Saturday, March 19, 2016

124 unavailable CPUC documents vs the public's right to know

March 19th, 2016

The CPUC needs to release 124 documents relating to Southern California Edison's San Onofre nuclear (waste) generating station, and the $3.3 billion financial windfall SCE is receiving at the expense of ratepayers, as payback for destroying their own reactor through a combination of improper design, improper oversight (possibly due to misleading statements from the utility), and improper operation.

Specifically, the CPUC is in violation of Art I, Sec 3 (b)(1) of the California State Constitution, which, according to Michael Aguirre and Maria Severson in the document linked to below, requires the CPUC to construe laws about public access: "broadly [if they increase] the people's right of access, and narrowly if they limit the right of access."

We are 124 documents short of that goal. But with the CPUC controlled by a few large utilities (instead of the other way around), there's little hope for a fix as long as the CPUC remains corrupt -- and thus, little hope for saving ratepayers $3.3 billion, by charging the failure of San Onofre to those responsible: The owners/investors in this faulty technology in the first place.

Because 12 years ago, the writing was on the wall. The Steam Generator Replacement Project (SGRP) was a risky and foolhardy plan from the start, but opposition was crushed by the CPUC itself, as the utility assured them and the public (through a complacent and often supportive news media) that there would be a savings of about a billion dollars over a 20 year period if the steam generators were replaced. That assurance wasn't worth the paper it wasn't printed on, as time would tell.

There was nothing "unprecedented" about the steam generator failure, insofar as, the evidence shows that what actually destroyed the steam generators was not just the faulty design, but also this: The utility ran the reactor (Unit 3) too hot, too hard, beyond their own pre-set limits, and outside the boundaries set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission! And that's what destroyed Unit 3. Unit 2 was run a few degrees cooler, and that's why it didn't experience the coordinated vibration of tubes that Unit 3 suffered from, known as Fluid Elastic Instability (FEI), that caused the leak, that wore out the tubes, that destroyed the reactor.

They were greedy.

And the CPUC has stood in the way of every attempt by the public to get at the facts.

They have not, however, stayed away from the utilities or their major investors.

There are four investment firms -- just four -- who together own more than $16 billion of the $66 billion (market value) the three California utilities (PG&E, SCE and SDG&E) are currently worth. Much of the rest of the market value is tied up in a few dozen other large firms.

These large firms don't want their nuclear investments going south, and they had every opportunity to tell the CPUC what to do to prevent that, because CPUC commissioners met with representatives from these large investment firms in private meetings on the 29th of February, 2012 (less than a month after San Onofre permanently shut down), and again in September of that year, and many other times as well. For example, they met dozens of times at posh locations around San Francisco, and dozens more times outside the United States (where they apparently felt they could ignore some of the disclosure rules and talk more freely with each other). Meetings were held in more than two dozen different countries just since 2000.*

In the case of the San Onofre investigation, what the CPUC did was: Nothing. Rather than initiate an immediate investigation into what went wrong, they delayed initiating that investigation (which their own rules required them to initiate at some point) as long as legally possible, which was six months after the utility itself finally admitted what we all knew within a few weeks of the sudden shutdown on January 31, 2012: The plant could never reopen again without replacing the steam generators for a third time around -- which wasn't going to happen.

Once the CPUC "OII" investigation got started, it was divided into three phases: First, one phase to gather evidence, then one to decide what to do, and finally, one to establish fault. Which, of course, was backwards. How can you decided who to charge for the failure, when you haven't determined who is at fault? What the CPUC did next was even more bizarre: Having determined that the ratepayer should pay (the second phase of the investigation), the CPUC concluded that the third phase -- determining fault -- simply was no longer necessary. It was cancelled outright!

The NRC's investigation was a failure, too. The NRC would not release the actual operational numbers because the utility claimed the information (on a failed pair of reactors of a unique design, that would never run again) was confidential. The NRC apparently also wouldn't USE the numbers they wouldn't release to figure out what happened (flow rates, temperatures, pressures, percentages of steam to water at various points in the process, circulation ratios, numbers like that).

Instead, the NRC investigation concluded that they couldn't decide what caused FEI to occur in Unit 3 but not in Unit 2, but that it was, in their opinion, probably due to minute differences in the tolerances of the manufacturing processes for the Unit 3 replacement steam generators versus the Unit 2 replacement steam generators.

The difference in manufacturing procedures between Unit 2 replacement steam generators and Unit 3 replacement steam generators supposedly cut the resistance to vibration in Unit 3 compared to Unit 2 by half. However, the friction force in Unit 2 was still only about 6% of the amount of force needed to prevent vibration in the tubes. So this was not the real cause of FEI occurring only in Unit 3's steam generators, and not in Unit 2. The manufacturing differences were, at best, only a small contributing factor.

What had caused the problem, then? Who was really to blame? Southern California Edison made most of the mistakes, and acted most egregiously. When the project was presented to the public and to the CPUC, SCE claimed they were proposing a "like-for-like" exchange of shiny new rebuilt steam generators, which would be even better than the originals because they were going to be made with Alloy 690, instead of Alloy 600, and, they told the CPUC, Alloy 690 is much more corrosion resistant and will last much longer -- maybe even 60 years, certainly 40, they said.

