Nuclear experts warn flawed San Onofre plant too dangerous to start back up, but it may be restarted anyway

Sunday, May 05, 2013 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: San Onofre, nuclear power plant, nuclear meltdown

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(NaturalNews) A Southern California nuclear power facility that was taken offline back in January 2012 due to leaking radiation and major design flaws could be reactivated as soon as this June, according to new reports. An ABC 10 News investigative report explains that Southern California Edison (SCE), the power company that owns and operates the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) near San Diego, is seeking to get the stricken plant back online as early as June in spite of the fact that it is still ridden with problems and unfit for safe power generation.

Insiders familiar with the plant, including two former Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) experts, say a complex network of tubing installed in the plant's steam generators back in 2010 and 2011 is already badly damaged due to a major design flaw. This flaw, which results in tubes knocking against one another while delivering scalding water in and out of the generators, was discovered in conjunction with the radiation leaks back in early 2012, and is one of the primary reasons why the plant was shut down for safety reasons.

"There is something grossly wrong," says one former NRC employee who wishes to remain anonymous for his own protection, as quoted by ABC 10 News in San Diego. This unidentified source used to work at SONGS, and reportedly has 25 years of experience in the nuclear field. "There is no protection provided between the tubes from tubes in the rows hitting each other. The tubes were hitting each other and that's dangerous."

Continued tube failures could lead to reactor core meltdown if plant is reactivated as is, say experts

Since these tubes are responsible for carrying extremely hot water to and from the reactor core in order to produce the steam necessary for energy production, they play a crucial role in ensuring that the core itself does not overheat and potentially melt down. But according to a recent NRC investigation, more than 17 percent of the freshly-installed 19,400 tubes, which were part of a redesign effort developed by Japan-based Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for SCE back in 2011, have already failed due to hitting each other and cracking.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a very serious risk," says Dr. Joe Hopenfeld, a former NRC employee who has spent his entire life working with steam generators and nuclear power, about the dangers associated with reactivating the plant as is. "The tubes operate under very high internal pressure ... and many tubes ... have exhausted their fatigue life," he adds, noting that the unprecedented number of tube failures in the reactor generators could eventually lead to a main steam line break, which in turn could result in a partial or full reactor core meltdown.

SCE's proposal to the remediate the problem is to simply reactivate only Unit 2 of the reactor, and at only 70 percent capacity, which it claims will "decrease the risks" associated with the tube failures. But experts and many members of the local community, including several representatives from environmental protection groups, are not buying this option. They are instead calling for a fully adjudicated public hearing on the matter to take place in Southern California, and under oath.

"It's clear to everybody that running damaged nuclear nuclear reactors is a terrible idea and what we need is a full, thorough public review and not some expedited process for them to go online to make profits during the summer months," says Damon Moglen, a spokesman for the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

You can watch the full ABC 10 News report here:

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