Retaliation at San Onofre nuclear power plant

A group of West Coast politicians last week insisted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission better inspect nuclear reactors in the U.S. in light of the ongoing disaster in Fukushima.

As Reuters reports, a Democratic congresswoman, Lois Capps, has even asked the NRC to decline the license renewal request from the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Reportedly, the NRC has already acquiesced, and approved safety investigations into U.S. nuclear reactors. Two California senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, have also urged that the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station also be inspected.

But, what good are inspections of plants if the truth is suppressed?

Not more than three weeks before the tsunami hit Japan and touched off the worst nuclear reactor catastrophe since Chernobyl, an environmental group in Orange County released an internal memo to the Los Angeles Times which says that workers at the San Onofre are afraid of retaliation if they report problems at their Southern California Edison-operated nuclear facility.

As the Times article states, an engineer at the plant said more than 24 workers who came forward to report safety problems said “they feared retaliation from management after they made complaints.” Ninety percent of those who feared management fallout from their complaints did, in fact, reportedly experience some retaliation. .

One would think that complaints about plant safety would be welcomed by those who manage a nuclear generating facility that has acknowledged 10 times as many complaints as the industry average.

Likewise, one would think that operators of a plant that ranks lower than 75 percent in overall performance when measured against others in the U.S., according to a 2008 report by the Times, would not only welcome reports of problems by those who have firsthand experience with the reactor, but demand them.

Given that, according to Salon, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with more than a decade of experience regulating nuclear power plants is now an executive at the Shaw Group, the construction contractor responsible for building nearly all of U.S. reactors, one wonders just how many at the NRC will listen more to the “nuclear lobby” than to complaints from plant workers. Safety has had a long history of taking a back seat to profit in this country. And, what is happening in Japan now shows that the corporate bottom line has resulted in not only less talk, but less action, too, in that country.

Those lawmakers on the West Coast who are rightly concerned about plant safety are invited to look into the suppression of information about San Onofre’s safety issues, and demand transparency from the operators and owners of all nuclear power facilities.

Jayne Lyn Stahl is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.

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