw Group employees, who build and operate nuclear power plants all over the world, making billions off of corrupt plant corporations that are too dumb to operate the plants themselves -- like SCE. The Shaw Group is heavily involved in projects with other corrupt nuclear corporations such as AREVA, EdF, Rosatom, etc.. Now we have these corporate parasites bringing in foreign workers from wherever in the world they want, many of whom don't even speak English yet they operate our nuclear power plants and know our secrets about how to melt them down and how they spill radiation into our environment. And they're making high fives or even six figures while they do it! If they were to come to a public hearing they wouldn't understand a word of it. Of course, they wouldn't actually see democracy in action there anyway, but that's a separate issue (see above again).

SCE is also having trouble with their parts suppliers. What do you expect when Mitsubishi, a highly corrupt parts supplier to nuclear power plants, can't get the welding for the new steam generators right? That is, they can't even get them up to Japanese standards! THAT is to say, Japanese bribery-induced permissiveness standards. Forget the standards you might expect American parts suppliers to be expected to meet. And if you want to trust so-called American nuclear parts suppliers like "Westinghouse" and "General Electric" just remember to call them "Toshiba-Westinghouse" and "Hitachi-GE" if you want to get their names right. These are American companies in name only, if that. And the quality of their work reflects that, as do their business practices. Most of their new reactor activity is in China and other countries where bribery is easy to get away with. This is no coincidence, although dead Chinese officials who might have been caught and executed tell no tales.

The way it works with steam generators is this: THEY ALL LEAK. They'll always leak. Some amount of primary coolant, which is filled with radioactive particles activated by the reaction in the core, as well as debris that falls off the fuel, will be spritzed into the secondary coolant via these leaks, as what can amount to thousands of gallons of water goes from the highest-pressure system to the second-highest-pressure system. That's the way all commercial Pressurized Water Reactors in the U.S. operate (about 2/3rd of all U.S. reactors are PWRs. The rest are Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs), which have their own problems). From just a few years after the first ones were installed, they realized that the SGs would leak. And profits wouldn't be ask good as they thought, but they'd still make money.

So what they do is, they go in during the outages and plug up the leaky tubes. There are about 14,000 tubes in each SG (it varies, depending on the design) so plugging up even a thousand of them -- not unusual over the life of the SG -- doesn't mean you can't use them. It just means the EFFICIENCY is lowered and you'll make less money from your reactor. And your secondary coolant loop will be more contaminated (and it leaks into the tertiary coolant loop, by the way, too, at various points in the cycle).

Babies -- and fetuses, and children, and adults -- die when these highly radioactive particles get out into the environment. The industry says it just becomes indistinguishable from "background" radiation but first of all, what they call "background" includes ALL previous accidents, and second of all, each ADDITIONAL spill poisons somebody -- everybody. And third of all, many of the man-made radioactive poisons are far more hazardous per Curie (a unit of measure for radiation) than the "natural" radioactive elements. And fourth of all, not only are they more hazardous, but they are where they can do more harm -- in the air, in the topsoil, in the water, rather than deep in the ground. One of the most hazardous man-made radioactive pollutants, tritium, leaks out of everything and gets into everything. It crosses the placenta and gets in your baby's DNA. And the nuclear industry thinks this is good for baby! No, it's not. It's an evil thing to do to someone, to screw up their DNA. It causes deformities, cancer, leukemia (cancer of the blood) and a thousand -- yes, a thousand, or more -- other ailments. If nothing ELSE it ages you prematurely.

No one at SCE believes they are actually killing babies. They just all accept that "well, maybe a little bit IS good for you!" and stop worrying, or they say, "yeah, but coal kills, too" which is true, but irrelevant.

Since you can't possibly bring your baby's lifeless body to them and say with certainty, "YOU DID THIS!" they feel safe from the wrath of their victims. Most of their victims are many miles away, scattered all over the world. Your baby's cancer might have been caused by Chernobyl, or weapons testing, or your own smoking, if you smoke. You'll never know. Lucky for SCE. Not lucky for their victims.

SCE is also having trouble with the state regulators. First of all, about two years ago state senator Christine Kehoe held SWORN TESTIMONY -- a true rarity these days in public hearings -- during which the ECONOMIC FAILURE of nuclear power was clearly proven in indisputable, irrefutable terminology, with all the appropriate statistics and analysis. Second of all, the California Energy Commission (CEC) is supposedly doing its own study, and that's expected out soon and is expected to again show the rotten economics of nuclear power, again, though, even without proper accounting for the cancers in infants far away (or nearby) which are a routine and direct result of nuclear power plant operations.

