On Monday, about seven months after workers nearly dropped a canister filled with spent nuclear fuel rods at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), the NRC flexed a bit of its regulatory muscle by proposing a $116,000 fine on plant owner Southern California Edison (SCE).
In case you forgot the disturbing tidbit of news that got us here, here’s the gist: on August 3, while workers were lowering a 50-ton canister filled with nuclear waste into the dry storage facility on site at the plant, the canister caught on a ledge inside the vault, where it sat for nearly an hour and could have potentially fallen nearly 20 feet. The public only found out about it when a whistleblower spoke about the event at a SONGS community engagement panel meeting a few days later. SCE referred to the incident as a “near-miss.”
In a statement issued on Monday, the NRC said they’d be fining SCE for two violations of NRC requirements, one related to the lack of proper safety equipment to provide redundant drop protection for a canister being loaded into dry storage, and the other due to their failure to report the incident to the NRC in a timely manner.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, a SCE spokesperson said that the utility company will not contest the fine, and that the fine will be paid by shareholders, not ratepayers.
In the aftermath of the “near-miss,” SCE claims that they’ve increased training and oversight for when the loading of canisters into dry storage resumes (since the snafu surrounding the last canister–number 29 out of 73 intended for onsite storage–all loading of canisters has been paused). SCE also said that they’ve begun inspecting the surfaces of the loaded canisters with robots that will provide data about the canisters’ integrity. The NRC will not allow the loading to resume until they’re able to thoroughly review that data, and there’s no word yet on how long that might take.
In the meantime, 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste continues to sit at the San Onofre site, some in dry cask storage, while the rest still in cooling pools awaiting transfer. For more information about why that’s the case, click here to read our in-depth analysis of the ongoing SONGS nuclear waste controversy.