Sunday, December 12, 2010

The lawless mob at San Onofre... testimony by the spouse of a Licensed Nuclear Reactor Operator...

12/12/10

Dear Readers,

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has finally announced the date and location of the special hearing on San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station's ongoing -- AND WORSENING -- problems -- problems with honesty in the workforce, from top to bottom. The announcement was made just a few business days before the event. If they really didn't know the date earlier, what is that late notice costing the public in short-notice airfares and hotel bookings? If they knew and didn't notify the public earlier, what excuse is there for such short notice, besides to try to keep us from showing up at all?

The date is this coming Tuesday, December 14th, 2010, and the location is the usual location in San Clemente which they use alternatively with one in Dana Point [correction: it will be in Dana Point...], both of which are way too small by at least half -- depending mainly on how many San Onofre employees are cajoled into attending -- they are there to overwhelm the activists for the media, and to impress the NRC with their enthusiasm for their jobs. The length of time that people can speak will be determined mainly by how many of those employees think they can speak coherently for a few minutes in favor of nuclear power -- not an easy thing to do, especially knowing your comments might end up on You-Tube these days...

In any event, this hearing is too little, too late. The NRC will hear tales of token improvements and excuses for why there is no real improvement (such as, the boss is new and has to get used to the environment, the people, the plant...).

These are the same tales we've heard at EVERY ONE of these hearings for three, four, five years...

The problems started long ago, before the plant was built.

For example, everyone knew it was located in an earthquake zone, with new faults literally popping up all over Southern California all the time. Yet they chose to build it anyway. And sure enough, the dangers from newly discovered earthquake faults are being ignored by the reactor operators and the regulators.

Everyone knew the population around San Onofre would grow tremendously over the years. Yet they said it was isolated from population centers.

Everyone knew there was nowhere to put the deadly used reactor cores after the 5 years or so of being irradiated within the reactor. (About one third of the "pile" is removed every 18 months.)

The "spent fuel pools" are located outside the reactor containment domes, vulnerable to fires, floods, tsunamis, airplane strikes, earthquakes and YES -- they even knew about "terrorism" back then.

Yet they built the reactors anyway.

The pools were promised to be only TEMPORARY storage for the deadly waste.

The waste would be taken offsite as soon as it cools sufficiently for "safe" transport, they said.

It wasn't.

It isn't.

It won't be.

It can't be.

Thousands of tons of deadly reactor cores at San Onofre stand as the most concentrated lethal hazard anywhere in California, except of course, a similarly-sized and situated hot pile at Diablo Canyon, and a few much smaller piles scattered in several other places around the state. No chemical plant comes close to the potential for deaths downwind and downstream of these facilities. And, no other type of facility is so poorly regulated, so under-insured, so secretive.

Despite all these known dangers (and many more), people built nuclear power plants anyway. And they've been running with a minuscule level of public and government scrutiny since then. The newspapers and other media only report on the generic idea that nuclear power is opposed by "environmentalists." Such reports ignore the fact that, for the species to survive, for the most part, we ALL have to be environmentalists, and thus, not surprisingly, the majority of the population has always opposed nuclear power -- especially the majority of well-informed, educated, literate (!) citizens. Scientists, doctors, economists, lawyers... just about everyone who is not making money directly or indirectly from nuclear power can see good reasons to oppose it, or at the very least, not support it. And the more people know about available energy alternatives, the less they side with nuclear power. Wall Street has never seriously endorsed nuclear power despite massive financial support from government.

Right now, San Onofre is at the bottom of the list when it comes to "well-run" reactors. It has what's known as an "INPO-4" rating -- the bottom of the heap, as judged by the commercial nuclear power reactor operators themselves.

San Onofre is plagued with fraud problems, intimidation problems, and would-be whistleblowers who are afraid to talk to other workers, their union chiefs, their bosses, their bosses' bosses, the NRC, the media, or the public, for fear of retribution. So the complaint count goes down and the NRC is happy. Then, if the complaint count goes up, the NRC is happy because it shows that employees are cooperating with the NRC by filing more complaints -- never mind that it might just as well show there are simply more problems than ever. The point is, either way, the NRC takes it as a sign that things are getting better!

