San Onofre Nuclear Plant shut down after leaking 82 gallons/day of radioactive steam

The NRC’s preliminary event report says plant operators estimated the steam leak at 82 gallons per day. That may sound like a lot but regulators consider it small compared to ruptures in steam tubes at other plants between 1975 and 2000 that vented as much as 630 gallons of radioactive steam per minute.

via OC Watchdog

I daresay that comparing leaks to other disastrous ones is not accurate. The NRC should be telling us how damaging the leak is.

Unfortunately, they resort to words like “minor” and “small” instead of saying something like, “it is in the upper atmosphere and shouldn’t be blowing into your home, if it is here are the signs to look out for…”

The nuclear industry has a very bad history when it comes to leaks, often lying and denying problems until they get worse. In fact, more than 75% of the 104 nuclear plants in the United States have leaked, prompting some to claim the NRC is stuck in regulatory capture. Which means that the regulators protect the companies and not the citizens.

With that in mind, we have to read between the lines to understand what is really happening.

At the plant, Unit 2 was already shut down as it is being upgraded. During inspection nearly one thousand tubes were found to be faulty and worn away.

According to the commission, more than a third of the wall had been worn away in two tubes, which will require them to be plugged and taken out of service. At least 20 percent of the tube wall was worn away in 69 other tubes, and in more than 800, the thinning was at least 10 percent.

via San Diego Union-Tribune

Then, in a possibly separate issue, Unit 3 reported an alarm because radioactive steam was being released into the atmosphere. That unit was promptly shut down within 2.5 hours.

An investigation is ongoing and the results will reported next week, according to the Science Report from Pat Brennan.

If these issues are serious than many millions of Southern Californians are in danger. The blast radius for the Fukushima meltdown was 50 miles, which puts San Diego and Los Angeles counties on the alert. Both are within that range.

A few state activists are keeping an eye on the situation, reports the LA Times. Which is good because there was another leak this past November, 2011, where non-radioactive ammonia was released into the atmosphere.

An ammonia leak prompted officials to declare a Level-Two emergency at the San Onofre nuclear power plant and evacuate some workers, officials said.

The leak posed no danger to the public, and no radiation was released during the emergency, said Lauren Bartlett, a spokeswoman for Southern California Edison.

via LA Times

And, sadly, we must also keep an eye on our newspapers. When they report a leak, evacuation, a level-two emergency, and then tell us everything is fine, we must be wary.

 

// Update: Feb 12, 2012, As Senator Boxer and City Council get involved, no word on source of radioactive steam leaking from San Onofre

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