Summation of phone conversation between Pat Gwynn (NRC) and Russell D. Hoffman, June 26th, 2001

To: Pat Gwynn <>
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
Subject: Summation of phone conversation between Pat Gwynn (NRC) and Russell D. Hoffman, June 26th, 2001
Cc: governor of California

Pat Gwynn <>
Deputy Regional Administrator for Region IV
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Region IV Office, Texas

Russell Hoffman <>
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, CA

Date: June 26th, 2001

Re: Our conversation approximately 1 hour ago (+composition time for this summary (approx. 14 hours)

Dear Sir,

Thank you and Attorney Smith for your joint phone call today from NRC Region IV headquarters.  As you requested I have attempted in this letter to summarize our conversation, including any clarifications of any points I felt were not adequately presented.

I understand the gravity with which I am expected to take these matters, which was your first point.  I understand that NRC employees Charles Marschall and Russ Wise might both or each be facing criminal charges and jail time, apparently, as I understand it, for things they said (or didn't say) to me on the phone the week of June 4th, 2001. [Note: According to a response from Mr. Gwynn June 27th, 2001 (shown below), these individuals are not facing "waste, fraud, or abuse" charges.]  I don't know what "Management Directive 8.8" says, which you mentioned, but I have some idea, I hope, of right and wrong, and am doing the best I can at that level.  I'll look up MD 8.8 as soon as I get a chance but in the meantime, I am trying to accurately describe exactly what I know to be true, or what I myself have been told by others, distinguishing for you at each turn, which is which.

I must say at the start that I believe that simply getting heard has been the hardest part, as it so often is for activists.  But I know, and you know, and media contacts Bruce Lieberman, Phil Dhiel, and Gary Robbins all probably know, and Patricia Borchmann and many other activists also at least suspect, that you, or at the very least Attorney Smith, will have to read all of this letter.  And by the end of it, I do not think you (or Attorney Smith) will be able to leave San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station open a minute longer, at least until it is thoroughly inspected, and if you do not agree, and shut both operating units down immediately, I believe you -- not your underlings but you -- may some day have to explain your decision in a court of law.  And if, God forbid, something should happen at SONGS between the time you (or Attorney Smith or someone else at NRC) reads this and the time you shut it down, there may be no court on Earth which can judge you for your sins of omission appropriately.

Be that as it may, I'm pleased that some of my complaints appear to be receiving a more in-depth review.  But I certainly would not want it to be assumed that I am satisfied that all, or even my most important, complaints have received their just analysis, or even to the best of my knowledge are in line to be looked upon by NRC with determination to find the whole truth.  However it is clear that you are aware of these concerns and have expressed your intention to investigate all of my allegations properly.  In that I wish you the best and Godspeed.

There are at least four layers or levels of problems which I am complaining about, each layer encompassing the one before it.  First, the crane incident June 1st, 2001, and specifically the lack of interest on the part of NRC it revealed.  Then the regulatory gap which that lack of interest, along with the recent fire and explosion (June 24th, 2001), exposed.  Then, the fact that all other agencies have been "kicked off the case" by NRC, despite the fact that NRC has, through these very incidents (and, I contend, many others) proven themselves incapable of doing the job of all those other commissions, regulatory agencies, and other local, state, and federal governmental bodies.

That's three layers of complexity.  The fourth is that alternatives exist: wind energy, wave energy, tide energy, solar energy, biomass energy, geothermal energy, hydroelectric energy and other renewable energy sources, not one of which even begins to produce the 500 pounds of High Level Radioactive Waste (HLRW) that SONGS produces each day, or the ton or so of Low Level Radioactive Waste each day, either, or even the rest of the chemical outflow from the nuclear facility.  All of these energy solutions are categorically denied a fair chance in a fair market, let alone the chance nuclear got when it was the darling of the Atomic Energy Commission when it was getting started, even though, together with increased conservation, these renewable energy solutions are fully capable of solving America's energy problems, and would allow us to cease our reliance on coal, oil, and nuclear -- a reliance which has brought us to the precarious point at which we now sit, relying on large, centralized, unreliable, dangerous, and unprofitable energy sources which threaten our beaches with a permanent and horrific pollution.

