By Eric Heinz
It was an emotional meeting for many members of the public as well as the Community Engagement Panel (CEP).
On Nov. 29, the CEP met to discuss the next steps of enforcement related to a canister incident at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) on Aug. 3.
Going forward, Southern California Edison (SCE), the majority owner and operator of SONGS, will take part in a public hearing in Texas, where the NRC’s Region IV is headquartered, in order to determine how the operators will better train staff and ensure anyone who starts working for the contractors will have the appropriate knowledge and skillsets.
The root cause of the canister incident was identified as contractors without the proper training working on the transfer process. As the properly trained contractors left, there apparently wasn’t enough oversight to make sure the new contractors had the necessary training.
“This event was unacceptable. We failed to provide the oversight, and the contractor failed. We own this and Holtec owns this,” Tom Palmisano, SCE’s vice president of decommissioning and chief nuclear officer, said during the CEP meeting.
Holtec International, Inc. is the designer of the latest canisters being stored at SONGS and is contracting services for the transfer process.
The violations the NRC cited related to the incident were the improper loading of the canister and SCE waiting too long to make an official notice of the incident. The canister could have dropped 18 feet due to a lack of tension in its line when the operators were lowering it into a concrete repository, which has concerned many people who follow the issues at SONGS closely.
“Once the licensee has identified the cause and the corrective actions, we will do another formal inspection, once they say they’re ready,” said Scott Morris, the NRC deputy regional administrator for Region IV. “I don’t know when that will be. We will inspect in detail the cause analyses and the corrective actions, and ideally, we’ll be able to make a final regulatory conclusion that would support the licensee continue to do what they intend.”
Palmisano said that may be able to happen by late January. A detailed process of the next steps for SCE include committing to better training programs, more detailed procedures, more “intrusive and effective” oversight, improvements to canister loading by installing cameras and alarms, as well as creating a corrective action program.
Prior to the meeting, a man had visibly irked CEP board chairman David Victor, Ph.D., and was nearly escorted from the QLN Conference Center.
Some audience members frequently interrupted the meeting, angry about the lack of notice the operators gave regarding the incident. Many people who criticized SCE for its handling of the operations said they want the California Coastal Commission and NRC to revoke SONGS licenses to store the fuel on-site.
Multiple public speakers said they had concerns with SCE going forward with the storage of spent nuclear fuel near the San Clemente coastline.
SONGS officials said during the meeting that they could resume transferring nuclear fuel rods to dry cask storage, as long as the operators can demonstrate they can safely and effectively complete the transfer process and that certain operational procedures are improved.
At the beginning of the meeting, Victor said that next year could be the best chance advocates have at changing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, which currently doesn’t allow for temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel. Congressman Darrell Issa introduced several bills to amend it along with Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, but none of them got further than the House. Victor said the reason for that is because of the new Congress and Senate, but that if it isn’t passed next year, it could be delayed further due to 2020 being an election year.
A special extreme situation CEP meeting is still planned for the first quarter of 2019, but an official date had not yet been announced.