Unsaid was that Alloy 690 also happened to be 10% less heat conductive. Because of this, SCE needed to redesign the steam generators pretty significantly to try to get the same kind of PROFIT that they were getting before. They added hundreds more thin tubes to each steam generator (for a total of 9,737 tubes per steam generator) by removing a "stay cylinder" from the middle of each steam generator. In doing so, they didn't account for the loss of a column of relatively cool water that previously rose up the middle of the steam generators. In the replacement design, the central area was being heated just like all the rest of the water in the steam generator secondary loop.

This extra heat transfer area allowed SCE to generate more steam and more PROFIT. But it also caused an area around the top of the "U-bend" of the Unit 3 steam generators to "dry out" completely: There was (approximately) less than one half of one percent water in the mixture of steam and water in an area near the top, the hottest part where there is the highest percentage of steam to water. That is not enough to dampen vibrations, and after just 11 months of operation, one of the Unit 3 steam generators began to leak.

Immediately above the U-bend, most of the remaining water is removed by centrifugal "dryers," which work like the way many modern vacuums remove dust using a tornado-like funnel of air. The water that is removed at the top of the steam generator is immediately pumped back around to recirculate in the steam generator. Before turning to steam, most of the water goes around four to five times in typical pressurized water nuclear reactor steam generators. San Onofre's circulation ratio was much lower: between three and four: They were getting a lot of steam, and quickly -- but the tops of their steam generators were drying out and vibrating.

But the utility was handing out bonuses to the control room operators for successfully producing more steam and more PROFITS!

They were publishing articles about themselves in the trade papers, telling what a wonderful job they had done, passing off a massive improvement in profits as a "like-for-like" routine replacement that would save the public $50 million dollars a year -- which comes to somewhere between about two and three dollars per meter per year. For this, the entire southern California area was to be subjected to the risks of nuclear power for 20, 40, or maybe even 60 more years!

But now, the CPUC wants to make ratepayers pay for SCE's failure, for their greed, and for their mismanagement. Instead of (allegedly) saving a couple of bucks per meter per year, the steam generator replacement project will cost ratepayers several times that amount, for many years to come.

The citizens of southern California are still far better off with San Onofre closed, with the spent fuel pile no longer growing, but there is no reason the ratepayer should have to pay for SCE's criminal negligence. And that this whole nearly-catastrophic failure was criminal negligence is one of the few things that has come out, despite attempts by the CPUC to hold back the facts of what they did, and the NRC's willingness to withhold operational data, and the utility being allowed to say nothing most of the time, and to lie when they do speak.

The utilities are legally allowed to lie, because only the NRC can investigate the veracity of anything they say (the CPUC, CCC, CEC, etc. will all claim not to be "experts" in nuclear matters). And the NRC has already stated that statements made by the public officials of the utilities they regulate are not themselves regulated activities, and therefore will not be investigated. So the utilities can -- and do -- lie any time they want. A little radiation is NOT good for you!

After San Onofre closed permanently, the CPUC added insult to injury by blocking the use of renewable energy from the Imperial Valley which could have been used to replace more than 500 megawatts of electricity San Onofre had been producing (about 25% of SanO's total output). Instead, that power has been provided by new gas-fired power plants, adding to California's CO2 burden, rather than subtracting from it.

And Diablo Canyon needs to be closed because of earthquake risks (and tsunamis risks as well, although it is at a slightly higher elevation than San Onofre). The CPUC relies on the utilities to study the earthquake/tsunami risk, but the NRC lets the utilities use fault-prone (pun intended) risk analysis to show that there "probably" won't be an earthquake significant enough to destroy the reactors, the spent fuel pools or the (ever-growing) "farm" of dry casks.

But there are clean alternatives -- cheaper alternatives, too, even if they are less juicy to outside investors (such as solar rooftops, made in California and installed with local labor). Since clean alternatives exist, why is "probably" (as in "Probabilistic Risk Assessment") good enough? Why play Russian Roulette at all? Diablo Canyon needs to be closed today! Prevent a Fukushima in the U.S.A. perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in 20 years as it rusts away on the shore, getting more and more corroded as the regulators remain corrupt. The condition San Onofre is in -- all rusted and decaying -- should be crystal-clear proof that Diablo Canyon has had its day. The investors have made all the money they deserve from it -- and more.

The California Public Utilities Commission has been a corrupted, offensive, abusive organization for too many decades, and needs to be cleaned up properly, so that the San Onofre mess can be cleaned up (somehow), Diablo Canyon shut down immediately, and available renewable energy options taken and encouraged. Why this hasn't happened already needs to be exposed. Greater transparency is needed for the greater public good.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Here is a link to the Aguirre & Severson document:

* List of countries outside the United States where the CPUC and other state officials met with utility investors courtesy of the utility-funded California Foundation for the Environment and the Economy (CFEE) (2000 - 2015; from Aguirre & Severson):

Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway, Inner Mongolia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, United Kingdom, Spain


** Ace Hoffman, Carlsbad CA

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