SONGS Special Panel Disbands Now That Plant is Being Permanently Shuttered

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

The special NRC panel that was formed last January to oversee the agency’s evaluation of Southern California Edison Co.’s restart plan — and ultimately make a recommendation about whether to approve the restart of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) Unit 2 reactor — has been disbanded now that the plant is being permanently shut down and no restart decision is needed.

sanoBut NRC involvement at San Onofre is far from over. The NRC will continue to ensure activities at the plant are conducted in a manner that protects public health and safety now that the plant is transitioning to decommissioning.

The SONGS panel was formed to ensure the root causes of problems with the plant’s steam generators were identified and corrected, and it helped coordinate all SONGS-related communications. This panel documented all of the agency’s major regulatory actions, and coordinated licensing and inspection activities. It also helped plan and conduct periodic public meetings.

Edison announced on June 7 it would permanently shut down Units 2 and 3. The NRC ended its review of the restart plan the same day. The company sent letters to the NRC on June 28 and July 22 certifying all fuel had been removed from both reactors. As a result, Edison is no longer authorized to reload fuel into the reactor vessels or operate the reactors.

Inspection activities have been transferred to the NRC’s Decommissioning Power Reactor Inspection Program. This will ensure spent fuel is being safely stored and all site decommissioning activities are performed safely. The NRC will maintain a resident inspector at the site for at least a year. The agency is also reviewing lessons learned from the SONGS steam generator failures for possible changes to its inspection program.

The NRC held a public meeting in Carlsbad, Calif., on Sept. 26, at which staff outlined the decommissioning process used for nuclear power plants. Edison has until mid-2015 to submit a decommissioning plan to the NRC, although the company has indicated it may submit a plan next summer. When this plan has been submitted, the NRC will sponsor another public meeting.

Additional information about the decommissioning process is available on the NRC web site.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

9 thoughts on “SONGS Special Panel Disbands Now That Plant is Being Permanently Shuttered”

  1. A frightful aspect of this is the extent (generic implications) of the gross incompetence of SCE, MHI, NRC, and INPO in their involvement in the RSGs and related assessments.

    NEI fought hard to get enough rope in 10CFR50.59 and SCE, MHI, NRC, and INPO used it to hang themselves.

    The first law of highway engineering is,”Never remove a guardrail that has dents in it.” 50.59, properly applied, had been involved in keeping many plants forming over the cliff. Yet NEI and NRC weakened the rigor. And INPO stood by ineffectively.

    What sense does this make?

  2. No. There is a separate violation for Unit 2 dealing with Criterion III, design control. It is important to note that the SONGS Augmented Inspection Team Report 2012007 states that the one tube with 90% wear was in-situ pressure tested with the following results: “The affected tube was successfully pressurized to 5,300 psi with no leakage, confirming that the Technical Specification structural integrity performance criteria were met.” Although the tube wear was above the Technical Specification limit, the tube passed the structural integrity requirement, which confirms that the tube was okay for the entire Unit 2 cycle.

    Victor Dricks

  3. Does that white finding also include operating Unit 2 with a steam generator tube with 90% wear when the safety limit is 35%. Also the Utility had no clue that it was dangerous until Unit 3 started leaking at which time “major” inspections were done to both Unit 2 and Unit 3. It also bears mentioning that SCE failed to use the most advanced tube inspection techniques which would have ID even more damage, choosing instead to use bobbin coil testing that cannot ID fatigue fractures, which are one of the most insidious problems since they remain hidden until the fail!

    IMO, a nuclear near miss deserves much more than a white finding and a slap on the wrist, especially when problems were uncovered that potentially affect the entire US nuclear fleet!

  4. SCE and MHI did complete a root cause. Documents have been made available to the public on the SCE website.

    There are still ongoing investigations at the plant. They have not been completed. Currently there is no established timetable. In addition, the NRC has proposed a white finding, low to moderate safety significance violation to the SONGS plant operator.The severity or “color” of a finding/violation is based on a risk assessment and looks at a number of factors, including how long did the condition exist; what was the increase in frequency of the accident due to the degraded tubes; and, what are the consequences. Since nuclear plants like SONGS were designed to safely shutdown with a leak in a steam generator (tube rupture), with realistic minimal radiation consequences (< 1 mrem whole body dose) to the public, the severity of this violation is low.

    Victor Dricks

  5. There are still ongoing investigations at the plant. They have not been completed.

    As to your example above, this has been examined. Nuclear plants like SONGS were designed to safely shutdown with a leak in a steam generator (tube rupture), with very low risk to the public. During the TESTING of steam generator tubes at SONGS Unit 3, there were multiple tubes that failed when an individual tube was pressure tested. However, in an accident scenario that would be highly unlikely because if one tube leaks, the pressure decreases inside the steam generator decreasing the likelihood of another tube leaking.

    Victor Dricks

  6. So we’ll all just forget about getting to the bottom of what really went wrong at SanO? Sure, there were calculation errors on MHI’s part (that SCE or NRC could have caught), but nothing definitive explains why anyone thought for 18 months that maybe we could restart Unit 2, and anyway there is probably some legal culpability for the risk Southern California was put through by negligence, whether that negligence reached the level of being criminal or not. Furthermore, if the nuclear industry is going to continue relying on steam generators (ie, PWRs), then a better understanding of the factors causing fluid elastic instability are vital to prevent a cascade of tube failures in some future design, especially during a main steam line break, but the NRC is not requiring utilities to be able to handle multiple tube failures. If a meltdown ever happens because of a cascade of tube failures caused by fluid elastic instability in ANY future steam generator design, the “root cause” can be traced to this decision to abandon the search for the root cause of San Onofre’s steam generator failures and disband the special panel.

    But then again, having already decided not to examine Unit 2’s behavior very carefully, perhaps the panel was doomed from the start.

  7. How about the ongoing NRC investigation(s) into San Onofre?

    Many think that they are being swept under the rug (for the good of both the NRC and nuclear industry) and were the real reason that SCE decided to decommission San Onofre!

    Example: Is the NRC now re-examining multiple steam generator tube failures as a potential major safety threat or are they still assuming only one tube can fail per each steam generator, which San Onofre proved is no longer a factual assumption?

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