San Onofre nuclear plant update – one unit to turn on, another to stay off permanently

Yesterday Southern California Edison submitted plans to restart one of its two nuclear generators at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The other generator is being shut down permanently. Both units showed radioactive damage and required repairs.

Unit 2, the generator that will be turned on, had six tubes showing extreme decay, and 1,600 overall with some decay. Unit 3, which will remain shut down, had 381 showing extreme decay, and 1,800 with some decay. Edison reports that a team of independent experts inspected these repairs and approved the plan to turn on Unit 2. These plans were submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and are awaiting approval.

If accepted Unit 2 will run for five months at 70% power, and then turn off for “inspection of the steam generator tubes to ensure the continued structural integrity of the tubes, to measure tube wear and to confirm that the solutions are working.” At the same time, Edison plans to defuel Unit 3, which “refers to the carefully executed transfer of fuel from the reactor into the spent fuel pool in a strong, reinforced building where it is secure and constantly monitored.”

This is a “longer term outage mode” and there are no plans to bring it back online “in the near future”.

In a separate release from a review started two years ago, Edison plans to downsize the staff at SONGS by 730 employees, a 33% reduction. The press release said this was for achieving greater efficiencies like other nuclear plants. But there was also a mention of the financial losses at the plant due to the shutdown, and a reference to Unit 3 that “will not be operating for some time.”

There is a public meeting about this information scheduled for October 9 at 6pm in the St. Regis Hotel in Monarch Beach. There will also be a live stream of proceedings available at video.nrc.gov – starting one hour before the meeting. The official pdf notice of the meeting and a blog post with updates and comments.

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More information can be found at SongsCommunity.com and by following the SONGS twitter account.

 

Continue reading San Onofre nuclear plant update – one unit to turn on, another to stay off permanently

Final report issued on San Onofre Nuclear Plant – Edison not to blame, it was a Mitsubishi computer glitch

The final review of the radiation leak at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) has been completed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Among its findings are that Southern California Edison (SCE) responded appropriately to the issue, while Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a company based in Japan, is to blame. They found that Mitsubishi’s “faulty computer modeling” resulted in mismatched components that, after only a year, had worn down significantly.

The good news is that we caught this issue before a catastrophic problem occurred, hinting that the safety protocols from SCE were adequate. The bad news is that we were one computer glitch away from a national disaster.

The outcome of all this is uncertain. You can bet that SCE would like to restart SONGS to start making money again, and they can do so by completing the checklist in the NRC report. They have said publicly this will not be until at least September, probably longer, meanwhile the public is digesting this news and preparing a public hearing from the NRC.

Many are speculating that since the plant was not needed during the heavy-use summer days, maybe it is not needed at all. But, that ignores the fact that other power plants were operating above capacity to compensate. Either way something will need to change, whether it’s an acceptance of the restart of SONGS, a new plan to make normal the over-operation of natural gas plants, or some blended model that takes into account the renewable energy sources coming online in the next few years.

 

More on this…

NRC:

 

Continue reading Final report issued on San Onofre Nuclear Plant – Edison not to blame, it was a Mitsubishi computer glitch

Update on San Onofre Nuclear Plant – backup emergency generators also flawed

NRC OVERSIGHT HAS FAILED AT SAN ONOFRE

This letter was sent to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, with a copy to The Orange County Register:

Dear Chairman,

We were stunned to learn recently that for nearly three decades, the San Onofre nuclear reactors have been operating with inherently flawed backup emergency diesel generators, flaws that could have caused these generators to shut down as a result of a major earthquake. According to documents submitted to the NRC on May 14 of this year by Southern California Edison, the operator of the San Onofre plant, the effect of a major seismic event on the high-frequency sensors that would trigger the shutdown of the backup generators had not been analyzed. Upon discovering this issue, the sensors were immediately turned off, indicating significant safety concerns.

Allowing the San Onofre nuclear reactors, located directly next to major fault lines, to operate with such a fundamental safety issue unexamined for three decades is a dramatic failure on the part of the commission. The loss of both offsite and onsite power, or station blackout, is the very condition that led to the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi (Japan). As you are aware, the seismic vulnerability of nuclear reactors has become an even more urgent issue in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. We are well aware of your particular concerns in this area. Tuesday’s news underscores the need for immediate and urgent action.

Continue reading Update on San Onofre Nuclear Plant – backup emergency generators also flawed

As Senator Boxer and City Council get involved, no word on source of radioactive steam leaking from San Onofre

Sen. Barbara Boxer has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a comprehensive review of the radiation leaks at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, to determine how widespread the problems might be.

In a letter, Boxer asked to NRC Chairman Gregory Jackzo to “thoroughly assess” the conditions at San Onofre plant “to determine what further investigation and action is required at this time, and whether similar actions may be needed at other nuclear facilities.”

A staffer at the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee said the senator is concerned that the reported wear and tear on the unit’s piping, which is only two years old, might reflect broader problems at other plants across the country.

via UT San Diego

In an earlier post, I summarized the situation to-date:

There is also discussion that the Nuclear Commission is suffering from regulatory capture, which means that they are afraid to report any leaks.

This has led to a large amount of confusion in the public and so it’s great that San Clemente citizens are getting involved:

Residents worried about leaks from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station asked San Clemente’s elected leaders Tuesday night to have sensors installed around town to monitor radiation levels.

“We believe with recent events at the San Onofre Waste-Generating Station that it is necessary for the citizens’ safety and well-being to have a monitoring system,” San Clemente resident Gene Stone told the City Council.

Stone said an independent monitoring system would provide radiation readings so residents could tell how safe the atmosphere was at any given time. He also called for a study to identify cancer and leukemia risks in San Clemente, which is just over two miles up the coast from the nuclear plant’s two reactors.

“Edison may know what the radiation levels are, but they’ve told me that they won’t share those with the public,” San Clemente resident Donna Gilmore told the City Council. “I could go to the library and look at last year’s figures. Well, that’s not going to do me any good.”

Read the response from the Nuclear Company (Edison) and the City Council at OC Register

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