Right now, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hasn't got a clue as to what to do. We know they don't have a clue because they've been trying everything for years and years and things just keep getting worse. And they can't even schedule a public hearing and then give the public a proper chance to be heard! Or, presumably, pay reasonable air fares.

We'll get our three minutes to speak -- maybe two if it's crowded. The NRC and the utility company executives -- mostly new ones -- will carry on for an hour or more, saying they are measuring the performance levels carefully, and things are looking good.

They'll say that the I-beam that was dropped into the spent fuel pool last month wasn't significant. The what?!?

Just a few years ago the spent fuel pool was so full that the beam would almost surely have landed on some reactor cores, possibly causing the deaths of millions of local residents including everyone at the plant. But since they got the cores out in the nick of time, the I-beam dropped into the spent fuel pool wasn't significant! Those hundreds of core assemblies that have been removed from the spent fuel pool have been put into even MORE dangerous "dry casks." The dry casks are vulnerable to all the same risks as the spent fuel pools and the reactors themselves, and more.

The dry casks can even simply catch fire without a spark, because the zirconium cladding on the fuel rods is pyrophoric, and IF one catches fire, chances are they'll all burn until they are gone -- vaporized -- because they are so close to each other, and the fires are so hot, and so unquenchable and so radioactive that no one can come near them -- not in a hazmat suit, not in a helicopter (or both).

They'll just burn and burn and burn...

And the casks are just a little ways back from the sea, and just 50 feet or so above the high water line... AND GET THIS:

These dry casks were built AFTER the earthquake in Indonesia that killed hundreds of thousands of people without a meltdown anywhere (but reactors thousands of miles away, in India, WERE damaged). Waves exceeded 60 feet that day, and carried freight trains miles inland. Freight trains run right by San Onofre.

You'd think they'd know better.

Well, maybe they do. But criminals always know better. That's why we punish them for their actions. Otherwise, we put them in mental institutions. We all know right from wrong, don't we? Perhaps. But at least with nuclear power, we all have to admit: It's complicated. How does ANYONE balance the "need for electricity" with the dangers of any given technology?

Well, cover-ups, fraud, worker intimidation, whistleblowers afraid to come forward, and lies, lies and more lies should help YOU decide! Any industry that needs to be run in the dark is probably a bad choice for the public's energy source. That should be a "given." And in the era of WikiLeaks, it might even be said that any industry that needs to be run in secret is no longer viable.

That I-beam that fell into the spent fuel pool wasn't just a drop in the bucket. The utiliy wanted to keep it secret. And they especially don't want you to know that it wasn't an isolated incident. In 2001 the workers at San Onofre dropped a crane that they were lifting with a gantry in the turbine room, destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of equipment but fortunately, causing no injuries. As with last month's I-beam incident, the public would never have found out about the earlier crane incident if a worker hadn't spoken -- against regulations -- to a member of the public.

These were both very serious incidents. The disclosure of the 2001 event made it obvious that neither Cal-OSHA nor even the federal OSHA has any jurisdiction for anything at San Onofre. In other words, no crane experts were overseeing San Onofre's crane operations. Just the NRC, who think they know everything better than anyone else. Cal-OSHA employees, in conversation with this author, didn't even know which jurisdiction (San Diego or Orange County) would go in and inspect the site, IF they were allowed on-site! A spokesperson for the federal OSHA, in a letter to this author, stated that OSHA does not inspect nuclear facilities -- that's the job of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The NRC knows about as much about I-beams and cranes and lifting as it does about human performance factors and how to run an honest shop. Not a thing, apparently.

After the 2001 "crane-drop" incident, Southern California Edison reportedly had to do approximately five million dollars in replacement of worn lifting equipment such as cables and "spreader bars" (the failure to use a "spreader bar" was determined to be the "root cause" of the 2001 incident) as well as training for all employees who might be involved in a lift of any sort. They had to establish new procedures for continued training on an annual basis. It became a costly mistake, because of a whistleblower. Otherwise, it would have been a "small" insurance claim and "business-as-usual" at the plant.

