Southern California Fire Puts Spotlight on NRC Regs

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

 A wildfire broke out on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base north of San Diego last Wednesday. The smoke could be seen by staff at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and a handful of non-essential plant workers were sent home as a precaution.

 Firefighters from Camp Pendleton, in California, work to douse a wildfire.

Firefighters from Camp Pendleton, in California, work to douse a wildfire.

Members of the plant’s fire department responded to the event and sprayed water on vegetation at the plant’s South Yard to retard the fire’s progress. San Onofre also dispatched some of its personnel to Camp Pendleton to assist base personnel with firefighting efforts on the ground, while helicopters from the Marine base dropped buckets of water on the fire.

The blaze, which was sparked by an accident on Interstate 5, was brought under control in a few hours and never got closer than a half-mile from the owner-controlled area of the plant.

The San Onofre nuclear plant is shut down and preparing to decommission, and remained stable throughout the event. An NRC inspector onsite verified plant conditions and monitored the licensee’s response to the fire from the plant’s control room, relaying information to the NRC’s Region IV office in Arlington, Texas. Because the fire never reached the site or disrupted offsite power to the plant, no emergency declaration was necessary.

But the fire – and the start of the fire season in the West – does highlight NRC regulations related to natural disasters. As a part of their emergency preparedness plans, nuclear power plants are required by the NRC to be able to respond to a variety of natural disasters – hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and fires — which can disrupt offsite power needed for vital plant equipment, interfere with access to the site and cause damage to equipment and threaten the safety of personnel.

NRC requires that all nuclear plants have personnel who have been specially trained and are qualified to respond to fires. Some plants, like Diablo Canyon, maintain on-site fire departments. Others, like San Onofre, have arrangements with off-site fire departments or organizations like Camp Pendleton to supplement their initial response. NRC inspects these response plans to ensure their adequacy and effectiveness.

On Wednesday, we saw those plans put into action. It might not be the last time this year. The need for vigilance will continue in the months ahead for plants located in areas where a prolonged drought is raising concerns about the upcoming summer wildfire season.

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.

SONGS Next Steps: The Move to Decommission

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

songsdropquoteSouthern California Edison Co. has sent the NRC letters certifying that it has permanently removed all of the fuel from its Unit 2 and 3 reactors at the San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California. These letters are the company’s second certification – following its June 12 notification that it had permanently ceased operation – and officially move San Onofre into the decommissioning process.

Under NRC rules, Edison’s letters permanently end the utility’s authorization to operate those reactors. In addition, the NRC has notified Edison that the Confirmatory Action Letter of March 27, 2012, is no longer applicable. The NRC has terminated its inspection and review of all of the activities specified in the letter, which set forth terms and conditions necessary to prepare the reactors for restart.

Greg Warnick, the NRC’s Senior Resident Inspector, in the near term will continue onsite inspections of activities associated with decommissioning, site staffing levels and plant security and safety. The facility will remain subject to NRC oversight thoughout the decommissioning process.

Meanwhile, we expect Edison to request several changes to both units’ licenses to reflect the transition to decommissioning, while still meeting the relevant requirements for safety, security and emergency preparedness now that San Onofre is no longer operating. Planning is currently underway for an orderly transfer of regulatory responsibility from the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation to the NRC’s Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs, which oversees decommissioning nuclear plants.

Planning is also underway for the NRC to hold a public meeting in the vicinity of the plant in early fall to explain the decommissioning process.

Edison is now drafting its decommissioning plan, which they must submit to the NRC by June 12, 2015, two years after they formally shut down the plant.

Today’s SONGS Announcement: Now What?

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

sanoToday, Southern California Edison Co. announced it will permanently shut down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente, Calif. This has left many people — who have been closely following events there — wondering what happens next?

First, SCE has not formally notified the NRC of its intention to shut down the two-unit site, so we do not yet know what they’re proposing as a path forward, or how this will affect existing NRC adjudications, investigations, and licensing actions.

But in light of this news, the NRC is cancelling the series of small group meetings we planned to hold next week to discuss process matters related to the potential restart of the plant.

Once we get the notification, the agency’s focus will shift from finishing our technical evaluation of Edison’s proposed restart plan to ensuring the plant is safely and permanently removed from service and decommissioned.

The NRC staff members are scouting potential locations for a large public meeting, and we hope to announce a time and location for this soon. At that meeting, NRC staff will provide an overview of the decommissioning process and opportunities for public participation.

Community Leaders Get Invites to SONGS Small Group Discussions — Updated

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

inviteThis week, the NRC is sending letters to dozens of state and local government officials in California, as well as environmental groups and business leaders, inviting them to participate in small group discussions with NRC officials. The discussions will focus on the processes and activities we’re using to evaluate a possible restart decision on the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Unit 2.

The NRC is offering these small group meetings as opportunities for productive discussions on how the NRC fulfills its regulatory mandate for protecting public safety and the environment. Those invited to participate are recognized as community leaders, who could then share the information with their constituency and the public at large.

These small group discussions will focus on process issues concerning the NRC’s review, rather than specific areas of the staff’s technical analysis. They do not replace the larger public meeting the staff will conduct. That meeting will occur after Southern California Edison has submitted, and the NRC staff has completed our inspection and technical evaluation of, SCE’s response to the NRC’s Confirmatory Action Letter (CAL).

