SoCal, we have a problem.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a hearing about San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (aka "SONGS") last Thursday (November 5th, 2009). At the hearing, Southern California Edison tried to convince the regulators that SCE's "culture of cover-up" had been fixed. They talked about dropping the incident rates down, but they couldn't tell us why, and it could just represent MORE cover-ups and MORE shoddy work.
The SCE executives barely mentioned firing the incompetents from Bechtel and replacing them with the scoundrels from The Shaw Group, which occurred in August of this year (2009). After around 40 years, they think the way to fix the problem is fire about 70% of the work force... Over the past few years, executives have resigned in droves, lest they be fired, too. The spokesliar for the plant for more than a decade, Ray Golden, head of the local businessman's association too at the time, was suddenly gone.
At the November 5th hearing, San Onofre's owners had to try to convince the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that by firing Bechtel, who operated the plant from DAY ONE, and instead bringing in a collection of foreign and out-of-state workers from an international company renowned for shady deals and shady customers, they would somehow fix their ongoing "culture of cover-up." Of course, it's not working. One advantage: According to one whistleblower I spoke to, The Shaw Group supposedly has "real" engineers, whereas Bechtel had "a lot of people who they called engineers, but they didn't have a degree in anything."
But at least Bechtel's employees knew the plant. In fact, they knew everything so well, they (along with their sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors) knew how to get away with falsifying records and reports, and doing shoddy work, for years and years! The Nuclear Regulatory Commission believes in as much self-regulation as possible. There is less than one on-site NRC inspector for every thousand workers at the plant. So a lot of things are never inspected. When fire inspection records are found to be falsified, for instance, it never occurs to the NRC that it's THEIR fault for not looking at the records even once in five years.
The Shaw Group is a conglomerate of old nuclear companies, such as Stone and Webster. That division alone paid over $6 million this year in fines to the U.S. government for (alleged) "false claims and contract fraud" for repeatedly hiding injury reports -- a problem which has plagued San Onofre, too. These are the "good" guys who have been brought in because Bechtel had to be kicked out to show that SOMETHING was being done to fix the "culture of cover-up" at SONGS! But the culture remained, and remains to this day.
At last week's hearing, when the public was allowed to speak, one of the plant workers got up first. He was allowed to hold the microphone (a privilege not extended to those who had come to speak out against the plant). A privilege they probably wish they hadn't given HIM!
The plant employee confirmed everything I had heard several months ago myself. But unlike the whistleblowers I talked to in private, this gentleman spoke out from his own personal experience in front of the NRC, in front of the heads of SCE, in front of other employees, and in front of the public.
It was an astounding moment to witness and I was fortunate enough to have my HD camera handy to catch it, although I had forgotten my tripod, as you'll see... Several other people spoke, mostly in opposition to the continued operation of the plant. There was no clapping all night long -- hardly surprising: There wasn't much for anyone to clap about.
We are not talking about making cars poorly on an assembly line, or even fighter jets. The scandal we are talking about here controls the fate not of a hundreds, or even thousands, but potentially the health and well-being of tens of millions of Americans.
All it takes is dropping a bolt and not saying anything to destroy the lives of all those people, all those families, as this whistleblower so eloquently describes.
Please tell your friends to watch this video, and tell your elected officials to watch it as well. This is a rare moment in history, for someone to step up like this and say, "WE HAVE A PROBLEM."
Even if the plant were to be shut down permanently tomorrow, this man's problem would still need to be solved at the plant. The nuclear waste storage facility SONGS would immediately become (which is what it is now -- it just has the reactors too) would need good people to constantly monitor it and improve it, or at least, make do with the limited funds they would be given to try to secure it.
But that, of course, is not what the speaker wants to do. Electricity has to come from somewhere, he knows, and he still believes that the right crew can ALWAYS prevent San Onofre from melting down. But forces, beyond even the best people's ability to control, can come into play in an instant at San Onofre, so, despite knowing that people like this work there, I still say, without hesitation: "SHUT IT DOWN!"
But the NRC says we are protesting to the wrong room -- that they are ONLY in charge of "safety" and so are not responsible for simply giving up.
And the California state and local agencies who SHOULD be demanding San Onofre be shut down?
They (Coastal Commission, Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission, etc. -- this author has appeared before these and many others...) each insist that their mandate is only to mitigate the environmental effects of a properly-running nuclear power plant, which they see as minor, since, for example, tritium is assumed to be about 100 times or maybe even 1,000 times less hazardous than it really is, especially for fetuses. For a California state regulatory agency to assume a nuclear power plant might melt down would be considered a safety issue -- and the NRC regulates that, by virtue of an agreement between the federal government and the state of California which has been interpreted time and again as a way of preventing any state agency from regulating ANYTHING of any significance regarding nuclear power, and absolves those people in those agencies from even having to UNDERSTAND how the darned thing works, let alone, how it kills people in the community on a day-to-day basis, and let alone, what might happen if there is a massive accidental release of radiation from the plant. These arcane "agreements" have even been interpreted to prevent Cal-OSHA from effectively regulating nuclear power plants within our state borders, while similar "agreements" with the federal OSHA have prevented THEM from regulating it, as well! So the NRC, understaffed, is also expected to be the expert in everything!
