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Nuke Nemesis
Don Mosier | Rimini Road

Click on image to View the 50-page complaint here.

Public Watchdogs, a local non-profit “chartered to protect California businesses and residents from the California Public Utilities Commission and other rogue government agencies,” filed a suit in federal court on August 30th seeking an injunction to halt the spent nuclear fuel loading operations at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The suit names Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Sempra Energy, Holtec International (the manufacturer of the thin-walled canisters and the subcontractor for loading operations), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Does 1-100 as defendants. The complaint alleges violation of federal law governing administrative procedures when the NRC approved an amended operations plan for decommissioning without public input, violation of California statutes by creating a public nuisance (viz. the threat to humans and the environment if a single failed canister releases more radioactivity than the Chernobyl accident), and violation of warranty standards by Holtec. The lead attorney for Public Watchdogs is Charles (Chuck) G. La Bella of Barnes and Thornburg, a former federal prosecutor and experienced litigator.

View the 50-page complaint here.

Filing suit against the NRC will be an uphill battle since federal government departments are subject to sovereign immunity unless all administrative options have been exhausted. I reached out to Charles Langley, Executive Director of Public Watchdogs, about the rationale for including the NRC as a defendant in the lawsuit. Charles replied, “We believe the extreme urgency of the issue supersedes the requirement to wait for years attempting to exhaust every administrative option. Nothing is impossible. What some call ‘futility’ is what we call ‘a day at the office.” He continued, “There are billions of dollars in the decommissioning trust fund that we paid for as ratepayers. Yet Edison’s penury has delivered a dime store solution at a Rolls Royce price.”

The warranty violation claim is an interesting strategy. The Holtec canister overpacks only have a 10-year warranty although they will need to last until the last of the radioactive waste is moved offsite (if ever). The thin-walled canisters have a 25-year warranty but the damage incurred during canister loading may void that warranty. The suit alleges that Holtec was “negligent in failing to properly design, manufacture, and assemble the canisters … creating a clear and immediate risk of serious injury.” Holtec also failed to notify the NRC of significant design changes to the canisters in violation of NRC regulations.

The 50-page complaint is worth reading. It recites the numerous instances when SCE made serious and dangerous mistakes and misled the NRC, and the result was a gentle rejoinder to “do better next time.” The threat of a nuclear accident impacting more than 8 million Southern California residents would be a “public nuisance” of a new dimension.



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