Nuclear activist's art highlights Edison’s obfuscation

Utility giant’s released documents show amazing amount of redactions

David Weisman
  • David Weisman

Although the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has produced its final megawatt of power, many battles between regulators, activists, and energy companies with ownership stakes in the plant remain to be fought. It remains to be decided, for example, who will pay for the premature failure of new $700-million-plus steam generators at the plant or who will foot the bill for decommissioning the two remaining reactors, which could cost billions. There's also the issue of how to handle tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste, much of it stored in unsealed pools of water.

The Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility is a watchdog group that's been following these and other nuclear-related issues at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, California's last active nuclear-power plant, for years. The group consistently attends public hearings, submits commentary to regulators, and is frequently at odds with the utility industry.

Alliance staffer David Weisman has been involved in a struggle where plant operator Southern California Edison has suggested utility customers should pay for the failures at San Onofre and the California Public Utilities Commission says ratepayers deserve a refund based on what they've already paid. At the heart of this dispute is what the utility may have known about the generators before they were installed.

Edison doesn't seem to be forthcoming with the information. In a lighthearted attempt to make clear the difficulties the Alliance (appointed by the CPUC as a legal intervenor in the generator-replacement issue) has faced, Weisman has created an art installation entitled Redacted, which went on display this week at the Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Market.

"What was Edison trying to hide in their meetings about the failed steam generators at the San Onofre nuclear plant?" asks Weisman.

Quite a bit, it appears — the exhibit consists of over a dozen pages of documents detailing meetings between Edison and generator manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, though black boxes form a virtual bar code over much of the text, over half of which is concealed. Edison has argued that the redacted information concerns proprietary information; critics have argued that it could prove a theory that Edison was aware that major design changes should have subjected the generators to federal review before their installation.

Weisman hopes the display and his other work as a documentarian and outreach coordinator for the Alliance will keep the public at large from forgetting that, while San Onofre is shut down, billions of dollars are still at stake.

"They say the truth isn't always black-and-white," wrote Weisman in an intro to the displayed pages, "but what if it was...and you still couldn't tell?"

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Our public utilities are hiding both their operational failures and their fiscal mismanagement of San Onofre from public scrutiny, by claiming that most of what they do (and have done) is proprietary information!

This legal excuse has been allowed far too often by both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) who is charged with regulating operational safety and the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) who is charged with regulating the fiscal operation of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). Even during the CPUC's current investigations into the "reasonableness of SCE's decisions" that led up to the multi-billion dollar San Onofre decommissioning, which was caused by SCE's in-house replacement steam generator design failure, those seeking to publicize exactly what went wrong, exactly who exactly at SCE make those decisions and when they were made, have be refused access to un-redacted documents by SCE, SDG&E, the CPUC and the NRC!

This is a key issue because without un-redacted documents, those seeking to protect ratepayers from getting stuck with the bill for SCE's engineering debacle are essentially fighting with one hand tied behind their back, having to depend upon whistle blowers and others that have provided personal copies of important documents to go along with Utility provided sanitized redacted documents. It is also important to mention that it is not only citizen groups like ANC and locally the Coalition to Decommission San Onofre (CDSO) are having problems with the CPUC but even CA Senator Boxer has now asked the NRC for a full and complete set of San Onofre documents having received informational packets from them with two different document listings, many of which were not provided, even though Senator Boxer Chairs the Committee on Environmental and Public Works, which oversee the NRC!

Since the CPUC is charged with insuring equal treatment of BOTH ratepayers and the Utilities that serve them. It is painfully obvious that the ratepayers have been stuck with borderline criminally unsafe Utility decisions that have resulted in the early decommissioning of San Onofre, which will result in Billions of dollars of decommissioning costs, much of which have not yet been collected, the cost of which must be borne by the Utility(s) that caused them, since they, not the ratepayers made these poor financial decisions without any input from ratepayers who have no oversight over them...

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