De-Briefing – Shutdown Lessons From San Onofre – The Significance Should Not Be Misunderestimated
In this edition we bring you video reports relating to San Onofre’s closing, a brief commentary on what’s to be learned from that California campaign, and an update on the status of our forthcoming documentary, SHUTDOWN: The Case of San Onofre.
First, excerpts of a celebratory news conference held outside Southern California Edison’s San Onofre nuclear power plant Fri., June 7, 2013, following the company’s announcement that the faulty plant will be permanently shutdown. FoE consultant Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds calls it ‘A seismic event for the nuclear industry.’ Gene Stone of ROSE cautions its just Step One in a long process. Interviews with Gary Headrick of San Clemente Green and Ray Lutz of CitizensOversight.org celebrate the accomplishment, while stressing that the long-term work for a safe decommissioning process and the secure onsite storage of hundreds of tons of radioactive fuel rods in an earthquake and tsunami zone is just beginning. Thanks to EON producers Morgan Peterson and Laurent Malaquais for this report.
The One-Two Punch – Informed Public Opposition PLUS “A Terminal Overdose of Market Forces” Energy guru Amory Lovins has been saying for decades now that nuclear power reactors will eventually go as extinct as the Dodo – not from nuke free activism, but – just from what he has called “a terminal overdose of market forces.”
It has taken a while, but recent events are beginning to suggest Mr. Lovins may have been at least partly right all along. Now even finance magus Warren Buffett appears to agree. According to the industry websitePowerEnineering, Buffett’s company “MidAmerican Energy won’t be building a nuclear unit in Iowa anytime soon and will be refunding much of the public money collected to help it finance a nuclear feasibility study in the state.” Buffett reportedly chose instead to invest in solar and wind.
Meanwhile, in addition to the announced closing of the last two faulty reactors at Southern California Edison’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), there are cascading reports of other financing-motivated closures across the country. Writing on SmartPlanet.com, Chris Nelder suggests that nuke plants are ‘falling like dominoes,’ pointing out that, “SONGS, with its 2,200 megawatt (MW) generating capacity, is the fourth nuclear plant to be closed this year due to economics.”
In addition, Exelon’s Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey; Duke Energy’s Crystal River plant in Florida; and Dominion Resources’ Kewaunee plant in Wisconsin have all recently bitten the dust.
And, as Nelder points out:
Even new plants still under construction are coming under fire. Southern Co.’s new reactors at Vogtle in Georgia reportedly are running over budget and recovering costs long before the plants are to begin operation, arousing the ire of locals. SCANA Corp.’s new Summer Nuclear Station in South Carolina is running over budget and incurring delays. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s new 1,200 MW Watts Bar 2 plant, on which construction was halted in 1988, is soon to be completed at a cost of $4.5 billion, 80 percent over its initial budget, the utility says.
Budget overruns and delays are the norm for nuclear plants. As a 2009 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) shows, the actual cost of nuclear plants has routinely come in at three times their initial estimates. Cost overruns, canceled plants and stranded costs total more than $300 billion in 2009 dollars, the study said. At a final construction cost of $4.5 billion in 1984 (equivalent to $10 billion in 2013 dollars), SONGS was finished at 10 times its original estimate.
Plans for new nuclear plants in Texas and Maryland have also been scrapped as costs continue to rise.
Economic and technical considerations have also dampened entheusiasm for nuclear proponents’ fond fantasy of a new generation of so-called small nuclear reactors (SNRs). [ You can find out why at CleanEnergy.org . ]
“This industry is on its final trajectory downward,” said Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica at a news conference following SoCal Edison’s shutdown announcement. Recommending that the NRC be renamed the Nuclear Retirement Commission, Pica said that, “The people of California now have the opportunity to move away from the failed promise of dirty and dangerous nuclear power and replace it with safe and clean energy provided by the sun and wind.”
Former Tennessee Valley Authority head S. David Freeman, who, subsequently as head of other utilities, lays claim to having shut down more nuclear power reactors than any other administrator, said at the joint news conference with Pica, said it was a “step in the right direction and another move toward the renewable revolution that’s underway in California.”
Should all this be a cause for celebration and encouragement for nuke free activists across the country and around the world? Yes. Can we sit back, relax and simply let ‘market forces’ administer capital punishment to the nuclear industry? The case of San Onofre suggests otherwise.
What or Who Killed San Onofre? And can those Whats and Whos succeed in closing the remaining U.S. fleet of aging nuclear reactors, many of which also face strong local opposition and growing demands that they be shut down? These are the questions circulating in the nuke free community around the country. No doubt the nuclear industry is thinking hard about them, too.