Well, all those fixes didn't fix things forever. Last month, San Onofre's workers nearly killed us all AGAIN.

If they can't handle cranes safely -- dangerous but common industrial machines -- why should ANYONE think they can handle radiation safely?

If they lie about safety inspections, fire inspections, security inspections, etc., year after year (and they have), then why should anyone trust them about anything else?

It's a lawless mob at San Onofre.

Meanwhile, despite the obvious risks it now entails, more and more whistleblowers ARE coming forward. They keep coming forward because -- as a 25-year veteran of the plant told this author in a private meeting more than a year ago (and things have only gotten worse), the people with integrity at San Onofre are becoming very seriously frightened.

We should be, too.

Whistleblowers keep popping up: At hearings, in the media, and in letters to activists. They can't bear to remain "team players" while putting the public at grave risk. It's against their moral code.

Their spouses are also frightened.

Below are two letters I received last week from Bethann Chambers, who is the wife of the Licensed Nuclear Reactor Operator whose compelling September 2010 testimony I recorded and posted on my You-Tube channel last month. No matter how scared you might previously have been that San Onofre is an accident-waiting-to-happen, Mrs. Chambers' letters should put you over the edge.

Yet at the upcoming NRC hearing on Tuesday we'll be told -- as we always are -- that the "metrics" are showing continued and steady improvement in trust, honesty, openness... that there was no "cover-up" about the I-beam, it just wasn't important!

San Onofre is the greatest impediment to a safe SoCal environment there could ever be. It's time to close the plant permanently. One reactor is currently shut down and all its fuel removed for an extensive overhaul. The other reactor is run by overworked, harried, scared employees who barely understand the real dangers we all face because of their "service" to our community, and who are unaware of the clean alternatives that are available instead. We CAN shut THIS plant down forever. And we must. There's simply no one honest enough in this world to run it!

Besides, renewable energy IS ready to take over! From offshore wind farms, from atmospheric vortex engines, from solar rooftops, and even from good-old-conservation -- in California, switching to LED lights, for instance, would, ALONE, allow us to keep the nukes closed forever.

There's just no reason to let this monster keep making more deadly radioactive waste. No reason to keep having hearings. No reason to keep trying. Nuclear power was never financially viable, it exists only on false promises, and San Onofre is a disaster-waiting-to-happen. Shut it down before it kills us.

Sincerely,

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

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Letter from Bethann Chambers:
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Date: Thu, 9 Dec 2010

Subject: The Truth about San Onofre from the wife of a Licensed Nuclear Reactor Operator

Hello Ace,

I just happened to comes across your blog and a link to a You Tube video of my husband speaking at the September 16th NRC public meeting. Super video clip!

Anyway, since that meeting I have written an article about SONGS, and I've been sending it to every person I can find who has ever written anything about the problems at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

I thought you might be interested in reading it. You also have my permission to post it on your blog, if you want. I really believe that the problems at SONGS have reached a boiling point and the health and safety of workers and the public are in jeopardy.

I also believe that there needs to be much more public scrutiny of how Southern California Edison manages the plant.

Thanks for speaking out.

Sincerely,
Bethann Chambers

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The Truth about San Onofre from the wife of a Licensed Nuclear Reactor Operator:
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Why the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is a Rogue Beast, and Why the NRC needs to Shut the Plant Down until Southern California Edison can get its House in Order

Written by: Bethann Chambers

I'm writing this article because I believe the time has come for the public to know the truth about what really goes on inside the security gates at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. My husband, James Chambers, has worked at SONGS for 27 years, and has been a Southern California Edison employee for 25. James was in training to get his reactor operators license when we were married 21 years ago. James is a licensed nuclear reactor operator for Units 2 and 3. Licensed nuclear reactor operators are actually a very elite group of nuclear professionals; there are a finite number of individuals who have licenses to operate nuclear power plants in the United States and around the world. James worked in the operations department for 17 years before getting a position as an Operations Training Instructor. He has also worked in Nuclear Oversight, Emergency Planning, and had been working in the Nuclear Regulatory Affairs Licensing Department, before going on medical leave because of work induced health problems.

