Stab Magazine | Whistleblower From San O’ Nuke Plant Comes Forward
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Whistleblower From San O’ Nuke Plant Comes Forward

The day San Onofre almost went nuclear!

news // Aug 23, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Standing in the loading bay of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, where canisters of spent nuclear fuel are being taken from the facility’s reactor and transported to its semi-permanent location on site, I was assured that the procedure I was witnessing was safe—performed by highly trained professionals with an abundance of caution.

At the beginning of the summer I was granted a tour of the facility and saw with my own two-eyes and heard with my own-two ears how seamless this process was. The officials at Southern California Edison even let us take a picture in front of it the machines that make it all happen.

Then, on August 9, a whistleblower from the plant came forward.

“I may not have a job after this, but that’s okay…I made a promise to my daughter that if no one talked about what happened on Friday I would,” said David Fritch on August 9, 2018, at a San Onofre Community Engagement Panel Meeting. He described himself as an Industrial Safety specialist that does “OSHA stuff.”

“There were gross errors on the part of two individuals, the Operator and the Rigger, that are inexplicable,” he continued. “What we have is a canister that could have fallen 18 feet. It’s a bad day. That happened, and you haven’t heard about it, and that’s not right.”

The process of transferring the spent fuel is obviously complicated as it requires taking the waste material from the plant (which is hovering somewhere around 400 degrees C), removing it from “wet” storage and putting it in 18-foot stainless steel casks, then moving the load on a special flatbed vehicle several hundred yards to the concrete storage matrix that has been constructed.

“This is an engineering problem. What happened is, inside of that cask, there is a guide ring about 4 feet down, and it is to guide that canister down correctly to be centered in the system. Well, it actually caught that. And from what I understand, it was hanging by about a quarter inch,” explained Fritch of the incident that reportedly happened on Aug. 3.

Like I said, I’ve stood and seen the area that Fritch is talking about, and I can tell you that the fact that a cask full of spent nuclear fuel was hanging 18-feet above the ground, by a mere quarter of an inch, and Southern California Edison did absolutely nothing to inform the public about the near-miss should send shivers down your spine. One slip, and that’s the end of every Lowers or Old Man’s session, forever.

Officials from Edison assured us on our tour that the process was sound, that the technology was state-of-the-art.

Ironically, as we took the tour, in one of the employee areas there was a sign that listed all of the rights for whistleblowers. A few of us took note and later wondered when somebody might step up and speak out.

Fritch just did. His warning to the public and devotion to his 12-year-old daughter should be paid attention to by everyone in Southern California…because if Edison does drop one of these suckers, it could be party over for millions of people.

READ THE FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW:

DAVID FRITCH:    Thank you. My name is David Fritch. I am a worker on the ISFSI* project. I work on the spent fuel. I work as a –

PANEL MEMBER:  Spell your name.

DAVID FRITCH: F-R-I-T-C-H.  I do industrial Safety, so OSHA stuff, not nuclear stuff, but I’m out there, and I may not have a job after tomorrow.

DAVID FRITCH: There were gross errors on the part of two individuals, the Operator and the Rigger, that are inexplicable. So what we have is a canister that could have fallen 18 feet. It’s a bad day. That happened, and you haven’t heard about it, and that’s not right.

My friend here is right, public safety should be first, and I have been around nuclear for many years. It’s not. Behind that gate, it’s not. Here’s a few things that I have observed in the three months that I have been here.  (Takes out paper). SCWE, the safety conscious work environment, where people are constantly given encouragement to raise concerns.  It’s not repeatedly, or even, I never even received SCWE training since I have been on site, that’s not standard for any nuclear site. Operational experience is not shared. That problem had occurred before, but it wasn’t shared with the crew that was working. 

We’re under-manned. We don’t have the proper personal to get things done safely.  And certainly undertrained. Many of the experienced supervisors, what we call CLS’s, Cask Load Supervisors. Once they understand the project and how everything works, were often sent away, and we get new ones.  They don’t understand it as well as even the CRAFT, the basic construction craft, a lot of them that haven’t been around nuclear before are performing these tasks.  Not technicians, not highly trained, not thorough briefs.  This is an engineering problem.  What happened is, inside of that cask, there is a guide ring about 4 feet down, and it is to guide that canister down correctly to be centered in the system.  Well, it actually caught that.  And from what I understand, it was hanging by about a quarter inch.
(MR. FRITCH PAUSES)

CHAIR DAVID VICTOR:   Thank you very much for your…

CROWD: (three to five simultaneous voices)  “Let him go.”

CHAIR DAVID VICTOR:  I’m not trying to cut him off. He stopped. It was the end of his time so I thanked him for his comment. Briefly finish this.

FRITCH: Yes, yes.  Obviously the point is clear, most people said Edison is not forthright about what’s going on. I’m sure they’ll tell you, they were going to bring this up once it was analyzed, etc. etc. I’m sure they’re preparing what they would answer if it would come out. And I came here tonight to see if this event would be shared with the community, and I was disappointed, I see that it was not.  

I want to thank the community of San Clemente, it is a beautiful wonderful community with amazing people. They have been great to me, my family is here with me for the month. And unless Edison and Holtec commit to defining success on this project as safety, I’m not talking about any of the concerns that were voiced today, I’m just talking about download. Getting the fuel out of the “building” safely. 

And are we going to address what would have happened if that canister had fallen…even if just the shell wasn’t penetrated…now will they take it to a repository site. 

The question is will Edison and Holtec commit to defining success primarily in terms of nuclear safety?  And will there be transparency, commitment to safety, and the financial commitment to make sure that it’s done successfully? Thank you.
 
CHAIR: Thank you for your comments.
 
*An ISFSI is an initialism for Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation. This term is industry jargon used to describe the beachfront nuclear waste dump at San Onofre State Beach Park. Once completed, this will be the largest privately operated nuclear waste dump in the USA.

SoCal Edison video of transfer process: 

 

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