EON has been covering the San Onofre shutdown process almost from the beginning, and has to date posted over 40 videos relating to the issue, netting thousands of views from our over 2,000 YouTube subscribers. We also published dozens of blog editions on the issue. We’re now working to complete our documentary-in-progress, SHUTDOWN: The Case of San Onofre, aimed at answering those questions and more. Working with our longtime friend and No Nukes/Solartopia activist/journalist Harvey Wasserman as our Editorial Consultant, we aim to produce a filmic antidote to the currently circulating, shamelessly misleading, well-funded, industry propaganda piece Pandora’s Promise. [For a critique of the pseudo-doc, see Beyond Nuclear's 'Pandora's False Promises.']
There is clearly no one-strategy-fits-all template that can be applied to unique local circumstances. But the lessons of the San Onofre shutdown victory point to several key components that CAN be applied to a variety of local situations:
Coordination and cooperation between local, national and international civil society groups (NGOs). Coordination and cooperation and ‘turf-sharing’ among local civil society groups (NGOs). Independent, alternative media coverage in blogs and video posts. Mainstream media coverage generated by cultivating local, regional, national and international news organizations and reporters. Outreach to and involvement of regional elected bodies, labor and civic groups and public officials. Invocation and activation of all possible legal and legislative remedies. Active NGO interventions and public letter and petition campaigns with all existing relevant public agencies at local, state and national levels – in this case the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC); the California Energy Commission; the California Coastal Commission; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC); the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB); state and national legislative representatives. Pubic outreach and education campaigns. Participation in agency-sponsored public fora as well as organizing of such fora by NGOs themselves.
A ‘Full Court Press’ All these options, remedies, interventions and organizing strategies were employed in the case of San Onofre, and it’s impossible to assess which ones were the deciding factors. Together they established a public climate, a political and economic context of forces, all of which no doubt impacted SoCal Edison’s ultimate decision to pull the plug. When reporters asked, in a telephone news conference with Edison spokes people, if ‘political’ considerations had entered into the decision, the Edison representatives consistently dodged the questions, saying they would only address economic factors. They clearly wished to avoid acknowledging the impact of civil society organizing and citizen mobilization that created the context in which the ultimate decision was made. Nor did they credit the fact that Senator Boxer and Congressman Markey had weighed in with several interventions. [ Note: A telephone replay of the news conference is available for 30 days from June 7 at the following numbers: 1-888-568-0503 -- for callers in the United States; 1-203-369-3476 -- for international callers; Passcode: 5241 ]
They referred to the Atomic Safety Licensing Board’s (ASLB’s) decision in response to a Friends of the Earth petition that called for a public re-licensing hearing. That would have potentially added months to the process with no assured outcome, thus adding to the company’s financial losses. In a recent analysis, Glenn Pascall, Chair of the San Onofre Task Force, Sierra Club Angeles Chapter notes:
On May 15 the Sierra Club wrote the NRC endorsing the Friends of the Earth petition and arguing that even though the Commission could spurn an ASLB decision, to do so in this case would cause deep damage to NRC’s public credibility. In the same time period, Senator Barbara Boxer and U.S. Representative Ed Markey urged the Commission to consider the growing body of evidence that San Onofre’s steam generator system faced an alarming level of technical uncertainty.
The game was clear: Could citizen groups and elected officials checkmate a staff recommendation and convince the Commission to back the Safety Board?
Environmental groups turned up the temperature. At the Sierra Club, we shared our letter to the NRC with all of you on our website. No less than 3,537 Angeles Chapter members and friends wrote their own personal version of this letter and sent it to the NRC – a record level of response for the Angeles Chapter on any issue.
By the same process, another 2,713 personal letters went to the California Public Utilities Commission from Sierra Club members and friends urging the PUC to stop subsidizing Edison with almost $60 million a month in ratepayer dollars – a flow of cash that insulated the utility from making hard decisions about the future of the plant.
And, in their phone news conference, Edison representatives studiously avoided giving any credit to the informed public opinion climate created by such events as the ‘Fukushima Lessons for California’ public forum which had occurred just days before.
The forum, held June 4, 2013 in the San Diego County Board Chambers with the sponsorship of San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts, was organized by Torgen Johnson and Junko Abe with the help of the Samuel Lawrence Foundation, Gary and Laurie Headrick of San Clemente Green, Sandra Bartsch, and Olive PR Solutions. Co-sponsorship was from Friends of the Earth(FoE) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). Months in the planning, the event featured presentations from former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, former NRC Chair Gregory Jazcko, Fairewinds nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford and Friends of the Earth nuclear expert Kendra Ulrich.