Southern California breaking news and trends

San Onofre problems prompt possibility of policy change

San Onofre Nuclear Plant

Grant Slater/KPCC

The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant is seen on April 6, 2012.

A rule allowing nuclear plant operators to replace certain equipment without prior approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is being reconsidered.

Speaking in North Carolina on Wednesday, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said the tubing trouble at San Onofre suggests the rules under which the generators were installed may need to be modified, the Associated Press reported.

The twin reactors, offline for months, will need federal approval to restart.  Plant operator Southern California Edison hoped to reopen in time for summer's peak energy use, however no projected timeline has been released.

Earlier this week, NRC Chairman Jaczko announced he will be stepping down from his post.

After nearly eight years on the Commission, I am announcing my resignation as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, effective upon the confirmation of my successor. My responsibility and commitment to safety will continue to be my paramount priority after I leave the Commission and until my successor is confirmed. 

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Report: San Onofre nuclear plant misled regulators about equipment changes

san onofre nuclear power plant atomic

Jason Hickey/Flickr Creative Commons

File: The San Onofre nuclear power plant

SoCal Edison, the utility that operates the San Onofre nuclear plant, misled federal regulators about equipment changes that are the likely cause of extensive wear on tubing that carries radioactive water, according to a report produced for nuclear watchdog group Friends of Earth and obtained by the Associated Press.

The report by nuclear consultants Fairewinds Associates warns that a more detailed study is needed on tubing in the plant's steam generators before the twin reactors near San Diego are restarted. It concludes that equipment and design changes to the massive generators "created a large risk of tube failure."

According to the report, since the alterations, the plant has "experienced extraordinarily rapid degradation of their steam generator tubes," it said, adding that such rapid wear can raise the potential for an accident that could release radioactivity.

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Under pressure: San Onofre nuclear plant's tube troubles expand

san onofre nuclear power plant atomic

Jason Hickey/Flickr Creative Commons

File: The San Onofre nuclear power plant

More problems at San Onofre: Four more tubes that carry radioactive water at the nuclear power plant failed pressure tests, bringing the total number to seven.

The four tubes failed Thursday, SoCal Edison announced. Three had failed Wednesday.

"This is a significant issue," said NRC spokeswoman Lara Uselding. "A tube rupture is really the concern."

The utility shut down the plant's Unit 3 reactor and began testing samples from thousands of tubes in its steam generators on Jan. 31 after a leak was found. Traces of radiation escaped during the leak, but officials said there was no danger to workers or neighbors.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Thursday it was sending a special team of inspectors to try to determine why the metal tubes, which were installed only a few years ago, have become frail enough to pose a risk of leaks.

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