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Watchdog Group Calls Regulation of San Onofre Nuclear Waste Site ‘A Miserable Failure’

View of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant in north San Diego County on March 15, 2011. (Credit: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

View of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant in north San Diego County on March 15, 2011. (Credit: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that Holtec International, the manufacturer behind a faulty nuclear waste storage container at the San Onofre nuclear plant, would not face a fine, the independent California advocacy group Public Watchdogs said in a news release.

At issue is an incident in which Holtec engineers redesigned the internal cooling components of its “multi-purpose canister” to replace solid aluminum supports with four-inch bolts, Public Watchdogs said. In March of 2018, a loose piece of a bolt was found inside a newly manufactured canister while transferring spent fuel from cooling pools.

The group said the NRC’s decision not to impose a fine was “a miserable failure” to regulate the plant’s nuclear waste stockpile.

“Holtec’s cans store the deadliest stuff on earth. That’s why they are required to report design changes to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Charles Langley, executive director of Public Watchdogs, said in a statement. “The NRC has just given Holtec a free pass to continue violating the law, which requires that design changes be registered with the NRC. Today’s failure by the NRC to fine Holtec for breaking the law shows that its isn’t serious about protecting the public’s safety.”

“Given the failures at San Onofre, it is disturbing that  NRC is also failing to enforce Federal Law. The Public has a Right to know that those laws were passed to protect their safety. The Public pays the folks at the NRC very well, good benefits, vacation, retirement, health insurance. They need to do their job and start enforcing the law,” Nina Babiarz, board member of Public Watchdogs, said in a statement.

The San Onofre plant, located in San Clemente, began operating in 1968 but was shut down in 2012 and has since been the subject of ongoing investigations into safety and regulation of its nuclear waste storage.

In a Los Angeles Times report in August of 2018, San Juan Capistrano Councilwoman Pam Patterson called the site a “Fukushima waiting to happen,” given the past incidents of equipment failure as well as the plant’s location on an active earthquake fault and its proximity to the ocean, as well as the large population that lives nearby.

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