This new effort will consist of multiple small group gatherings in California with state elected officials, local elected officials, environmental non-governmental organizations, and economic development, energy, and local union/building and trade representatives.

The discussion will include 15-20 participants with three to four NRC representatives and a facilitator. The NRC’s objective is to maintain the small group size to promote frank, two-way discussions and dialogue.

The discussions will be closed to public observation. The information discussed as part of this effort will be placed on the NRC SONGS special webpage prior to the discussions. No decisions about restart will be announced at these gatherings.

Note: Here are the titles and organizations of the folks invited to participate:

Local elected officials

The mayors of: Los Angeles, Mission Viejo, Santa Ana, Vista, Encinitas, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Solana Beach, Huntington Beach, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Woods, Del Mar, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point, San Diego, Redondo Beach, Laguna Hills, Industry, West Hollywood, Escondido, La Habra, Covina, and Hesperia.

San Diego Unified School District, Board President

State Level

California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and California Assembly

Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations

Residents Organized for a Safe Environment (ROSE), Peace Resource Center of San Diego, Citizens’ Oversight, Sierra Club, San Clemente Green, San Onofre Safety, Democratic Party of San Diego, Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, Friends of the Earth, Committee to Bridge the Gap, DAB Safety Team, Earth Ocean Society, and Women’s Energy Matters

Economic Development, Energy and Local Unions

Business Manager UWUA, Local 246, SD Building & Construction Trades Council, IBEW Local 47, Orange County Taxpayers Association, Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce, Cypress College, Chapman University, Los Kitos Farm, Muni-Fed Energy, Southeast Community Development Corporation, California Small Business Association, Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce, and Adams Real

Plus — four other individuals with unknown organizational ties

Two Important Reports about Steam Generators at SONGS Go Public

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer

The NRC made public today redacted versions of two reports prepared by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries concerning the steam generator replacement at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

The Steam Generator Root Cause Analysis Report and a Supplemental Technical Evaluation Report  were prepared by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as part of its effort to determine what contributed to the unusual wear in the steam generators after they were installed in 2010 and 2011 at Units 2 and 3, respectively.

The NRC is using a variety of regulatory actions, such as inspections and investigations, to ensure that it is comprehensively addressing the issues that have arisen at the SONGS nuclear power plant.

On Sept. 28, 2012, the NRC began an expansive investigation on the completeness and accuracy of information that Edison provided to the NRC regarding the steam generator degradation under the NRC’s regulatory requirements.

These reports are included in an array of documents being reviewed by the NRC as we investigate whether Edison demonstrated sufficient due diligence in its oversight of the redesign of the steam generators; how design changes that were made or rejected may have affected the safety of the steam generators; and the truthfulness and accuracy of all the information Edison has provided to the NRC regarding the redesign and replacement of the steam generators.

Separately from the ongoing investigation, the NRC is evaluating Edison’s responses to questions the NRC has raised about their request to restart Unit 2 at the plant.

Additionally, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is reviewing issues related to the Confirmatory Action Letter issued by the NRC staff to Southern California Edison.

NRC Forms Special San Onofre Review Panel

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane (second from right) listens as Southern California Edison executive Richard St. Onge (third from right) discusses issues with one of the damaged steam generators at SONGS. The steam generator is in the right foreground.
NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane (second from right) listens as Southern California Edison executive Richard St. Onge (third from right) discusses issues with one of the damaged steam generators at SONGS. The steam generator is in the right foreground.

The NRC has established a special panel to coordinate the agency’s evaluation of Southern California Edison Co.’s proposed plan for restarting its Unit 2 reactor and ensuring that the root causes of problems with the plant’s steam generators are identified and addressed.

Art Howell, the NRC’s Region IV deputy regional administrator, will serve as co-chairman of the panel along with Dan Dorman, deputy director for engineering and corporate support in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR). Jim Andersen, chief of NRR’s Electrical Engineering Branch, will serve as deputy team manager of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) Oversight Panel.

The panel will ensure that NRC communicates a unified and consistent position in a clear and predictable manner to the licensee, public and other stakeholders, and establishes a record of major regulatory and licensee actions taken and technical issues reviewed, including adequacy of Southern California Edison’s corrective actions.

The panel also will be responsible for conducting periodic public meetings with the utility and providing a recommendation to senior NRC management regarding restart of SONGS Unit 2. In comments to reporters Monday following a tour of the plant, Chairman Allison Macfarlane said Unit 2 will not be permitted to restart unless the NRC has reasonable assurance it can be operated safely.

Other panel members include: 

  • Ed Roach, chief, Mechanical Vendor Inspection Branch, NRO
  • Ryan Lantz, chief, SONGS Project Branch, Region IV
  • Greg Werner, inspection & assessment lead, SONGS Project Branch, Region IV
  • Nick Taylor, senior project engineer, SONGS Project Branch, Region IV
  • Greg Warnick, senior resident inspector, San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station
  • Doug Broaddus, chief, SONGS Special Project Branch, NRR
  • Randy Hall, project manager, SONGS Special Project Branch, NRR
  • Ken Karwoski, senior level advisor, Division of Engineering, NRR
  • Michele Evans, director, Division of Operating Reactor Licensing (alternate is Pat Hiland, director, Division of Engineering)