Here is a summary of SONGS issues:

* Southern California Edison selected the wrong individuals to run units 2 & 3 right from the start.

* These wrong individuals have been trying to run SONGS like a branch of the military for over 30 years.

* A militaristic managerial style is pervasive throughout all the departments. "Shut up. Do your job, and don't complain!"

* The management litmus test is if some methodology was used in the nuclear navy (back in the day) then it is good enough for San Onofre.

* If a worker raises a concern to middle or senior management they are usually regarded as being a problem. The pervasive management attitude at SONGS is: "If you don't like the way we do things, then get lost! Take a hike to another nuke plant if you don't like the way we do things here."

* Most senior managers can best be described as "Rough old dogs that are not going to learn any new tricks."

* The 12 ½ hour rotating work schedule from dayshift to graveyard shift for the operations department can best be described as: unhealthy, destabilizing, and unsafe.

* SCE has consistently forced its employees to work an excessive amount of overtime. During refueling outages in the 1990's my husband routinely worked 75 hours per week which is 6 days of 12 ½ hour shifts with one day off per week. This type of schedule is worked for months at a time. It is an established fact that worker fatigue is one of the leading causes of industrial accidents and poor performance; but SONGS management obviously does not care. The NRC actually had to create new worker fatigue laws to prevent nuclear workers from working an unsafe amount of overtime.

* Management bullies its non-union SONGS workers to put in extra hours, but these extra hours are for free and compensation is never provided. A class action lawsuit (Stannard vs. SCE) was recently settled quietly out of court. Employees were told that they could not enter any overtime on their time cards as "uncompensated" and they were never paid or given compensation time for any extra work they did. Workers who were members of the Emergency Response Organization remained on call and within 60 minutes of the plant for a week at a time without any compensation. SCE will now be paying all the participants of the lawsuit for their overtime work; something SCE should have done from the start.

* The pervasive management attitude at SONGS is if a worker is not willing to work 50 to 80 hours a week for 40 hours of pay they are not a team player nor a dedicated SONGS employee.

* Working an excessive amount of overtime, I believe, was a contributing factor in my husband developing a viral form of spinal meningitis in 1994. Poor ventilation in the unsanitary Control Room, and an unsanitary lunch room were probably the two primary factors which lead to his illness. There has always been a serious lack of concern at SONGS for the health and well-being of the men and women who work in the Operations department. Yet, the Operations department is the heart and brain of every nuclear generating station. If you don't have licensed operators that are fit for duty, you won't have a running nuclear power plant. That is the bottom line!

* Some of the doctors hired by SCE to work at the SONGS medical facility were not well received and were described by plant workers as incompetent.

* Supervisors and managers often become angry when workers call in sick and they are unable to hide their disdain for absent workers.

* SONGS is a poorly maintained facility. Cleanliness has never been SCE's priority. The plant itself is filthy, and full of dirt, trash, clutter, cigarette butts and unidentified tripping hazards. Other nuclear facilities, like the Quad Cities Nuclear Generating Station in Illinois, run by Excelon, looked like a hospital operating room in comparison to SONGS when my husband visited to help out with a performance assessment.

* SONGS workers can best be described as over-worked and under undue stress at all times because of poor management practices.

* Another pervasive attitude is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the enemy. The unwritten rule is that SONGS workers should never speak to the NRC. This goes hand in hand with the militaristic management style. The NRC is the enemy and everyone needs to make personal sacrifices so that SONGS can continue to run without interference from the government. Filing an allegation with the NRC is considered to be "career suicide" by many SONGS workers.

* Workers are often denied their vacation benefits or pressured to never use any of their vacation time. The pervasive management attitude is that working at SONGS is more important than a workers marriage, children, or social life. The attitude is that the SONGS worker doesn't need any relaxation time; they need to be focused on work 24 hours a day and willing to come to work at a moments notice.

* The news media is also the enemy. The unwritten rule is that SONGS workers should not speak to the press or they will be jeopardizing their job. Employees are routinely directed not to share any information with the public because the plant has the worst INPO rating possible and many fear for their personal safety. If a nuclear power plant is poorly rated it means the staff is not competent in operating the facility.

