Senior Public Affairs Officer
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.
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.
Senior Public Affairs Officer
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.
But 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.