Saturday, May 4, 2013

Southern California Edison pleads hardship to the NRC, but plea is really a rush to restart...

Nuclear power used to be a status symbol. It used to imply: "This country is civilized. It is at peace with its neighbors. It is friendly and efficient. It is clean -- it reduces fossil fuel use!".

It was all hogwash, but that's the tarnished thinking that got the U.S. and 30 other countries into this mess, with no way out. Keeping going is just plain stupid, but that's what we've been doing so far.

When "the bomb" and nuclear power plants were first being built, tens of thousands of scientists signed petitions and letters opposing these plans. A number of prominent scientists in the innermost circle opposed the bomb's use right from the start. They tried to send a letter to President Harry Truman, stopping its use on civilians, but the letter was blocked. They probably tried to have Japanese diplomats or at least captured prisoners brought in to witness the "test" in Alamogordo, New Mexico, along with lots of allied reporters (instead of just a very select few) so they could tell their fellow citizens back home what was coming. So everyone knew the consequences of not stopping the war, without actually having to experience them.

Instead the bomb was used, and in their shame, the "Atoms for Peace" program brought forth a new use of nuclear power, for supposedly peaceful purposes, but in reality, many of the times, for making materials for bombs.

Originally built in the 1960s, San Onofre was a symbol of the peaceful use of the atom and originally was a demonstration plant for a new reactor technology called a "Pressurized Water Reactor" ("PWR"). Tens of thousands of protestors tried to stop it -- and many were arrested in peaceful demonstrations -- but to no avail. San Onofre Unit 1 was shut down permanently in 1992 by the utility company because its steam generator tubes were failing. It's time (past time) to permanently close the remaining two reactors, which were built in the early 1980s and are rusted out everywhere.

Now, as before, it is the most knowledgeable of the experts who are opposing nuclear power, and San Onofre's restart in particular.

Now, San Onofre is a symbol of the failure of the same technology that failed at San Onofre in Units 1, 2, and 3 already once before. It's not the same as what failed in Fukushima, which are the older style Boiling Water Reactors. Pressurized Water Reactors have more parts -- an entire extra coolant loop -- than a BWR, and that extra loop operates at much higher pressure. The "extra parts" are the steam generators, which transfer the heat from the primary loop to the secondary loop. So in essence, you have everything that could go wrong in a BWR, PLUS the steam generators. No wonder the only "lesson learned" from Fukushima is that you need bigger vents! There are no safe reactors. It's an engineering fallacy to think there are, or could be.

At San Onofre, both steam generators have thousands of damaged tubes, hundreds of which have been plugged and/or staked, but hundreds more have not been. An unknown number have unknown amounts of fatigue damage, in addition to rubbing wear. Rubbing wear had reached 90% through-wall on one tube in unit 2 and 100% in unit 3. Had Unit 2 been restarted, it would have failed within a month or two. What if both units had failed on the same day, because of a station black out or earthquake? What if the tubes had cascaded into each other? What if the guesstimate of dangers is wrong because it's based on a "reference man" not an infant or at least a child? What if the relative danger is off by an order of magnitude (in other words, what if it's 10 times worse than the official government estimate)? What if it's even worse than that?

San Onofre is a liability to the people of SoCal, and needs to be shut down. The NRC needs to be told by May 16th, 2013 that we don't want them risking Southern California. If we fail to convince the NRC to forbid SCE from restarting the plant, San Onofre Unit 2 could be restarted any time after June 16 (according to the latest schedule), a month after the May 16th deadline for public comment to the NRC.

If the NRC gives permission, and they're clearly heading in that direction, then after June 16th, 2013, SCE can and undoubtedly WILL restart San Onofre. How can we be sure?

How about this: The NRC just granted SCE a waiver on a test they are supposed to run every ten years, letting SCE use an alternative and less realistic "test" instead, so as not to delay a restart that hasn't even been approved yet. It's a pressure test. They've had 8 tubes, which are part of the primary pressure boundary, fail pressure tests, and now they're pleading the time lost to run a pressure test is excessive and unnecessary!

Unit 2 has been offline for nearly a year and a half, and they've known this once-per-decade test was coming up the entire time, yet they couldn't find a slot to run it a few months ago when restart wasn't about to happen?

Oh, that's right. SCE has always thought restart was just around the corner.

What's the real reason restart is imminent now? Now, when nothing's been repaired and the plant is still falling apart at the seams? I don't know: It's not sound engineering principles, it's not the will of the public, and it's not logic. However, if they restart and run successfully, and don't have cascading tube rupture following a main steam line break with an isolation valve failure or some other tragedy, they will have done all the other PWR reactors a valuable service. They will have shown that even the best activists can be beat. Local activists have had national and even international support to get THIS reactor shut down, but we have not succeeded. We have real-world experience showing that the economic hazards are far worse than the Price-Anderson Act can cover. We have engineering evidence that the steam generator tubes are fatigued, worn, bent and weakened. We have real-world experience that the tubes are prone to failure, their predecessors in Units 2 and 3 were, and the tubes in Unit 1 were, too.

We have evidence of fraud by the management in slipping these highly-modified steam generators through as "like for like" changes. We have documented evidence of intimidation and retaliation against workers who complain about safety violations.

We have Fukushima. We have the NRC on record as saying it still can't figure out how to apply any "lessons learned" from Fukushima to San Onofre or any other U.S. nuclear power plant, not even the 23 nearly exactly "like for like" BWR plants which are prone to the same potential catastrophic conditions that doomed the Fukushima reactors.

Yet San Onofre sits in an earthquake zone, in a tsunami inundation zone, in a wildfire zone which can cause another Station Black Out at any time. It's old, it's rusted, and major parts still need replacing, and the replacement parts have failed.

Decommission San Onofre now! Let's move on to green energy. Employ good workers in good jobs.

Tell the NRC: no restart of San Onofre!

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

For the email addresses of various NRC officials, please see my previous newsletter:
Short URL:

Attachment: Bethann Chambers letter about San Onofre (pdf)

At 04:50 PM 5/4/2013 -0700, Ashok Kumar wrote:
Thanks ACE: Invaluable service always needed for such a calamity to be avoided and the advice must be followed.

Thanks, Ashok.  Someone wrote to say that only dozens, if that, were arrested and I modified one sentence to make it more clear that not all the protesters were arrested.  He argued about the "tens of thousands" of protesters, too, but someone had told me 35,000. I just don't remember who.  Maybe they meant to say 3,500?  Well anyway, thousands, if not tens of thousands.