Friday, September 14, 2012

Head of NRC says SanO reactors won't restart "for months"...


Dear Readers,

Allison MacFarlane, the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), says neither of San Onofre's two reactors will be restarted "for months." That's not good enough! They should never be restarted at all. They should never have BEEN started at all.

Grid operators (California Independent System Operators, CAISO) say they're "bracing" for SanO to be down next summer. That's not good enough! They should be preparing to glide through the next and every summer, with plenty of energy, and they can if a concerted effort is made throughout SoCal to switch to renewables as quickly as possible.

The truth is, we got through this past summer just fine without SanO, and we can get through the rest of them -- forever -- without it and with renewables.

However, large investments in renewables are unlikely to start unless investors are sure SanO's gone for good. And you can't convert its switchyard to a switchyard for an offshore wind farm until then, or convert SanO itself to a gas-fired power plant -- first you have to "decommission" San Onofre, and that's exactly what should happen next, starting immediately.

The chances are pretty good the "root cause" of the problem for San Onofre was, as we all suspected, greed. Technically, they had too much steam and not enough water below the "U" of the upside-down U-shaped tubes in the steam generators. This allowed the tubes (9,737 tubes per steam generator) to vibrate too much. Water is a better vibration dampener than steam.

We've heard rumors that the steam generator manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), wants to blame the problem on San Onofre's operators (Southern California Edison, SCE) for trying to extract too much steam from the system. In other words, SanO's operators realized there was an excess of steam and rather than find out why or consider the possibility that that might not be such a GOOD thing, they simply spun the turbines faster to produce more electricity and make more profit.

Of course, we've also heard that computer calculations for how much steam would be produced were off by 300 to 400 percent, and the blame for that error apparently falls on MHI, although both SCE and the NRC could have checked those figures properly if they had cared to. They all trusted the computer programs instead. A more public procedure might have allowed an independent researcher to see the problem before California residents were put at risk by a steam generator tube failure. But the nuclear industry tries to avoid scrutiny as much as possible because so many of their problems are completely unsolvable.

The nuclear industry, San Onofre included, has been striving to eliminate "the human factor" from nuclear reactor operations as much as possible. However, this author, a computer programmer for the past three decades, knows that computer programmers make mistakes too, and relying on automated systems can be utter folly.

In fact, relying on "hard-coded" procedures, rules, guides, manuals etc. can be utter folly, too -- sometimes things happen so fast there's not enough time to review the rules! And yet there's no other way. So you computerize the rule books so the operators can bring up the data faster. But then, one day a virus gets in and you can't look at anything until the system is cleaned and rebooted. Vital computer systems go down all the time. During the millennium rollover, the "eye-in-the-sky", America's sophisticated radar and data-gathering global system for detecting incoming missile attacks, went down for about four hours. This occurred after many years and millions of dollars spent preparing for that moment. Computer software fails, computer hardware fails, attached storage devices fail... attached motors and controls for valves fail, too, which is why so many things have manual backup plans at nuclear reactors. And another "Stuxnet" type virus can ruin everything while making it look to the control room operators like things are going fine!

At least one Airbus jumbo jet has crashed due to faulty computer software, and more than one rocket failure has also been blamed on computer errors.

Another rumor that's been circulating for months was that strange humming noises were coming from San Onofre's reactor containment area, which may have been the sound of the steam generator tubes banging into each other. Even though the reactor had never made that noise before, the idea of shutting down and figuring out what was wrong didn't seem to have occurred to anyone at the plant. That's no way to drive a car, let alone, operate a nuclear power plant!

But San Onofre has had a tradition of safety code violation cover-ups, and harassment of workers who speak out.

Luckily last January only a single tube burst, rather than a cascade of tubes and a significant loss of reactor cooling capability -- or worse: Metal shards could have entered the primary coolant loop, and then might have blocked coolant flow to part of the reactor core itself, causing localized heating and melting of some of the fuel, possibly preventing control rods from fully inserting. Not likely? Who cares! It was POSSIBLE.

