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:
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.
Check out the kung-fu grip on those shoes.
Radioactive particles released in the nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami were detected in giant kelp along the California coast, according to a recently published study.
Radioactive iodine was found in samples collected from beds of kelp in locations along the coast from Laguna Beach to as far north as Santa Cruz about a month after the explosion, according to the study by two marine biologists at Cal State Long Beach.
The levels, while most likely not harmful to humans, were significantly higher than measurements prior to the explosion and comparable to those found in British Columbia, Canada, and northern Washington state following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, according to the study published in March in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
The highest levels were found in Corona del Mar.
via LA Times
March 2, 2012 – Southern California Edison (SCE) continues to perform extensive testing and inspections of the steam generators at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
“Nuclear safety is our top priority,” said Pete Dietrich, SCE senior vice president and chief nuclear officer. “Everything we do — from normal plant operations and routine refueling…”
I don’t want to be controversial, but this is starting to sound like a delay tactic. The leaking nuclear steam turbine was taken offline over two months ago with an investigation to follow. The initial word was that a report would be issued “the following week.”
After that deadline passed a few newspapers reported the delay. Then, Barbara Boxer, California’s Senator, issued a concerned letter and so did the local city council.
Still no results from the investigation.
Even the local newspapers, with readers in the fallout zone, have stopped reporting on it. The issue seems to be sliding into the rear view mirror, and perhaps that’s the way Edison wants it.
The leak has become much more serious than initially reported. Our local journalists (at the LA Times, OC Register, and San Diego UT) did us a disservice by simply reporting what Edison told them: the leak was tiny, no safety issues were posed, and Edison is doing everything right.
A line they still stick to (when they do cover it).
My own investigations turned up something different. First, the report to the NRC said that the first unit leaked up to 82 gallons/day of radioactive steam. Second, the sister unit had upwards of 1,000 pipes showing radiation damage. Third, there was another incident back in November with an ammonia leak.
Yeah, nothing to worry about here, Edison has it all under control. Two reactors turned off, one leaking, radiation damage, and ammonia problems.
It doesn’t help that Edison is purposely ambiguous in their statements. The only significant piece of information in the latest press release (linked above) is that some of the 1,000 pipes have been “plugged”. Which begs the question, were they leaking?
I understand these things are complicated but the longer the issue drags on the worse it seems to get. Edison isn’t becoming any more honest in their dealings with the public. The newspapers are continuing their anti-journalistic approach.
I have to wonder if the approach is to delay, wait until any public interest dies down, and then handle it their own way.
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
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.
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.