New report: San Onofre nuclear plant failures could have been prevented, larger disasters could still occur

By End the Lie

A new report from Fairewinds Associates, commissioned by the Friends of the Earth (FOE) and written by Arnie Gundersen, MSNE, reveals that the problems at the San Onofre nuclear power plant – the same facility which had an Augmented Inspection Team assigned to it by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after failing a test – could have been prevented and the current “solutions” are, in fact, non-solutions.

According to the report, Southern California Edison made an end run around federal regulatory guidelines when they replaced the defective steam generators at the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

This move is referred to as a “costly mistake that can’t be fixed by plugging the tubes that carry radioactive steam or by operating the plant at reduced power.”

Unfortunately, that’s exactly the solution that they think will work, as Southern California Edison is expected to propose the non-solution of running the reactors at 50% and 80% power.

Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen – who has been quite vocal on the issue of Fukushima – reveals in the report that there were major design changes at the plan which should have resulted in a license review.

This review would have revealed the problems which led to considerable damage at the facility and the subsequent release of radiation thanks to the defective equipment at San Onofre earlier this year.

The report states, “it is likely the more thorough review would have identified the design and fabrication inadequacies.”

The report states that the NRC likely would have discovered that Edison actually used a Mitsubishi computer model to evaluate the changes to the facility, while the model they used was not even capable of properly analyzing the Combustion Engineering design utilized at San Onofre. Instead, it is only capable of analyzing the wholly different Westinghouse design.

Some significant changes were made in the facility, including: changing the unique tube support system to prevent vibration in the original design, removing the main structural stay cylinder, and packing a whopping 400 additional tubes into the design.

According to the report, these design changes resulted in the top of the new steam generator being “starved of water therefore making tube vibration inevitable.”

Furthermore, Gunderson states that these tubes are currently “at risk of bursting in a main steam accident and spewing radioactivity into the air,” hardly a risk worth taking.

The report also concludes that the vibration problems are actually a symptom of the problem at San Onofre, not the root cause and that plugging these tubes will do nothing to change the design which causes these tubes to collide with each other.

Gundersen says that Edison’s plans are far from adequate, as they plan to rapidly restart the damaged reactors at reduced power after doing quite minimal repairs including plugging of damaged tubes transporting highly radioactive water.

In the report, he says that these non-solutions are, in fact, quite dangerous as they could lead to critical equipment failure and potentially even more radiation releases.

The report draws several conclusions, including that running the reactors at reduced power will not solve any of the underlying structural problems.

These structural problems create the vibration which has – and continues to – damage the tubes inside of the San Onofre steam generators.

The non-solutions being implemented will also do nothing to reduce the pressure both inside and outside of these tubes. This means that tubes which had already been damaged will continue to vibrate and thus damage the surrounding tubes and tube supports, further worsening the already considerable damage.

The report further states that operating the facility at a lower power could potentially create a resonant frequency which might increase vibrations without creating obvious further damage.

Furthermore, the report points to the fact that historical evidence gathered from other reactors shows that operating the plant at lower power is not an effective solution.

Gundersen paints a pretty disturbing picture in the report, but this is far from meaningless fear mongering. In reality, it should serve as a wakeup call for those who still believe we have nothing to worry about in the case of San Onofre, and nuclear power in general.

He states that plugging the tubes and restarting the reactor could very well lead to catastrophe, the magnitude of which would be unimaginable.

“If a steam-line accident were to occur, vibrationally induced tube damage at San Onofre could cause an inordinate amount of radioactivity to be released outside of the containment system, compromising public health and safety in one of the most heavily populated areas in the United States,” writes Gundersen.

The report puts forth some possible solutions instead of simply leaving us with intense concern and no recourse.

One such potential solution would be to repair in place by cutting off the top section of the steam generators, thus allowing personnel access to them. However, they say this “may be possible” and it could take up to 18 months and cost roughly $400 million.

Another would be to change the internal structure after additional analysis of water flow patterns in order to transport additional water to the upper U-bend regions or by entirely replacing the steam water separators.

The report states that the only solution which would truly minimize the safety risks at San Onofre is to replace the existing steam generators completely through the license amendment process.

A brief video has been put together by FOE which can be seen below:

I also highly recommend reading the report in its entirety. It is embedded below for your convenience and is only 11 pages of actual material (13 including endnotes and cover page).

Did I forget anything or miss any errors? Would you like to make me aware of a story or subject to cover? Or perhaps you want to bring your writing to a wider audience? Feel free to contact me at [email protected] with your concerns, tips, questions, original writings, insults or just about anything that may strike your fancy.

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3 Responses to New report: San Onofre nuclear plant failures could have been prevented, larger disasters could still occur

  1. Time For Renewable Energy in California May 16, 2012 at 3:26 AM

    Thank you for this article and for linking the actual report.

    You may have noticed a concerted effort amongst the nuclear- trolls to criticize Mr. Gundersen and his analysis, but I put my trust in Mr. Gundersen.

    And let’s tally up some of the costs to San Onofre ratepayers for the steam-generator ordeal:

    $678 million dollars for the new steam generators

    $ 64 million dollars for a new earthquake study

    and now potentially $400 million dollars to fix the generators

    and the $1 million dollars a day that the down-time of San Onofre is costing, which will be probably be passed onto the ratepayers.

    There was a better solution ===>

    Remember that Petition drive for the ballot initiative to shut down California’s nuclear power plants ==== >

    www dot californianuclearinitiative dot com

    The initiative didn’t garner enough signatures, but if I were a San Onofre/ California resident, I would definitely be wishing that it did, and that I had signed the petition.

    One signature on a petition probably could have saved the California electricity-ratepayer a lot of $$$.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous May 18, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    I was going to ask myself why this isn’t headline news on the front of every newspaper and tv station. Then I realized this is America.

    Reply
  3. Soft Kill May 23, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    Arnie Gundersen is an American hero. Thank god people like him are still around fighting for our health!

    Reply

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