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Two Years After San Onofre Shutdown Questions Remain

Evening Edition

Aired 1/30/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Arnie Gundersen- Former Nuclear Power Energy Executive and chief engineer for Fairewinds Energy Education.

Ray Lutz, is a member of the Coalition to Decommission San Onofre

We invited a representative of Southern California Edison to join the conversation. They declined and also declined a request for a statement.


Friday marks the second anniversary of the tiny radiation leak that eventually led to the complete shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Power plant.

The permanent closure, announced in June 2013, ended speculation about the extent of the damage and potential danger of restarting the plant.

But it's not the end of the story. State regulators are conducting a meticulous review of how Southern California Edison handled the failure of the steam generators.

Looking ahead, Ted Craver, CEO of Southern California Edison told the Orange County Register that Edison will submit its decommissioning plans to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a few months including updated cost estimates.

In a related story, Thursday a U.S. Senate committee held a hearing on nuclear safety, including seismic studies in California.

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Avatar for user 'CaptD'

CaptD | January 31, 2014 at 7:05 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

As submitted to the NRC's own moderated Blog site on 01/23/14:

Keeping Knowledge “In the Family” at the NRC

... The most important area of knowledge that NRC needs to document ASAP is Fluid Elastic Instability (FEI), since San Onofre's NPP replacement steam generator (RSG) debacle has clearly pointed out that while many at the NRC claim to have expert knowledge about FEI, very few if any really do, which places us all at risk. NRC employees don't like to admit that they don't really understand FEI, the specific factors that lead up to it and/or how FEI can cause cascading steam generator tube damage inside operating steam generators that cannot be detected until after the damage is done, which could then lead to a catastrophic loss of reactor core coolant!

Case In Point:
San Onofre NPP Unit 2 was operating with a SG tube that had 95% wear, when the safety limitation is 35%, yet the Utility Operator SCE never had a clue that this tube was close to failure, until it was inspected during a scheduled refueling, which luckily happened to also occur at the same time that Unit 3's almost new RSG developed a radioactive leak on 01/31/12. Later NRC investigations found more damaged SG tubes at San Onofre Unit 2 and Unit 3, than in all of the rest of the US nuclear fleet combined!


The NRC has chosen to "look the other way" instead of immediately revising their Beyond Design Basis (BDB) belief that only a single SG tube can fail at any one time for any reason at any NPP, a belief that both San Onofre's almost new RSG have proven is no longer factual, despite the fact that even ex-NRC scientists have warned the NRC about this issue previously, yet no Regulatory changes have been made. Adding to the problems at San Onofre, are the many conflicting industry and academic expert opinions/explanations of exactly what occurred at San Onofre.

Many have urged the Chairman of the NRC to direct that San Onofre's investigations be fast tracked and made public because of its safety implications, but it turns out that even Senator Boxer is having trouble getting complete documentation from the NRC about San Onofre's operation Each day that the NRC continues to stretch out its FEI investigations (hoping this problem will just go away), is yet another day that all other NPP's may be operating in a potentially unsafe manner!

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Avatar for user 'CaptD'

CaptD | January 31, 2014 at 7:19 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Adding to the above comment is the frustration caused by the ongoing delay in the CPUC's own investigation into the operation of San Onofre. By NOT demanding that SCE make public any and all documentation relating to the design, construction and operation of SCE's in-housed designed replacement steam generators, outside experts cannot determine the "reasonableness" of what SCE did.

This is THE key factor in determining how much the CPUC will determine that SoCal ratepayers are due in refunds for this public utility debacle which will amount to somewhere between 1 and 10 Billion dollars if the investigation is provided fair access! The CPUC must allow access to documentation and not continue to shield SCE's actions from public scrutiny if ratepayers are ever to learn the truth!

Unless the CPUC changes it Pro Utility stance, SoCal ratepayers not Utility shareholders will be forced to pay for SCE's in-house engineering debacle for decades to come!

As of now, we have paid and/or are still paying about*:

- $60 million per month for ongoing expenses and getting zero energy for it
- $750 million for the replacement steam generators that were dangerous
- $300 million for new turbines
- $200 million for new reactor heads
- $500 million of decommissioning shortfall, estimated...
- $1,500 million for 5+ decades of nuclear waste on-site storage costs

*NOTE: This is only a partial listing and I believe it is on the LOW side...