* In the Operations department, individuals must have a reactor operator's license before they can work in the Control Room or hold certain senior positions, but in other non-union supporting departments there are no legal requirements for holding a management position. In these supporting departments at SONGS there are many completely unqualified managers. It seems like the only thing a person needs to do to become a manager is to be the hiring director's good buddy, or a good looking woman. Qualified individuals are often passed up for promotions and pay raises while completely incompetent individuals become managers and department directors. This is a well known practice at SONGS. There are numerous dead-wood managers and directors that no one knows what they do or why they were given their jobs. SONGS has a workforce twice the size of similar nuclear generating stations but is the poorest rated in the nation.

* There are many senior managers who are very knowledgeable about nuclear power generation but they lack the social and interpersonal relationship skills to run their departments successfully. In other words, these managers are social imbeciles who cannot say: hello, good night, or thank you for doing a good job. They treat people like machines. The thing that is so ironic is that even the worker who is socially challenged themselves does not want to work for another socially challenged supervisor because they don't like being ignored and treated poorly either.

* There is a three tiered society at SONGS. On the top tier is the Good Old Boys Club which includes very few women. The GOB's are the senior management at SONGS. The Good Old Boys will usually cover each others backs in every situation. Rarely will one Good Old Boy throw another GOB under the bus. On the second tier are the Company Stooges. The Company Stooges want to be in the Good Old Boys Club, so they will do anything they are told to do including lie for a Good Old Boy. There is an obvious and serious lack of integrity among GOB's and Company Stooges. On the bottom tier are the Worker Bees. The Worker Bees are blamed for everything wrong at the plant. The Worker Bees are generally looked down upon by the Company Stooges and the Good Old Boys as being the lowest form of life at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. If a Worker Bee has a concern or a problem the GOB's and the Company Stooges just blow off or ignore everything a Worker Bee says. Any formal complaints that a Worker Bee might file are usually just swept under the rug and denied. This tendency to ignore worker concerns has lead to a ten-fold increase in allegations filed with the NRC. SCE historically has never corrected any problems until an outside government agency fines the company or requires them by law to correct their work place violations.

* The culture at SONGS is sick; this is the best word to describe the toxic work environment at the plant.

* Senior management at SONGS is in complete denial. They refuse to acknowledge that bad management practices have caused the ongoing downward performance spiral. SONGS is rated an INPO 4 plant and the worst run nuclear power plant in the country. SONGS has consistently been ranked as one of the lowest performers in the area of Industrial safety for over 5 years.

* Many good employees have already left SONGS because they will not put up with the insanity that goes on at San Onofre.

* SONGS received a "Chilling Effects" letter from the NRC in March of this year because SONGS management has made everyone afraid of raising concerns for fear of being retaliated against. If the workers at the nuclear power plant are afraid to raise concerns then the health and safety of the public is in jeopardy!

* It is my sincere recommendation that the NRC should shut down SONGS (order SCE to place both units in Mode 6) before someone is seriously injured or a disgruntled worker does something to sabotage the plant. I believe that the toxic work environment has reached a boiling point, and SCE will not be able to correct any of its Safety Conscious Work Environment problems or Human Performance Cross-Cutting issues until a shutdown occurs.

I believe that there needs to be much more public scrutiny of Southern California Edison's management of the plant. For 21 years I have silently stood by my husband, and kissed him good-bye in the morning or afternoon only to see him return home looking half dead, mentally and physically beaten into the ground, after a day or night of working at SONGS. I made a decision, though, following the September 16, 2010 public meeting in Dana Point that I was no longer going to remain silent. What is going on at SONGS is a travesty, and an outrage that needs to end immediately. The only thing my husband has ever wanted was to be able to go to work, do his job to the best of his ability, and be treated fairly by his supervisors and co-workers. That's it!

