In southern California we have what we call #SanOnofreGate. Nuclear engineering employees at San Onofre Generating Station warned the operator SCE (Southern California Edison) that their in-house designed replacement steam generators were defective and they lost their jobs! The NRC did nothing to help them because they themselves were part of the problem, as they approved the like-for-like exchange (50.59) instead of requiring a much more rigorous review (50.90) that included a public input. Both the State regulators (CPUC and the NRC are now trying to make ratepayers pay for SCE's multi-billion dollar engineering blunder!
SCE Caused A Nuclear Near-Miss At San Onofre
The San Onofre Replacement Steam Generator (RSG) Project was designed by a team of both MHI and SCE engineers with SCE having the final say and it was their licensed CA Engineers that put their "chop" on them, which means that SCE "designed" them, the rest is finger pointing. In fact SCE told MHI that everything about the project was to be approved by them first and that HMI was not to talk to anybody including the NRC without getting the OK from SCE.
This was done in order to get the RSG's built quickly without a full NRC 50.90 review which would have included a public review process.. By using the NRC 50.59 process (aka Like-For-Like) SCE told the NRC and everyone else that it was going to be an identical exchange, so no technical reviews were required. We now know this was false and can even point out a nuclear industry trade article where SCE's engineer and a MHI engineer bragged about all the changes they made, anyone of which should have required a full 50.90 review. NRC Region IV that OK'd this 50.59 replacement got all kinds of egg on their face and it pointed out that their NRC inspectors were too cozy with SCE, since the RSG failed soon after being installed, thanks to both their faulty unproven design and also how they were being operated by SCE!
Improving like-for-like RSGs (Google title)
The operation of these RSG's outside their NRC approved specifications will be THE KEY issue that will convince everyone that their failure is completely SCE fault (since ratepayers had nothing to do with their operation) and everyone knows what operating "over the red line means"!
Another reason why SCE must turn over their operational records is that the data will prove that SCE's operators were "experimenting" by adjusting the operational parameters in an attempt to figure out how to get the RSG to work without them causing internal "noises". In fact the 9,747 steam generator tubes tightly packed inside each of the RSG were striking each other and/or their supports as the tubes vibrated, causing "tube wear". This was very dangerous because if one or more tubes failed the high pressure radioactive reactor core coolant inside them would "flash" to steam and escape into the atmosphere! The NRC still assumes that not more than a single tube can fail at a time, which San Onofre proved is an invalid assumption since after the entire RSG system was shut down, a number of tubes failed in situ (in-place) testing. Until the "root cause" of San Onofre is determined other US steam generator may also be at risk, since a "cascade" of tube failures could easily vent so much of the reactor coolant, so fast from the reactor core, that it could cause a meltdown of the reactor!
Having followed this closely since 01/31/12, I can say that we were very, very lucky to not have had a nuclear incident and/or even a nuclear accident at San Onofre despite all the "feel good" talk from SCE. If the "leak" had occurred during a large earthquake along with some other things, while both Unit 2 and Unit 3 were online, we could have had a SoCal Fukushima, which would have easily exceeded the Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster Japan is now dealing with!
- The new hashtag that will allow you to keep up to date on the ongoing investigation into the multi-billion $ SCE-CPUC ripoff.