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Avatar for user 'DonnaGilmore'

DonnaGilmore | January 31, 2014 at 7:26 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

San Onofre chose to use "high burnup" nuclear fuel which is over twice as hot and radioactive, and unstable and unpredictable in storage, compared to the lower burnup fuel they originally used. The NRC won't approve high burnup dry storage over 20 years because they don't have the data to prove it's safe. And they won't approve any transportation containers for high burnup fuel. The protective Zirconium metal cladding around the high burnup fuel is cracking and subject to shattering, which could release the radiation into the environment. See details at

High burnup fuel made more money for Edison because it can burn longer in the reactor. However, it made us less safe. The majority of U.S. nuclear reactors use high burnup fuel, including Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County. The high burnup fuel must cool for up to 20 years in the spent fuel pools (instead of 5 years) before it can even be moved out of the cooling pools to dry storage. However, until there is a better dry storage container, it's not safe to move it to dry storage containers. See government and scientific facts at

In addition, the Zirconium cladding is reacting with high burnup fuel to create hydrides, which could result in a hydrogen explosion in the spent fuel pools or in dry storage containers.

The dry storage containers are stainless steel. NRC's own reports shows there are serious corrosion problems with the metals used at San Onofre and other plants located near the ocean, such as Diablo Canyon. If air reaches inside the stainless steel container, it can result in a hydrogen explosion.

We need to put pressure on our elected officials to force the NRC to stop approving high burnup fuel and to find a storage solution for the tons of high burnup fuel waste that exists around the country. That won't happen without pressure from us. This fuel has been used for decades and even though the NRC and nuclear industry know about the problem, they don't have any solutions and don't appear to be working on a solution. Their current plan is to put high burnup fuel in a stainless steel container that isn't even approved for high burnup fuel and wait and see what happens. Because there is no current technology that can monitor inside the containers, their plan is to try to invent one.

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Avatar for user 'CaptD'

CaptD | January 31, 2014 at 7:40 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Yet another issue that the ongoing investigation bring to light is the use of High Burn-up Fuel (HBF) at San Onofre!

So far this issue has not been mentioned very much in the CPUC's public investigation. This is important because what has been left out of the discussion is the damage caused by using HBF which translates into much more maintenance that is paid for by ratepayers. These "Up-rates" in power generated tend to cause much higher "wear and tear" on all critical components that carry reactor core coolant, something that is not usually disclosed to ratepayers, since they not the operating Utilities have to foot the bill to pay for them and/or their replacement, which could easily run into the Billions over time! The NRC does not care about operating cost because they consider that as a on-going maintenance cost and don't care about it, leaving it to the regulator (the CPUC in this case) to monitor. The Up-rates allow the Utility to not only make more power (and more profits) from their nuclear power plants (NPP) but they also get to make a profit on supplying all the replacement components, usually replacing them with more efficient ones which translates into even greater profits for the Utility, ALL AT THE PUBLICS COST.

This is the key reason the SCE want to stop any and all investigations at San Onofre because if tit becomes widely known that public has been duped into paying for billions in faulty operational costs then not only will SCE be exposed but all the other NPP Operators in the USA and beyond that now use HBF. This is just another reason that the public must have access to operational documents, because as it is now we are left having to trust the very Utilities that time has shown are thinking far more about their own profitability than they are about keeping costs down for the ratepayers they serve!

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Avatar for user 'Atomikrabbit'

Atomikrabbit | January 31, 2014 at 8:31 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

It's unfortunate that SCE did not choose to appear on the interview, and remains silent in public comments sections such as these.

When they do not engage, they abandon the field to unqualified radiophobic activists with too much free time on their hands, such as some of those posting here, and the public is denied the opportunity to consider alternate sides of these complex issues.

Public outreach and PR has been the Achilles Heel of this technology for 40 years, and unfortunately I don't see a lot of change there. Californians will ultimately pay the price in less reliable, costlier electricity, higher CO2 emissions, and poorer air quality.

