Environment & Science

Feds to study cancer risks at nuclear plants including San Onofre

The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant is seen on April 6, 2012.
The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant is seen on April 6, 2012.
Grant Slater/KPCC

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is launching a pilot study of cancer risks in people living near six U.S. nuclear power plants, including the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Southern California.

The plant, on the seaside border of San Diego and Orange counties, has been offline since Jan. 31 after a leak of radioactive steam into the atmosphere.

Inspections discovered unusual or accelerated wear on steam generator tubes in the plant's Unit 2 and Unit 3.

The $2 million study announced Tuesday will look at multiple types of cancer in populations around nuclear power plants. Besides San Onofre, they will also look at sites Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Tennessee and near a uranium fuel producer in Tennessee. It also will specifically examine cancers in children living near the facilities.

RELATED: Edison conducting annual San Onofre safety test

Meanwhile, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has scheduled a meeting in Irvine Thursday to consider whether Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric ratepayers should foot the bill for the repairs at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. (SONGS).

The CPUC said its investigation will consider the causes of the outages at San Onofre, the utilities’
responses, the future of the SONGS units, and the resulting effects on the provision of safe and reliable electric service at just and reasonable rates

The Unit 3 reactor at San Onofre was shut down as a precaution after a steam generator tube leak at the end of January. Traces of radiation escaped at the time, but officials said there was no danger to workers or neighbors.

Unit 2 had been taken offline a few weeks earlier for maintenance, but inspectors later found unexpected wear on hundreds of tubes inside steam generators in both units. The plant is operated by Southern California Edison.

Those four steam generators were installed at San Onofre during a $670 million overhaul in 2009 and 2010. Tests found some tubes were so badly corroded that they could fail and possibly release radiation, a stunning finding inside the nearly new equipment.

Edison has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for permission to operate Unit 2 at 70 percent power for five months, then shut it down for inspections.

Edison hasn’t announced any plans for restarting Unit 3, and company executives have left open the possibility its generators could be scrapped.

Anti-nuclear activists and people who live near the plant, like Gene Stone of San Clemente, said the troubled facility needs to be permanently shutdown rather than restarted.

“They’re asking to experiment with our lives, our safety, our children, our food, our homes and our economy,” said Stone.

Anti-nuclear groups also say San Onofre has a poor safety record and that the plant would be compromised in an earthquake.

This is the CPUC order detailing the investigation into the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station:
NRC Docs