Wind energy, for example, can be situated offshore and would never threaten our beaches, and if one windmill failed, others would still work, and if winds are light, solar options would still be available, and stored energy (water in lakes, for example) could suffice until the wind returns, as it surely will sooner or later.  Add wave, tide, geothermal and other energy systems to the mix, and the reliability continually increases.  On the other hand, given enough time, or maybe tomorrow, an earthquake, tsunami, fire, airplane crash, "small" asteroid impact, or other calamity will befall our nuclear power plants, one by one, unless we shut them down and move the waste deep underground somewhere, but I know not where and neither does anyone else (and I assume you have seen my condemnation of Yucca Mountain and the way it is used as a panacea by the nuclear industry and various regulating bodies including NRC, to the complete disembowelment of a large body of science which screams that it won't work).

That's the fourth layer -- a fair look at alternative energy solutions, and the safety issues involved in each one.  By the NRC forbidding one commission after another at the local, state and federal level from taking a fair look at the safety issues of nuclear power, the nuclear industry gains an unfair advantage.

I believe each of these layers depends on the layer within.  In other words, you cannot solve the crane layer without looking at the ramifications it has for the regulatory layer, concerning the gap in regulatory coverage at the plant, without looking at the bigger ramifications of that, which is that perhaps (I say perhaps only because there is always the infinitesimal chance that this makes sense and this is the right way to do things in America now) -- I say perhaps but mean, in my heart, "surely" -- it is wrong for NRC to have so much authority in the first place.  The power should be spread out and given back to the agencies who have had that power usurped, namely, in California alone, the California Coastal Commission, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California Public Utilities Safety Branch, and CAL-OSHA, to name but a few.  At the federal level, OSHA undoubtedly knows a whole lot more than NRC is able to know about crane safety.  I would assume that OSHA is reasonably sure that repeated crane accidents are indicative of what the future might hold, and that no "capital-loss" accident at a site should routinely be ignored.  Anyway NRC should be MORE cautious, not less, since they work with such deadly materials routinely.  They should, for example, want OSHA to be there, to do everything OSHA normally does, and then they (NRC) will do even more.  I contend that NRC cannot possibly be expected to properly duplicate what OSHA does, and even do it better, as they must do when handling nuclear fuel, and also do what Cal-PUC does, and also do what Cal-OSHA does, and also do what the CCC does, and so on.  NRC has clearly proven that they cannot possibly successfully and safely emulate the tasks of all those other agencies, and then do it better for the nuclear fuel side of the operation.

Each of those agencies, commissions, etc. which NRC has taken power from, needs to consider all safety issues, including nuclear issues, when making any decision about nuclear power plants versus other possible energy solutions.

Indeed, in most of their charters, safety is, if not the only thing, then the main thing they are supposed to worry about.  So how is it that with a 50-year old, mature, big industry, and even an industry that's considered aging now, well past its glory years of thinking it was going to produce power which was "too cheap to meter" -- how is it that even now, none of these agencies, commissions, etc. is allowed to consider the very thing they normally exist to consider, when considering the effects on their various realms, of nuclear power plants?  It is my opinion that NRC is not doing its job from the first layer, let alone at the second, third, or fourth layers as herein described, to protect the public and help us solve our energy needs safely.

Perhaps there was a time in American history when this all made sense somehow.  But I can't see that it does today.  Because of this "system", it is nearly impossible to get heard on all four levels at once.  Or at any level, most of the time.

To summarize the most "specific" incident, the first layer so to speak, according to Charles Marschall in a phone conversation with me on June 4th, 2001, which I initiated because I could not find any documentation at the NRC web site about the June 1st, 2001 crane incident, I was told that it was probably not reportable to NRC because it did not involve nuclear workers, nuclear fuel, or nuclear safety.  But as I told him, I had heard that the same workers might be expected to be handling nuclear fuel another day or another time (I would assume NRC can confirm this, but they (NRC representatives) refused to ask the licensee directly for me in my presence at the hearing when I asked them to).  In any event, I contended that an 80,000 lb crane is a big load, yet not nearly as big as a filled dry cask storage unit, and this incident should be considered relevant to the licensee's ability to safely handle nuclear fuel.  The problem might turn out to be generic -- procedural problems, hiring problems, equipment problems, etc., that could easily affect other areas of the plant -- possibly nuclear areas.

By Wednesday or Thursday, by visiting, I had found another crane incident, which occurred in April, 1997, involving an "inattentive" licensed NRC worker who bent a Control Element Assembly ("CEA").  So that's a much closer connection which I would have thought would be of great interest to Mr. Marschall and NRC.  I asked him to indicate to the review committee at NRC that I think an attempt should be made to verify if any of the personnel were the same, or if any of the trainers of these personnel were the same.  And to look at all other crane, gantry, load accidents, etc.   But now I ask, how can NRC properly look, when so many serious accidents need not even be reported?