SCE wants to get its new steam generators stuffed in and operating before THAT report comes out, since it could remind the public (it probably won't, but it could) that every day, about a thousand new pounds of incredibly deadly, incredibly expensive, so-called "High Level Radioactive Waste" (HLRW) is created in California by its four operating commercial nuclear reactors, and we can't afford to manage THAT waste, let alone all the "quap" that's been created already -- about 10 million pounds of HLRW in California from just the four operating reactors (plus military, research, closed reactors, and other waste) that must be stored safely for thousands of times longer than California has existed as a state -- or than the U.S. has existed as a country -- or than civilization has existed, period.

That report COULD be devastating, but it probably won't be since the CEC has never shown much guts for the truth. But even if it isn't devastating, SCE probably won't like it because no matter how you try to ignore the true costs of dead children, of suffering, of pain by saying "Hormesis" (the bogus theory that a little ionizing radiation is good for you) or whatever excuse you give, there are still the economic realities that these plants are expensive to build, operate, and dismantle, even without an accident that could cost trillions and happen any day. And they are prone to long and unexpected shutdowns even though the nuclear industry likes to call them "baseline power" because they are so hard to shut off and the NRC wants them to do that as few times as possible in a year, and keeps careful track of the total number of times any one plant has been shut down, especially suddenly.

SCE is of course also having trouble with the public. They can't handle the truth being so available to everyone -- it scares them. They fear the Internet. They fear the NRC hearings. They even fear the media. They fired their long-time public relations spokesliar after he claimed he "truly believed they'll find a cure for cancer" on tape. (Several activists think this statement was the reason, not just this activist. The "real" reason was, of course, never revealed. He was president of the local corporate luncheon group at the time, and suddenly... gone! The new spokesliar didn't even attend the last two public hearings or kept a very low profile if she did.)

SCE is also having trouble with terrorists. All the plants are. They have no way to screen employees properly to be sure they are not terrorists. And plant employees everywhere are almost routinely walking onto the job site with guns and other illegal items -- so much so that the NRC is holding a special hearing about the generic issue. One problem is that if they crack down too hard, they'll lose a lot of "good" employees, and the industry can ill afford to have people walk away from it once they've accepted the basic premise that "radiation isn't that dangerous for ME -- I'll be one of the lucky ones." (When they do get brain cancer or something, they'll say, "they never told us" but the plant will insist they were warned of all possible risks and are owed nothing, since who knows where this particular cancer came from.)

One of the whistleblowers I spoke to last month told me that inside the plant, ALARA does NOT stand for "As Low As Reasonably Achievable" (which is an industry term for "leak like a sieve, no one will stop you) it stands for "Always Let Another Run Ahead." In other words, smart nuke workers let dumber ones do the dirty work, so THEIR badges will show the higher accumulated dose, and THEY'LL have to go to a less well-paying job, not you. And THEY'LL get cancer from it, not you. ALARA.

SCE is also having trouble with the laws of physics. The laws of physics demand that parts will embrittle, earthquakes will then rattle those parts, and the whole thing will come tumbling down some day. Try as they might -- and they are doing this 24 hours a day -- they can't make new pipes and fittings fast enough to replace the old ones that are failing, and that they feel might fail in the NEXT 20 years. They are spending tens of millions of dollars on maintenance, but only to keep an old jalopy running, that would cost tens of BILLIONS to replace properly with a new one. In other words, a drop in the bucket on maintenance compared to the cost of a full, new, "working" reactor.

Not that this author wants to see NEW reactors at San Onofre (or anywhere), but we should not kid ourselves that all that money they are spending on band-aids for the old ones really buys us any protection against meltdowns. Not at all.

And SCE is having trouble with their remaining employees. Else why would I have heard from TWO who were NOT on the Bechtel short end of the stick?

And they're bound to have trouble with their new employees, since The Shaw Group is untrained in how to run these old reactors and the crew that knew how to do it was unceremoniously fired. (Newspapers knew about the switch weeks, if not months ahead of time, but wouldn't report on it until the day it happened, so that if the suggestion were to be made that such a switch is dangerous, it would be too late to stop it.)

Trouble, trouble, trouble? Not enough to make SCE afraid that we'll shut 'em down. Not nearly. For that to happen, activists will have to be much more forceful about their demands. Shut 'em down today, to prevent a meltdown tomorrow. An activist who cannot bring themselves to support immediate shutdown of their local reactor is, at best, confused. In the case of San Onofre, they're downright crazy. These reactors are dangerous, and there's no better time than right now to say: "Forget it! IT WAS NEVER A GOOD IDEA ANYWAY."

The public has been duped by the Nuclear Mafia for far too long, but in the case of SCE, it's becoming hard to hide all the problems.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA