Public Watchdogs: Because the Public has a right to know

Letter protesting NRC denial of independent public observers

VIA EMAIL, Fri, 7 Sep 2018 14:51:31 -0700
Subject: NRC Special Inspection of SONGS, initiated August 17, 2018

Dear NRC Deputy Division Manager Linda Howell,

Thank you for speaking with me this morning for the purpose of denying my request to observe the NRC’s regulatory activities this coming Monday, September 10.

This morning, on or around 9:15 AM Pacific Time, you called to inform me   that you will not allow my organization, Public Watchdogs, to monitor or witness an NRC inspection of the safety protocols at the failed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

To summarize the call, you informed me of the following:

  1. You are denying public access to the inspection. 
    We requested that Public Watchdogs be allowed to witness the process on Monday. You have denied the public its right to access an NRC investigation funded by public money.
  2. Edison is solely responsible for its own investigation.  You reiterated that the NRC is not conducting an investigation of any kind, rather it is “inspecting” Southern California Edison’s own internal investigation.
  3. The NRC is not conducting an “investigation” rather it has been chartered to perform an “inspection” in accordance with the Memorandum to Eric J. Simpson, (i.e. the “NRC inspection charter) dated August 17, 2018.
  4. Southern California Edison is solely responsible for investigating itself when “near-miss” accidents occur. In this instance the NRC is allowing Edison to perform “its own causal analysis.”
  5. The NRC has intentionally delayed its inspection. 
    • The accident happened on Friday, August 3, at 1:30 in the afternoon. Edison reported the accident the following Monday, August 6th, at an unspecified time of day.  The NRC waited to issue an inspection charter until August 17th.  You stated that an investigation of the near-miss nuclear waste incident was “premature,” until Edison got its story together.
    • According to the inspection charter,  “Region IV [i.e. the NRC] became aware of the SONGS “near-miss” incident on Monday, August 6, 2018, when the licensee provided a courtesy notification and described it as a “near-miss” or “near-hit” event. The reporting requirements of the incident are still being evaluated by the Region and discussed with the licensee.”
  6. There will be a public briefing. You stated that there will be a public briefing conducted by the NRC. You observed that this briefing will probably be convened under the auspices of the Edison Community Engagement Panel (CEP) and you averred that the CEP is an “independent” body.
  7. Edison has not committed to delaying the project in writing. The commitment is purely verbal on Edison’s part.

I am requesting that you reconsider your denial of public participation based on the following facts:

A) The public perception is that the NRC is not doing its job.

Specifically, the NRC failed to protect the public’s safety when it allowed untested, experimental nuclear steam generators to be installed at SONGS without a design review.

B) The NRC threatened the public’s safety through its negligence.

Because of NRC negligence, the experimental nuclear steam generators at San Onofre, failed after 11 months. They failed because they were not subjected to a required design review by NRC.

C) The steam generators blew radioactive steam into the environment.
Edison release radioactive steam into the environment because the NRC allowed it to install defective and untested steam generators that did not comply with NRC regulations.

D) The latest accident put the public at risk.
On August 3, a thin-walled steel canister weighing 105,000 pounds filled with deadly radioactive waste was nearly dropped 18 feet.  Each of these cans contains on average, more deadly radiation that what was released into the atmosphere by Chernobyl. Dropping one of these cans put the public in a clear and present danger of a nuclear incident that could potentially require the permanent evacuation of large portions of Southern California.

E)  The public was never notified and will not be notified in the future. 
The only reason the public knows about this “near-miss” nuclear disaster is because a safety worker reported it publicly at a Southern California Edison “Community Engagement Panel meeting. The public has a right to know immediately if an accident or near-miss incident has occurred at San Onofre. The NRC has participated in keeping the public in the dark by remaining silent about this issue after it was informed. This is normal NRC policy.

F) The NRC has failed to conduct due diligence. 

It has been 35 days since the accident occurred. But rather than conducting an “investigation” the NRC is conducting an “inspection.”

G) The case has grown “cold.” 

By delaying its “investigation” the NRC has allowed Southern California Edison, and its vendors to fabricate a story of what happened in anticipation of the investigation.
H) We question the long delay in the inspection. 

During our phone conversation you mentioned that there were several phone calls between Edison and the NRC before the “inspection” was announced. Our concern is that when a near-miss nuclear disaster occurs, it is incumbent upon the NRC to investigate immediately and to treat this incident as a potential public health emergency. It is our conviction that qualified NRC personnel should have been at the site within hours of learning about the near-miss event.

I) A delayed investigation is a sloppy investigation.

Waiting one month to interview witnesses means that the witnesses’ memories of the events are not fresh. The NRC is now examining vital evidence that is no longer reliable.

J) Witnesses have likely been influenced by Edison or its vendors.

By delaying the investigation, Edison and its vendors have had more than a month to fire, terminate, intimidate, and spin potential witnesses. At the very least, the utility and its vendors have had a lengthy period of time to influence and craft the testimony of witnesses who may have been subtly coerced.

K) The NRC’s secrecy and slow response suggests tacit collussion.

The fact that NRC has delayed its investigation for 38 days suggests that the NRC is not taking this incident seriously. The fact that this is an “inspection” and not an “investigation” also suggests that the NRC may be a tacitly complicit partner in a cover-up instead of an authentic inquiry into what went wrong.

Finally, during our conversation, you informed me that the NRC may interview the employees of the vendors involved in the incident, and that it might interview the safety inspector who reported the problem publicy at Edison’s Community Engagement Panel meeting on August 9, 2018 (see video, minute 2:19:58).

Accordingly, we ask the following questions:

  1. Who will the NRC be meeting with at Edison?
  2. You stated that Edison made a “verbal commitment” to suspend movement of the canisters. Is it NRC policy to rely on unwritten “verbal commitments” from the utilities it regulates, or is this an exception being made exclusively on behalf of Edison?
  3. Will NRC  interview witnesses in the presence of their employers, managers, or co-workers privately, or will the inspections occur in a group setting with Edison managers and attorneys present?
  4. Will Edison, or the vendors’ attorneys be present during the inspection?
  5. Why is the Licensee (Edison) being allowed to determine when fuel loading operations will resume?
  6. Is NRC allowing Edison to self monitor and mitigate without any kind of investigation?
  7. The inspection charter says ” If applicable, review the licensee’s analysis that demonstrated the canister will continue to perform as designed for continued storage OR review licensee’s inspection plan to safely remove or lift the canister from the vault to support inspection of the bottom of the canister to demonstrate the canister did not receive any damage that would inhibit the component from continuing to perform as designed.”

Why is Edison being allowed to conduct its own analysis? Why isn’t NRC conducting an independent analysis?

Charles Langley, Executive Director

Public Watchdogs (858) 752-4600