I have, since the June 1st, 2001 incident, learned of several other crane or load accidents, including one I learned about since talking to you earlier today.  In any event, Mr. Marschall and/or Mr. Wise, in our conversation June 8th, 2001, seemed to suggest I might want to be available June 11th, 2001 in case the review committee wanted to call me.  At no time during the week did Mr. Marschall mention that there would be a safety review meeting at SONGS that same day, in which he and several others would be in attendance, and to which the public was supposedly not only welcome but encouraged to attend, and that he was the contact person for any members of the public who wanted to attend.  (I found out about it elsewhere during the week.)  I was available most of the day (past 5 pm Texas time), since the annual safety meeting started at 4:00 pm PST and I am only about 1/2 hour away, but the committee didn't call.

Mr. Marschall was very reluctant to confirm that the 1997 crane incident would be included in his allegations submittal on my behalf, but I insisted on giving him the exact number of the incident I had found.  I also tried very hard to make it clear that I wanted all previous crane (or gantry) incidents included in the review, not just the one I had found.  I have since heard of four others, one of which I found in my first visit to the SONGS public documents reading room at UC Irvine (that trip, so far the only visit, was made specifically to look up crane and other related incidents), and two others I was informed of by a former plant employee who assures me they are both public knowledge (one in 1986, for which SONGS (Southern California Edison) was fined, and one before the reactor was finished, when the reactor head (20,000 lbs) was dropped 6 inches).  The fourth involved a dropped load during a static test before moving the load, after raising it a few feet off the ground, a few years ago.

I see the following progress as having been made in the past few decades:  Before the plant opened they were dropping 20,000 lb reactor heads 6 inches.  Now, they are dropping 80,000 lb cranes at least 40 feet.  That's progress?

According to SONGS officers, whom I asked on June 11th, 2001 in person at the annual review, the June 1st, 2001 incident was not reportable to OSHA.  Based on the letter I received from OSHA regarding the incident, this appears to be correct.

It should be noted that, according to my source, although the area was carefully roped off including accounting for the "scatter pattern" should the load fall, and although at least three qualified riggers had approved the move, nevertheless, when the load fell, the counterbalance on the gantry swung out and demolished a section of a nearby stairwell, which was relatively far from the load which dropped, and the stairwell was not an area that was roped off.  In other words, the crane counterbalance could easily have killed someone who just happened to be on the stairwell, without that person having crossed a barrier.

I understand that Mr. Elmo E. Collins, Deputy Director, Division of Reactor Projects, attended the June 11th, 2001 safety review meeting specifically to help ensure that the California "power crises" had not affected safety.  However, my source at the plant says that in fact, outages that used to last up to three months are being rushed to just a month or so, and maintenance tasks that the employees KNOW ought to be done inside the reactor are being skipped, so they can bring the plant back on line sooner!  That this is happening, could be happening, has not been protected against happening, whatever, was not reflected in any way in the safety review hearing, but I consider my source reliable that it IS what is happening because of, according to the feelings of the people at SCE, California Public Utilities Commission pressure to keep the plant online to avoid blackouts.  Obviously I am saying that both operating Units should be immediately shut down and their equipment thoroughly inspected and a full and public report made of the status of everything, every pump, every valve, every pipe, every switch, every wire, every gauge, every vessel -- everything.

At any rate, if you don't shut it down immediately, at least, the moment either reactor IS shut down next, NRC inspectors by the bucketful should be rushing in ahead of any SCE workers.  And maybe some FBI guys as well.  Another person I spoke to today, who advised repeatedly "go after [California's] PUC [Public Utilities Commission]" because the pressure PUC is putting on SCE to keep the plant running is creating a safety issue, said he that he quit because he got too scared to work there.

Can every one of these stories be wrong, when I'm sure by now NRC has checked out many of them and found them to quite probably be accurate?

How many accidents will finally warrant a complete station-wide shut-down and thorough inspection?

If San Onofre hasn't crossed that limit, what in God's name will it take?

Who else can I turn to, to demand it, if not to NRC?  To you?

How much more proof would it take that San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station, even while the operators might mean well, is incompetently run, partially unregulated, poorly regulated throughout, and easily replaced with renewable, benign alternatives?

And is incapable of handling Dry Cask Storage under any circumstances?

