California Nuclear Accident: Caused By a Secret Attempt to Ramp Up Production?
The San Onofre nuclear plant in Southern California suffered a steam tube rupture and radioactive leak … a “very significant” event which almost caused a melt down.
A nuclear engineer and former nuclear company executive thinks he knows why:
The troubled San Onofre nuclear plant in Southern California will remain shut down while investigators try to solve a mystery inside its massive generators—the rapid decay of tubing that carries radioactive water, federal regulators said Tuesday.
The problems have raised questions about the integrity and safety of replacement generators the company installed at the two reactors in a multimillion-dollar makeover in 2009 and 2010.
The report by nuclear consultants Fairewinds Associates warned that a more detailed study is needed on the alloy tubing in the generators before the reactors are restarted.
The study was produced for nuclear watchdog Friends of the Earth and was authored by engineer Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry executive who was a licensed reactor operator.
A series of equipment and design changes to the generators “created a large risk of tube failure at the San Onofre reactors,” the report found, citing a review of publicly available records. It said the rapid tube wear can raise the potential for an accident that could release radioactivity.
Among the modifications, the report said the tube alloy was changed, bracing was redesigned and more tubes were added. It said the company never disclosed that such extensive changes were made, instead describing it as an exchange of similar equipment that allowed [the plant operator] SCE “to avoid the requisite NRC oversight of a steam generator replacement.”
Gundersen, however, said he believed the additional tubes were a way to allow SCE to set the stage to generate more power at San Onofre, while avoiding more scrutiny from regulators that would come with ramping up power.
“They made too many changes. The only thing I can conclude is the ultimate goal was a power upgrade, to squeeze more power out of the plant,” Gundersen said.
The tubes are one of the barriers between the radioactive and non-radioactive sides of the plant. If a tube breaks, there is the potential that radioactivity from the system that pumps water through the reactor could escape into the atmosphere.