Updated (May 9, 2012 05:47 am) This now includes information from Southern California Edison and the California Independent System Operator explaining why they had published an “estimated return to service date” for San Onofre.
Original post starts here.
Stories that underly other stories can be fascinating topics for discussion.
Yesterday morning, a friend sent me a copy of a letter to US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Greg Jaczko from the US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Though signed by three other Congressman, the lead signature on that letter was Congressman Darrell Issa, the Chairman of the Committee.
The four page letter provided damaging details about Chairman Jaczko’s failures to tell the truth during testimony and concluded with the following two paragraphs:
You hold a position of public trust – a privilege with inherent requirements of honesty and transparency. To date, you have failed to meet those responsibilities. Instead, you impeded this Committee’s investigation into the management of the NRC and ignored or provided questionable responses to legitimate inquiries from Members of Congress.
Making false statements to Congress is a serious matter. The Committee has afforded you ample opportunity to clarify your testimony, only to be met with silence. Your failure to respond will be taken into consideration as the Committee evaluates further investigative actions.
(After the sentence about making false statements, there was a footnote that said See 18 U.S.C 1001)
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a press release later on May 7, 2012, the same day that the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Accountability sent the letter to Chairman Jaczko.
STATEMENT FROM CHAIRMAN GREGORY JACZKO ON SAN ONOFRE RESTART
Despite some erroneous reports in the media, there is no NRC timetable for restart of the San Onofre nuclear reactors, which have been shut down over safety issues affecting the steam generators. We have yet to receive the utility‚s written response documenting their completion of actions described in the March 27 Confirmatory Action Letter, so any discussion of a date for the restart of Unit 2 or Unit 3 is clearly premature. Once we receive their response, we will take whatever time is necessary to conduct a thorough safety review.
The interesting backstory requires the knowledge that the San Onofre nuclear power station just happens to be located in the congressional district represented in congress by Rep. Darrell Issa.
Hmmm. Could this kind of response be one of the reasons why so many of my nuclear industry colleagues think I am nuts to do battle with the Chairman of the NRC? My response to them is that bullies need to be challenged; they often back down rather quickly when people do not cry, cower, or tremble.
Disclaimer: Atomic Insights is my own work and thoughts. All funds that support it come out of my own pocket. My employer has no influence on what I write here.
Update: (May 9, 2012) Southern California Edison and the California Independent System Operator issued a joint press release to explain that SCE recognizes that “nuclear safety has no timeline” and to explain why there were media reports of a scheduled restart in June.
The ISO requires major generating units to provide an “estimated return to service date” for planning purposes. There are enormously important reasons, many that have an effect on public safety, for electric power system operators to have some basis for planning their generating needs.
Very large sums of money and a large, electrical power dependent population are involved when systems recognize that they have to provide more power than they are capable of providing. More importantly, investment decisions must be made with sufficient lead time to enable arrangements to be made for temporary, intermediate or permanent new capacity. It is simply not possible to add a large quantity of electrical generating capacity to a constrained grid overnight, no matter how much money you decide to throw at the problem.
The mature thing for the NRC Chairman to have done if he was worried that SCE was rushing on its nuclear safety responsibilities in order to meet a schedule would have been to pick up the phone and talk to the company leaders. They could have readily explained why they had provided “an estimated return to service date” to the Independent System Operator. The company and its federal nuclear regulator could have then issued a joint press release to ease any worries of a nervous public.
That informative, calming press release did not happen. Instead, the inexperienced Chairman took the opportunity to issue a press release that seems to have been intentionally designed to make SCE look like they were rushing a job for ugly monetary reasons while he, apparently the ONLY person in the nuclear world worried about nuclear safety, is holding them back so that he (and his agency, I guess) can slowly and methodically evaluate the information provided by the company to ensure that they have crossed all of their i’s and dotted all of their t’s before they can start their important generating units.
Under the Chairman’s favored scenario of not setting a restart date until all of the paperwork is complete, I am not sure when the ISO is supposed to be told when that vital 2200 MW of electrical power generating capacity will be available.
Please remember that San Onofre is located exactly where it needs to be in the large, complex, technological system (of people, buildings, wires, factories, hospitals, traffic lights, and transportation infrastructure) that has grown up in the 30 years since the plants were first brought on line. Any other power source in any other location will be operating in a less than optimal fashion and will inevitably be producing more air pollution in the stagnant air that often hovers over Southern California for days at a time in the summer.
I am not sure if you can tell, but I am getting really tired of people with no technical training or industrial experience acting as if those of us who do the hard jobs of keeping the lights on and the trains running on time are greedy money grubbers who do not take safety seriously. Give me a freaking break! Sometimes I think that John Galt had the right idea. Maybe the producers should go on strike to see how safe the Wesley Mouches and James Taggerts of the world will feel when there their magical power outlets no longer work.
Hat tip to Will Davis at Atomic Power Review for the link to the SCE and ISO press release.
Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat has some additional thoughts on the San Onofre Saga – Reactions to reactor restart remarks about San Onofre.
One more thing – The original post has been improved by adding a link to the May 7, 2012 letter that the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent to Chairman Jaczko. I had intended to include that link when I first published the post, but forgot that step in my process. Unlike the situation at my day job, there are no second checkers available at Atomic Insights. Fortunately, I have critical readers who provide a similar function. (Thanks POA).