(This need to shut both remaining operational units down points out, among other things, the fallacy of relying on just a few big energy producers when a couple of hundred smaller, highly automated, benign (no spent radioactive fuel to deal with) and varied renewable energy resources can provide a far more reliable power supply to the planet.)

The explosion Sunday, June 24th, 2001 could easily have killed someone and my source tells me that area is run by SDG&E, who I have been told, have not kept it up well (evidence of this is no doubt fast disappearing, probably even as I write this).  An SDG&E employee, as I understand it, was actually on the site at the time (for a change), because of power anomalies or some other problem, and not only perhaps nearly found the problem, but was nearly killed by the shrapnel which, as the report below indicates, went way beyond the perimeter fence, but luckily, it seems it did not go towards the other power lines, and did not kill anyone, and did not strike a train on the nearby track, possibly killing the engineer or derailing the train or both.  The tracks lie between the power plant and Interstate 5, which debris landed on according to the SONGS in-house report (shown below).  It must have been quite a blast.  There was reportedly a huge ball of smoke which fortunately did not cause an accident, but I bet it scared a lot of people, wafting over from the nuclear power plant.  They were even lucky it happened on a Sunday morning, probably one of the times with the least rail and vehicular traffic in the area.

All three incidents -- the fire in February, the crane drop June 1st and the switchyard explosion last Sunday -- could have been much, much worse.  Any one of them could have been fatal.  How long can their luck hold out?  How long can ours?

The same day as the safety review meeting I attended, (June 11th, 2001), when I stopped at the Post Office on the way home, I received in the mail a letter from OSHA, saying that "SAN ONONFRE" (sic) is not under their jurisdiction because it is under "Department of Energy" jurisdiction, by which I assume, and you seemed to also assume when I described this letter to you today, they meant NRC jurisdiction (I must add that they did say "after careful review").

CAL-OSHA, I understand from a number of conversations, (though none actually with CAL-OSHA itself), also has nothing to do with SONGS.  CAL-PUC (California Public Utilities Commission, Utilities Safety Branch) already said (in a couple of letters to me in April, 2001) they have no jurisdiction over safety issues at SONGS because NRC has all responsibility for safety at nuclear power plants.  I stress that these other organizations defer "all" authority on safety issues to NRC.  Not just part of the plant, or the bigger ramifications, or the protection from loopholes, but "all".

I find that this leaves a regulatory gap, which I contend cannot be filled by NRC even if it were to begin, at last, to look at all the accidents and incidents which occur at the plant, as it should, rather than excluding the dropping of cranes which weigh 80,000 lbs and fall 40 feet in the turbine area, or explosions followed by fires which burn for half an hour in the switchyard, which result in debris thrown on a public roadway and yet only warrants a "courtesy notification".

As far as I can tell, nuclear power plants have not been operating at a huge profit, at least in terms of finding money for maintenance, the past few years.  These many accidents in the past few months at SONGS are indicative.  Of what?  Probably of an aging system.

It is a fair guess that nearly all the electrical equipment at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is old and should be replaced.  Every wire, every junction, every switch, every diode, every breaker, every transformer, every light fixture, everything.  I think it is a fair guess that lifespans for these items were calculated for typical reactor sites, but that stiff salty air coming off the Pacific (also a factor at other California reactors) permeates and ruins everything more quickly than the average around country.  This is normal, but I strongly suspect, from the accidents that seem to be happening involving electrical circuitry, that the effect of salty air and sea spray hasn't been properly accounted for at San Onofre.  That could cause so many major incidents in such a short span, such as we are seeing.  Maybe SONGS is just too old to be run safely.

Whatever has produced the rash of accidents, and the NRC complacency to go with it in deadly combo, it should be recognized for the big picture it represents, and dealt with.  I do believe the entire site should be shut down immediately with no intention to ever reopen it.  I think it's a fair assumption that all coastal reactors should be shut down for similar reasons -- they are all old.  And all reactors on rivers should be shut down as well, lest they foul the river from an accident.  And all reactors in asteroid impact zones should likewise be shut down and their fuel removed and placed deep within the Earth.  (Noting that I believe Yucca Mountain is not a workable solution either, nevertheless.)

But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.  You did assure me these larger questions I have been asking will not be ignored.

Right now, NRC should probably at least be asking to inspect the strap that failed, or fell off, if that's actually what happened.  Was the strap worn, or old?  Had it been stretched or overstressed?   News reports said the strap came off the hook, but I heard that it broke.  Anyway, even a 2,000 lb hook -- like the one they were reportedly using -- might also have been old, pulled apart or worn wide, thus opening the mouth beyond what a proper application of OSHA regulations would have allowed (OSHA has exact numbers for that sort of thing).  But OSHA wasn't there.  And where were you?