San Onofre will be defueling Unit 3 next month and I bet we'll get an announcement, maybe today, that they'll defuel Unit 2 soon as well soon. Defueling, however, is NOT "decommissioning". They can put fuel into the reactor and restart as soon as the NRC gives the okay.

Instead of keeping SoCal residents on the edge of their seats, we need to decommission San Onofre, so it's not there anymore.

And of course, we need to get rid of the waste, but to where? Move it away to another planet?!? Too bad that -- and every other solution ever proposed-- is unworkable!

Yucca Mountain has been stopped by presidential order, and it was a technological failure anyway. The Blue Ribbon Commission appointed by the president to study alternatives could not come up with anything substantive; they recommended localized "interim storage" and suggested the way to site nuclear waste dumps was by preemptive legislation allowing very small, very well-bribed communities to overrule county, state, and national interests by agreeing to host a radioactive waste dump. These "local communities" can be just a few dozen people. The "BRC" did not come up with a technological solution to the nuclear waste problem for a very simple reason: Ionizing radiation destroys any container you put it in.

After more than half a century of study and tens of billions of dollars spent looking into possible solutions, trying things and seeing them fail, that is why there is still no solution to the waste problem.

San Onofre has stopped making more radioactive waste for the time being, but Diablo Cyn and ~450 other nukes around the world have not, and the fight to permanently close San Onofre is hardly over, either.

SCE plans to have new steam generators built, probably at ratepayer's expense (even while we're still paying for the last ones).

Instead, let's decommission SanO immediately. It's prudent and proper and should not be delayed any longer.


Ace Hoffman
Author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download:
Carlsbad, CA
Email: ace [at]



  1. Great Article Salute!
    Please see much more on this topic and check all the related comments out on these sites:
    (Note: Some comments may still be in moderation...):


  2. More from who I call, "Nuclear Deep Throat" about what is wrong at San Onofre; which if proven factual, exposes a "fleet wide" MAJOR nuclear safety issue that the NRC needs to "FIX" ASAP:

    I'm aware of more than 15 anonymous notifications written by former and current songs employees. Employees wrote these notifications in first six months of 2012 expressing nuclear safety concerns for steam generators, cyber security, excessive collection and use of ssn, songs fatigue management, unprofessional conduct by management, vacation policy and policy conflicts, etc. Employee write these notifications thinking no body knows their identity and they will be safe from management retaliation. It costs a SONGS a lot of money to address these chronic safety concerns.

    However anonymous notifications are NOT confidential. As soon as the SAVE button on the SONGS SAP Computer System is clicked, the SONGS Management can see the contents and name of the writer of an anonymous NN. This is in violation of Energy Reorganization Act of 1978 & Nuclear Regulatory Commission Policy, “Freedom of Employees in the Nuclear Industry To Raise Safety Concerns Without Fear Of Retaliation.”

  3. Cont:

    Some SONGS Managers and Leaders encourage employees to write these notifications, so they can know what the employee is seeing negative in the plant. Instead of correcting the situation, which can be very expensive at times and may be a bad reflection on their performance. Therefore, they then use these as tools of retaliation. As a result, workers are continuously being retaliated, wrongfully terminated, retired and demoted for raising concerns about nuclear safety, either internally or with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. SONGS Employees Concerns and Human Resources Departments have been totally ineffective in stopping the Ruthless and Cheap Tactics deployed by the these Managers/Supervisors in retaliating against the Nuclear Whistle Blowers. These tactics involve documenting Employee’s Low Performance on PDPs, rigging pre-planned and fake collaborative evidence to demonstrate unusual behavior and angry patterns of employees and sending these employees for Drug Testing, MMPI (a > 500 -Question Psychological Test) and to the Industrial Psychologist for evaluation. The end result is demotion, disciplinary action, termination and some times these employees cannot seek employment at another Nuclear Power Plant. SCE Leaders work with their attorneys, investigators and cook up the evidence with their well-trained supervisors and favorite employees. They spend a lot of money in preparing clean files, show it to the NRC. NRC comes and interviews pre-selected employees, plus some of the employees are afraid to say any thing to the NRC. NRC’s/SONGs role in protection of workers from retaliation at SONGS in compliance with the Federal Laws has been less than Satisfactory.