So if we were in the wrong room, I'm not sure what the right room would be. This suicide pact -- to keep San Onofre running until it melts down -- seems to be unstoppable.
Please tell ANY media you know to watch this shocking video. NO OTHER CAMERA WAS IN THE ROOM that I could see. So when -- it is hard to say "if" after you've heard what this man has to say -- San Onofre melts down, this will be the only documentation of why. The Democrats will blame Osama, and the Republicans will blame Obama, but it will just be some guy who dropped a bolt in the reactor and didn't tell anyone.
URL for video of whistleblower describing the "culture of cover-up" at San Onofre, recorded November 5th, 2009. In the video, my presentation (about two minutes in length), follows the whistleblower's:
URL for video of the October 22nd, 2009 hearing (on a somewhat different subject, so this is not the hearing I refer to as the "previous" hearing when all the SONGS employees showed up -- that one was in May, 2009 (see next item, below)):
URL for video of the May 7th, 2009 hearing (this recording is from the "previous hearing" referred to in the November 5th, 2009 video):
"In military housing disaster, a whistle-blower awaits vindication
A military program to privatize housing for soldiers and their
families is behind schedule and over budget. The man who blew
the whistle on the problems ended up getting fired."
* Read the full article at:
"A painter who was fired after complaining about a potential safety threat at a nuclear power plant in north Alabama won his whistleblower lawsuit against a Tennessee Valley Authority contractor... A Department of Labor review board sided with James Speegle of Tuscumbia five years after he was dismissed by Stone & Webster Construction Inc. while working at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens. Speegle, 43, contended he was fired for raising concerns about possible safety problems at the plant's Unit 1 reactor in 2004. Unqualified workers were doing a sloppy job that could have resulted in paint clogging an important cooling system, he argued."
* Read the full article at:
Just one year ago, everything was looking good to the NRC. The problems were all there to be found, but the NRC couldn't find them:
"Based on 56 interviews and six focus groups (consisting of approximately 50 people) conducted during this inspection, observations of plant activities, and reviews of the corrective action and nuclear safety concerns programs, the team determined that site personnel were willing to raise safety issues and document them in the corrective action program. The team observed that workers at the site felt free to report problems to their management, and were willing to use the Nuclear Safety Concerns program. "
That assessment was completely inaccurate at the time it was written.
Report from Wed Nov. 5-09 -
by Jerry Collamer (Jerry also attended -- and spoke at -- the Nov. 5 NRC hearing)
Dana Point Doubletree
(The Trestles Room?) Hotel's Edison / NRC / SONGS
public laundering of SONGS progress in getting 'their'
ancient, ailing, sickly, deadly beast (from a long ago era)
under control (if it ever has been).
The jest of last night's gentlemanly slugfest - NRC vs Edison,
"Who's in charge at SONGS?"
My conclusion: the beast is.
And we're the losers.
Ace (Hoffman) voiced it to Doubletree's packed room
of SONGS managers / team leaders / union heads /
SONGS (new) management team and NRC-heavy's
Ace is dead right.
The charade played at SONGS antique, rusting,
leaking, deadly double boiler, sitting on Sano's
shaky sand, over a 'fault' no one knew existed back
at SONGS launching is - we're dumb (really dumb),
and they (SONGS et al) are really smart.
The opposite is true.
The true dummies in the room labor futilely to manage
the unmanageable (re-sculpt an aging dinosaur into
a 21st century thoroughbred. But the bone structure's
all wrong) - as us few public smarties sit gap mouthed
at the curious performance playing out on stage.
(my thought is always - should we be hearing this?)
To NRC and Edison's credit, for us 'the willing' to be
invited to witness SONGS ongoing inter-corporate
slugfest / struggle to exercise 'human control' over
their leaky, creaky, rusting nuke-beast, and its
2000-plus old-line (high paid) union employees,
while they air their dirty laundry in public,
is the best show in town.
If you're into scary movies.
The result of which, only furthers any conscious being's
plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face awareness: the inner
workings at SONGS is more laissez-faire Chinese-fire-drill,
than the in-control, ship-shape, zero-tolerance work
environment one expects from the keepers of earth's
most dangerous flame aka nuke rods on the barbie.
When we do protest too much, NRC reminds us,
we're in the wrong room.
Because control of SONGS fate
lies in the hands of legislators.
So I agree with both Ace and NRC's spokesman.
Yes, SONGS should be shut down now and forever.
And yes, we're protesting - to the wrong room.
Neither of which is a new feeling.
** Ace Hoffman, Carlsbad CA 92018