Thus a regulatory gap exists.

My first thought when I read about the incident which occurred on Sunday, June 24th, 2001, was that I could have been killed, because on a number of occasions I have ridden on my bicycle on one of the roads where debris landed, and the last time was May 25th, 2001, less than a month before the explosion. And as I pointed out at the time to the friend I was with (a decorated ex-Navy Seal), I did not see a guard in the booth by the gate that day.  The gate was up but no cars were entering or leaving.  I mention this now not so much to waste time accusing SONGS of one more "little" thing (I did not submit a complaint at the time, although in hindsight this appears to have been an error), but to point out that, in fact, there should be tire spikes and a movable concrete barrier, which are only withdrawn when a vehicle has been positively identified as being legitimate, and a secondary barrier raised when that vehicle is allowed through, so that a second or third vehicle cannot run past on the tail of the legitimate vehicle.  This system should be implemented at all vehicular access points at all nuclear facilities all around the country.  (Of course, there are many other access methods for the determined or even the lazy terrorist.)

Thank you again for taking the time to talk to me about what I call the innermost level of complaint, and for letting me clarify that there are additional complaints which I feel are vastly more important to the safety and prosperity of the country.


Russell Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Web site with links to relevant essays, correspondence, etc. which I have written (mostly since the June 1st crane drop incident) and posted at my web site:

SONGS in-house email about Sunday's explosion and fire, and a few additional comments:

>                     06/25/01
>                     04:38 PM
>                                          June 25, 2001
> The following is provided to you regarding an event which happened at
> on Sunday June 24.  Due to this event likely getting media coverage
> County Register, North County Times, San Diego Union Tribune) we wanted to
> send this communication to all employees explaining what happened and what
> we are doing about it.
> Yesterday (Sunday), at approximately 11 a.m., a Potential Transformer in
> the SONGS electric switchyard failed, resulting in a loud explosion.  No
> employees or members of the public were injured.  The event had nothing to
> do with the nuclear portion of the plant and did not result in any release
> of radiation.
> The failed Potential Transformer, 1 of 54 in the switchyard, was destroyed
> as a result of the explosion.  Debris was mostly contained in the
> switchyard, although fragments were found as far as Highway 101 and the 5
> Freeway, just east of the switchyard.
> The transformer is located in a section of the switchyard owned and
> operated by San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), who is performing the repair
> work.
> Cause of the transformer failure is not known at this time, but a Root
> Cause Investigation is underway and corrective actions are being developed
> and implemented to minimize the possibility of such a failure happening
> again.
> A Potential Transformer takes high voltage electricity (238,000 volts) and
> "steps down" the voltage to 115 volts.  This allows plant personnel and
> equipment to monitor the quality and quantity of San Onofre's electric
> power (e.g., voltage, ampere, wattage, etc.).
> The event did not cause the plant to shut down or reduce power output.
> Replacement of the potential transformer is expected to take about one
> week.


Response from Pat Gwynn received a few hours after sending the above message:

Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2001 13:12:09 -0400
From: "Pat Gwynn" <>
To: <>
Subject: Re: Summation of phone conversation between Pat Gwynn (NRC)

Dear Mr. Hoffman,

I received your e-mail dated June 27, 2001, documenting our telephone conversation of June 26.  I appreciate your willingness to assist me in understanding this situation.

As I indicated in our telephone conversation, a determination was made prior to our telephone conversation that there was no "waste, fraud, or abuse" indicated in this specific situation, thus your concern is not being referred to our internal criminal investigators in the Office of Inspector General and the employees involved do not face the potential for criminal charges.  Rather, the matter is being reviewed by Region IV management as a potential NRC staff performance issue related to the proper implementation of our Management Directive 8.8, Management of Allegations.  If performance deficiencies are identified during our review, then administrative action by the agency could result.  This information is intended to clarify our discussion, as documented in your e-mail.

I will get back to you to discuss the results of our management review, once it is complete.  It is possible that the individual assigned to perform the review may find it necessary to contact you directly.

Thank you again for your assistance.

>>> "Russell D. Hoffman" <> 06/27/01 07:00AM >>>
----- END OF RESPONSE -----


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First posted June 27th, 2001.

Email from Pat Gwynn added June 27th, 2001.

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