The four top managers at the September public meeting: Bauder, Sheppard, McCool, and O'Meara sounded like nuclear politicians and everything they said about how they are going to correct their SCWE problem were nothing but fabrications to appease the NRC. It is so ironic that SONGS has always placed people with characteristically poor social skills in charge of departments that have been designated to correct their "social" problems. Upon the recommendation of the NRC, my husband went through hours of mediation with a Cornell University mediator, an SCE corporate lawyer and the SONGS Station Manager: Mr. Al Hochevar. The corporate representative and Mr. Hochevar refused to do anything viable to resolve the retaliation my husband received from his supervisor. And what is worse is that the SCE representatives are either completely ignorant of federal whistleblower regulations concerning protected speech or they were doing a very good job playing dumb. There is no evidence that SONGS management has any inclination to correct any of its Cross-Cutting or Safety Conscience Work Environment issues.

Let me clarify that I am not writing this just because I'm angry and want justice for my own husband. No, I'm angry and I want justice for every mistreated, maligned and wrongly terminated worker at SONGS. After my husband spoke at the September public meeting, the chatter at the plant was that he had "come down hard on the company." Let me clarify that James Chambers did not come down hard on the company. He spoke the truth; there is a difference between being unfairly critical and being transparent about how things really are.

Here's where the rubber hits the road, folks. Senior management at SONGS will never admit that any worker has been retaliated against, bullied, wrongly terminated, nor will they ever discipline any of their bad managers because if they do it will be an admission of guilt and an instant employment lawsuit. So they just keep denying everything in the hopes that the truth will get lost in the shuffle and no one will really know what actually happens at SONGS. SONGS management acts like they don't know why the plant has received an INPO 4 rating or why the NRC has a record number of inspectors at the plant to investigate all the problems. I can tell you exactly what the biggest problem is: It is the lack of honesty! I don't have any problem saying that Southern California Edison aka Edison International (EIX) is a corrupt and immoral corporation. One of the rumors being whispered among workers is that SCE truly does not care about the problems at SONGS; because from a corporate taxes and profit perspective it's better for the company that SONGS is a huge money pit. You see, SCE does not make money by running SONGS in a cost efficient manner; they make money from capital investment. So if SCE has to spend several hundred million dollars on equipment, labor, contractors, advisors and corporate re-education programs it actually ends up being to the company's benefit from a taxes and profit perspective. What is going on at SONGS is really a classic example of a corrupt corporation putting profits ahead of the health and safety of their workers and the public. This is the question that every southern California resident needs to ask themselves: Is this the kind of public utility we want running our primary power source for the region? Let your voice be heard at the next NRC public meeting.

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Followup:
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Date: Fri, 10 Dec 2010 11:11:18

Hi Ace,

You know, one of the things that I didn't say in my article is that my opinion about nuclear power has changed recently. I really feel that we need to use the natural resources (that God has provided) in a responsible manner; which means that we do not create substances that are harmful to humans, animals, and plant life. Harmful substances would include things like: spent fuel rods, radioactive waste products, Genetically Modified Organisms, vaccines containing mercury for children and adults, etc. You know what I mean. The corporate greed and corruption surrounding the whole nuclear power industry is deep and wide. My eyes have finally opened up on this one. My husband knows several men who have worked for many years in nuclear power, and have become so thoroughly disgusted by what they have seen at SONGS and other power plants that they want nothing to do with it. That's where my husband has arrived. James and I are now teaching our children that they need to be entrepreneurs and have their own business, and not be a corporate slave. The whole idea that a multi-national corporation will take care of its workers is such a lie. Large multi-national corporations only care about making money, and they usually do not care about their workers or the environment. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with earning an honest and comfortable living; but that's not what Edison International is about. Edison is truly harming the environment and the people who live and work in the area around SONGS. Getting the NRC to shut down SONGS for the Safety Conscience Work Environment and Human Performance problems, I believe, is the first step in getting SONGS completely decommissioned. So thanks for taking the time to read my article, and for posting it. I don't know how much influence you or I have, but maybe if enough people are informed of the truth things will change for the better.

Have great day!
Bethann

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Newsletter authorship information:
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Ace Hoffman
Author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download: acehoffman.org
Blog: acehoffman.blogspot.com
YouTube: youtube.com/user/AceHoffman
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