SC Times Column on White Powder Incident



The struggles we face together as a town strengthen our relationships. It?s what makes us more of a village than a city. It?s the difference between a house and a home. Family members don?t always see eye to eye, but they certainly do come together when they need to. That is what I?ve been seeing as we come to grips with what could be a serious threat posed by the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

The plant is being run by those given the difficult task to ?improve performance?, which requires creating greater efficiencies while maintaining extremely rigorous safety standards. The complex operations are being supervised by highly qualified people from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) who have the huge responsibility of overseeing the work of over 3000 employees with only three onsite inspectors. Our city leaders are understandably focused on other matters that do actually fall within their jurisdiction and they are relying on others at SONGS to do the same. But we still have serious doubts about our safety, and it is time to take a hard look at the evidence.

Without going into a lot of detail, here is the situation that confronts us. It seems the new management team at SONGS is struggling to find that perfect balance between safety and optimization for ?improved performance?. The NRC is operating under guidelines that require them to push the responsibility of resolving many of the safety violations back onto those who may have made conditions unsafe in the first place. The workforce is doing their best to comply with rising expectations while questioning the impact on safety, if they dare to do so, in what some see as a climate of fear and retaliation. Then there is our trusting community, just now waking up to this harsh reality of the worsening conditions recently documented by the NRC. Now, the questions have been raised loud and clear, as many members of the community have spoken out in unison, (see ?LETTERS? at The situation is unhealthy, dangerous and persistent.

My brother is a doctor who treats patients suffering from chemical dependency, and the similarities are hard to miss.  The complexity of the problems goes far beyond the individual. Those who are closest to the patient must realize that things will only get worse if someone doesn?t step in to help that person understand that they are on the path of self destruction, taking those they love along with them. We all have a role to play in helping others to make better choices which have a direct bearing on our collective future, starting with acknowledging the problem, and then becoming more accountable for our own actions. My brother says it takes at least 90 days to purge the toxins from the body so a person is able to return to a balanced chemistry. That medical advice may be just as applicable here, and as fate would have it, that opportunity may have just arrived in the form of another unexpected delay.

Unit 2 has suffered yet another setback recently, due to a fine coating of white powder that was accidentally blasted all over the entire chamber of the containment dome while testing for air leaks under high pressure, (article on our website). Experts confirm that this has the potential to have a corrosive effect on equipment, can foul sensitive instruments; and can block filters and motors resulting in failures due to heat buildup. Let?s make the best of this situation and intentionally extend this delay long enough to do a thorough clean up and to restore our faith in SONGS. That would give us a chance to review safety preparedness, distribute iodide tablets, and see how successful the management team is in establishing a renewed standard of excellence in efficiency and safety.

 This is the perfect time for an ?intervention?, and the NRC is the agency to do it. Please call Judith Walker of the NRC at (800) 695-7403 to encourage a 90 day ?detox? period to address the powder issue along with the other safety concerns that they have already identified, before Unit 2 is allowed to come back on line. The time has come for all of us to challenge our assumptions about SONGS and face the issues head-on.  This is the kind of ?tough love? that is called for. We may not be comfortable with the diagnosis as we take a hard look at reality, but in the end, we will become closer and stronger as a ?family? that has come together in a difficult situation through honest dialogue, with open minds and a strong commitment to do what is right for the greater good.

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