Don Mosier, MD, PhD | Rimini Road
COVID-19 constitutes a pandemic outbreak within the United States. COVID-19 could affect the resources and capacities of offsite entities to handle a nuclear accident at SONGS on top of the pandemic burden. NRC Manual Chapter 1601 requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to determine whether the situation adversely affects emergency preparedness plans. A memorandum between the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and FEMA explicitly states that a pandemic outbreak requires that FEMA conduct a disaster-initiated review to determine if emergency planning and procedures are negatively impacted by the pandemic.
Given these regulations, one might expect that the decommissioning activities at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) would be halted until FEMA performs the required review. This is not happening. Work is proceeding at full pace with some added protective equipment for workers. Workers who feel sick are told to stay home, and their place is taken by one (or more) of back-up workers housed at a local hotel. Social distancing is impossible given the tasks being performed, and no testing of the workers for virus infection has been done.
Governor Newsom allowed essential construction activities to proceed during the COVID-19 outbreak. Is the movement of spent nuclear fuel at SONGS an essential activity? Work was stopped for several months after the August, 2018 near drop accident, so what is wrong with another pause? Is there nothing that could go wrong at SONGS that would require local emergency personnel to respond? A fire or a sewer spill (oops, that already happened)?