Unusual wear has been found on hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water at Southern California‘s San Onofre Unit 2 nuclear plant, in more than 800, the thinning was at least 10 percent.
According to company officials, the new steam generators were manufactured by Japan-based Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The company did not respond to an email sent Wednesday.
A spokesman for Edison, the operators of the plant said Mitsubishi officials are assisting with the tube analysis at the plant.
The news could be catastrophic for San Onofre, which spent $680 million to replace the plant’s four steam generators and expected them to last for decades.
A steam generator functions like a car’s radiator, removing heat from a nuclear reactor‘s core and converting it into steam that spins the plant’s turbines, generating electricity.
Each steam generator can contain as many as 16,000 tubes, each about 0.75 inch in diameter.
Hot, slightly radioactive water pumps through the tubes day and night. Cool, nonradioactive water is pumped around these tubes, and flashes quickly to steam, which travels out of the plant’s massive concrete containment domes to the electricity-generating turbines.
Edison loses face
At first the utility which operates the nuclear power plant said there was “There has been no release to the atmostphere”. A few hours later the company spokesman Gil Alexander was finding himself on the hot-seat after the NRC had acknowledged that obviously some radioactivity had been released as the steam was vented into an auxiliary unit.It’s quite obvious that Edison knew there was a pathway, and despite the amount was that might have escaped, by denying any release the utility set themselves up for the fall.
When asked, Southern California Edison spokesman Gil Alexander did not directly address why the plant used the language it did. He just once again emphasized the relatively minor nature of the incident.
“I can’t speak for the NRC but we would agree that there might have been an insignificant or extremely small release,” Alexander said.
You Know There Is A Problem When –
The NEI released an overly-sympathetic opinion article that was rapidly and widely spread throughout the industry social media services, downplaying the rhetoric surrounding the initial reported findings.
The Raw Deal
Initially reports were that a small number of tubes in Reactor 3 were reported damaged, and Edison’s spokesmen expertly downplayed the risk to the media communicating, “At least ONE of the thousands” of thin tubes inside the generator burst. (Emphasis added)
NRC admissions leave Edison scrambling
Earlier this afternoon main-stream media articles about San Onofre included one simple line, that a few readers picked up on, but most glazed over.
A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said there were also signs of damage to multiple tubes in a second reactor, which is offline for maintenance.
Gil Alexander, a spokesman for Edison, said that he was unable to confirm early Thursday that damage had been found in unit 2′s steam generator tubes.
This evening the news broke about Reactor 2
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, more than a third of the wall had been worn away in two tubes at Unit 2, which will require them to be plugged and taken out of service. At least 20 percent of the tube wall was worn away in 69 other tubes, and in more than 800, the thinning was at least 10 percent.
Edison Still Attempting To Downplay Public Rhetoric
Alexander, said that he was working to confirm Dricks information Wednesday morning. Plant operator Southern California Edison did not dispute the figures released by the NRC, but cautioned that testing on the tubes is preliminary. Spokesman Gil Alexander called the tests “an initial snapshot” and said more sophisticated tests will take place.
NRC requirements spell risk of decommissioning for San Onofre
“The amount of wear that we are seeing on these tubes is unusual for a new steam generator,” NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said.
He continued by confirming that Edison will have to file a special “justification for continued operation” document before the regulator will allow the Unit 2 reactor to be restarted.
Edison Opposes NRC Views
Gil Alexander also said he did not know if the testing would delay the reactor’s planned two-month shutdown. ”It’s not unprecedented in the industry for there to be accelerated wear in small sections of tubes in early years of usage,” he said.
So What Does It Really Mean To Me?
Southern California Edison said a manufacturing defect was reported by Mitsubishi before delivery of two generators from Japan — but that the equipment was retested by the manufacturer and plant operator and determined to be fine before installation at the southern reactor.
This leads most experts to doubt that Mitsubishi will be offering to reimburse Edison, especially since they are hard hit from lack of sales after the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. It also makes one wonder about the quality assurance for the replacement equipment.
Retired NRC engineer and researcher Joram Hopenfeld said the company will have to determine why the tubing is degrading so quickly “before they do anything else.” “I’ve never heard of anything like that over so short a period of time,” Hopenfeld said.
In 2010, Edison spent over $680 million to replace the plant’s four steam generators and expected them to last for decades.
This might mean there is a now a worry about the possibility that San Onofre has purchased 4 faulty steam generators from Mitsubishi, and the financial costs to replace them might prevent the plant from restarting.
The Key Facts
San Onofre Units 2 and 3 operating licenses are currently set to expire in the next decade, unless licensing renewal is granted.
Many citizens in California have been working with more success in recent years to make the state a nuclear-free producer of electricity.
Unit I gained fame as California’s oldest commercial nuclear reactor, starting operations in 1967 on a swath of land wedged between Interstate 5 and the Pacific Ocean just south of San Clemente. It was closed in 1992 because it had grown less efficient with time and needed millions of dollars in improvements.
Add in the costs that Edison would have to pony up if all the steam generators are not approved by the NRC and need to be replaced (Initial cost in 2010 was over 600 million USD) and the estimated cost to decommission a nuclear reactor, (Even the most conservative estimates can easily run over 500 million USD (times 2 reactors) = 1.6 billion dollar cost that Edison would have to swallow within the next 10 years, barring a license extension which seems like an even fainter hope after the recent events.
The citizens in California may find their drive slightly less ‘erotic’ in 10 years, as the famous pair of breasts (a locals joke)…er reactor buildings may be in the middle of a major decommissioning operation.