  4. Here are the Latest NRC Finding on SONGS Safety Violations. See for yourself and decide:

    From: Pete Dietrich, Senior VP and Chief Nuclear Officer (Broadcast)
    To: Date: 07/30/2012 06:39 AM
    Subject: Formal SONGS NRC Biennial PI&R Inspection Report Notes Successes and Zero Findings


    To: All SONGS Employees and Contractors

    Last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) released the formal results of its biennial Problem Identification and Resolution (PI&R) Inspection. I am proud to tell you that NRC conclusions, after examination of more than 250 documents and processes, did in fact echo the preliminary outstanding success we reported to you in mid-June following the exit meeting. There were ZERO findings, which is a testament to the engagement, leadership, ownership and dedication of SONGS employees that we witness each and every day. The results report made special note of SONGS' achievement in establishing a safety conscious work environment in which employees feel free to raise safety concerns both to the licensee (SONGS) and to the NRC without fear of retaliation.

  5. Cont:
    The NRC's biennial inspection team, which completed its work in early June, concluded that responses to questions and topics during focus group sessions with SONGS employees did not reveal any indication that safety was not the highest priority for our station.

    The inspection team also reported that SONGS' implementation of our Corrective Action Program (CAP) and the overall performance related to identifying, evaluating and resolving problems was effective. The formal results of this report come at a great time for our station and further emphasizes the tremendous strides we have made over the last couple of years and the need to stay focused on and vigilant in our efforts as Nuclear Professionals. While we still have hurdles before us, successes like this speak volumes on our ability to efficiently and effectively clear them as long as we refuse to be distracted from the tasks at hand.

    Congratulations on completing yet another step toward ensuring that this will be our finest hour! Be definitely proud, but never satisfied!


  6. Excellent article (with comments) in San Diego’s
    Proposed Changes To San Onofre’s Decommissioning Fund
    Southern California Edison and SDG&E have collected money for the fund from ratepayers over the life of the plant, to pay decommissioning costs when it ultimately shuts down.

    Electricity ratepayers have already paid more than $3 billion into the fund for San Onofre. It’s estimated that decommissioning Units 2 and 3 will cost $3.7 billion.

    PREDICTION: SORE (San Onofre Reactor Emergency) will prove to be the most expensive nuclear Debacle in the World not counting the Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster triple meltdown in Fukushima Japan; so the question now is who will pay for it, SoCal rate payers or the shareholders of SCE and SDG&E who have had record profits every year for the past few years!

    Unless the NRC refuses to allow SCE to restart SanO, the NRC will become an accomplice to the biggest nuclear rip off the World has ever known thanks in part to the CA CPUC not doing their job by asking for a full investigation and CA Gov. Brown for "Looking the other way" while the CPUC fails the public's trust...

    I hope both CA Senators Feinstein and Boxer will become vocal before it is too late!

  7. The SORE (San Onofre Reactor Emergency) started on Jan 31, 2012 and therefore has been going on for about 8.5 months...

    Therefore at $65 Million per month, SoCal ratepayers have been charged (8 months X $65 Million Dollars per month) 552.5 Million Dollars which has gone to SCE and SDG&E for no electricity generated!

    Said another way SoCal ratepayers have paid about HALF A BILLION DOLLARS in what I believe will be the biggest Energy Boondoggle in US History!

    If a bank in CA was robbed and they stole a couple of million dollars, it would be on both the Local and National news, yet MSM in Southern California is almost silent about SORE (San Onofre Reactor Emergency) half a billion dollar Utility "heist".

    Ask yourself why, then ask all your elected Leaders why they are silent!

    Each day we wait for a refund is costing all of US about 2 million Dollar more.


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