January 14, 2008 / 9:45 PM / 11 years ago

So. Calif. nuclear plant worker faked fire checks

LOS ANGELES, Jan 14 (Reuters) - From 2001 to 2006 a worker who was supposed to make hourly fire patrols at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Southern California faked records to show checks had been made when they had not been, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Monday.

Southern California Edison, a unit of Edison International (EIX.N), has agreed with the NRC and will tone up the safety culture at the plant between San Diego and Los Angeles on the Pacific Ocean.

SCE will not be penalized outside of instituting programs to ensure plant safety, the NRC said.

“An investigation by the NRC determined that a fire protection specialist provided inaccurate information about hourly fire watch rounds (he or she was) supposed to make while working the midnight shift at the plant from April 2001 to December 2006,” the NRC said.

“The missed rounds had low safety significance because of other fire defense measures in place, but the NRC was concerned at the lack of management supervision over fire watches during the midnight shift for five years,” said the statement from the NRC.

It was one of a series of lax behavior — and the most significant — by workers at the nuclear power plant in the past year, the NRC found.

In 2007, SCE got into trouble with California utility regulators for a case of systemic records falsifying, which SCE admitted. In that case, company mangers four years ago urged workers to skew customer survey results so the investor-owned utility could get higher financial incentive awards.

Victor Dricks of the NRC said the midnight shift at San Onofre was the only shift at the plant for which the fire specialists’ checks were not monitored by a supervisor from April 2001 to September 2006.

“The incident did not adversely affect public safety because there were other individuals who were patrolling other parts of nuclear plant and there were other fire defense measures in place,” said Dricks.

The fire patrol misconduct was one of five violations by SONGS staff investigated by NRC staff, Dricks said. The others were of low safety significance but concern the NRC.

NRC Regional Administrator Elmo E. Collins said, “The NRC depends on a good-faith effort of nuclear power plant workers to follow regulations. Willful violations by workers cannot be tolerated.”

SCE has nine months to enact programs “to develop special training for its employees that emphasizes the importance of maintaining a strong nuclear safety culture to prevent deliberate misconduct by workers,” according to the NRC.

The utility responded, “Southern California Edison agrees with the NRC that behavior by workers that violate site and NRC requirements cannot be tolerated. We believe the extensive program we have already begun to implement will help strengthen site worker commitment to Edison’s standards of conduct and those of the NRC.”

SCE did not say whether the worker, whose identity was not revealed, is still working at the plant.

SCE owns the majority interest in the plant (78.21 percent), which is also owned by San Diego Gas & Electric (20 percent) and the City of Riverside (1.79 percent).

The two reactors at the oceanside nuclear power plant can make about 2,200 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power about 1.5 million homes in Southern California. (Editing by Christian Wiessner)

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