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Avatar for user 'DonnaGilmore'

DonnaGilmore | January 31, 2014 at 10:50 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

The public is paying the price already. In addition to the safety problems, SDG&E and Edison ratepayers have among the highest electricity rates in the nation. So much for the myth "nuclear is too cheap to meter".

Name calling is a frequent response when a person doesn't have facts on their side. Don't be fooled by the anonymous comments. Learn the facts for yourself.

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Avatar for user 'CaptD'

CaptD | January 31, 2014 at 1:06 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

To Atomikrabbit SCE uses its lawyers to make prepared statement and has not taken part in discussions about what has happened at San Onofre. That is only part of the reason that San Onofre has been closed; one of the others is that they did not listened to their own high level employees that told them their design was faulty so now there are also now lawsuits against SCE because of that.

So your claim of: "unqualified radiophobic activists with too much free time on their hands, such as some of those posting here" is just so much Nuclear Baloney* (NB).

I suggest that you are the one that needs to get informed about what has occurred at San Onofre.

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Avatar for user 'CaptD'

CaptD | February 2, 2014 at 11:58 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

San Onofre nuclear plant: Owners plan advisory panel, outline next steps
Ed Joyce | January 31st, 2014, 4:18pm
The owners of the San Onofre nuclear power plant near San Clemente said Friday that they plan to create an advisory panel as part of the decommissioning of the seaside facility.

The plant's majority owner, Southern California Edison, said it wants the advisory panel to include elected officials from San Diego and Orange counties and from cities surrounding the plant, along with anti-nuclear activists, the military and academics, among others.

"We're envisioning 18-to-20 people on the Community Engagement Panel," said Ted Craver, CEO of Edison International, which is the parent company of Southern California Edison.

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Avatar for user 'nukewatcher'

nukewatcher | February 2, 2014 at 8:46 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

This sounds like a safety valve committee designed to let people posture and blow off steam. The real issue is to get the casks moved far away asap. A "permanent" solution might happen in 50 years, but more likely there will never be a national repository ehivh means the waste will stay in populated areas for centuries. The low level waste is also a great danger since decommissioning will be a dirty operation.

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Avatar for user 'thoughtful1'

thoughtful1 | February 3, 2014 at 2:10 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

It is somewhat ironic, but mostly sad, that San Onofre has been shut down, when we are in a drought and we are trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Use of ocean water for cooling made the quantity of fresh water used by the plant inconsequential. Conventional combined cycle plants which will provide 2200 MW of replacement power will burn natural gas (greenhouse gas emissions) and consume millions of gallons of water for cooling. It is tragic, actually.

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Avatar for user 'thoughtful1'

thoughtful1 | February 3, 2014 at 2:20 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

We desparately need a centralized location to store spent nuclear fuel. The US has spent $12 billion to study Yucca Mountain, only to have Senator Harry Reid and President Barak Obama pull funding of the study process and instruct Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to declare that "Yucca mountain is off the table as a nuclear waste repository." So we are left storing nuclear waste at the 103 sites where reactors have been built. (less 1 site which was able to consolidate its waste, however, you get the idea.) Not really very safe, IMHO.

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Avatar for user 'RegTuffin'

RegTuffin | February 3, 2014 at 8:42 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

You'll find that the anti-nuke people here post a ton of information - most of it irrelevant to the situation at hand. But they think it makes them look knowledgeable.

CaptD is one of the worst offenders - and one of those who knows little to nothing about nuclear energy.

Seems all these reactors run for decades with little or no problems. That's why people like CaptD look so silly. They run around screaming like another Hiroshima is coming, and they get a few other ignorant people to follow along.

Meanwhile the people who worked their hearts and souls out to provide clean, cheap electricity to Southern California, safely, are left twisting in the wind while CaptD and his cohorts pat themselves on the back for doing... nothing.

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Avatar for user 'JoeDurango'

JoeDurango | February 26, 2014 at 10:38 a.m. ― 3 years ago

Hope the anti nukes are pleased with themselves.. They drove two nuke plants that had an excellent operational history into retirement.

Unfortunately the Steam Generator disaster is mostly the doing of Southern Cal... They should have just gone with the design initially proposed and agreed to by MHI.

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