[UPDATED with Radiation Report OK'd:] Water Leak Shuts Down San Onofre Nuke Unit

UPDATE, FEB. 23, 10:01 A.M.: The San Clemente City Council is to receive a staff report March 20 that should help city leaders decide whether more radiation monitoring should be done in the town 2 miles from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

Some residents have called for stepped-up checks in light of a recent leak, mishaps and degraded equipment reported at the Southern California Edison-operated nuclear power facility.

The council Tuesday night directed staff to detail in the pending report what kind of monitoring is done now in San Clemente.

And now for this that just popped into my head: SCE says not enough radiation leaked recently to be a health concern for people. Other officials say radiation from Japan's meltdown settled in Southern California but also poses no threat. How about when you combine both incidents?

I suspect the answer will be it's still negligible, less than you'd encounter washing your dog on a sunny day. Ah, well, free X-rays for all! 

UPDATE, FEB. 14, 9:55 P.M.: Know how it's going to be weeks before toxicology reports are in on Whitney Houston? Perhaps the same type of science-is-hard explanation accounts for the delay between November's ammonia leak at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and government regulators just now coming out with a report blaming plant employees with failing to recognize degraded equipment. Not that such an excuse is comforting given the other recent leak, mishaps and degraded equipment reported at the Southern California Edison-operated nuclear power facility just south of Orange County.

"The failure to take adequate corrective actions for degraded plant equipment was a performance deficiency," according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) findings that deemed the deficiency "more than minor" because an emergency alert was issued.

It's also fair to note that the same report labels the actual problem that needed to be better corrected a "very low safety significance" that posed no danger to the public, although some workers were evacuated.

Critics, of course, want all such problems, evacuations and alerts passed along to the public, especially in places like San Clemente that hug up next to the plant. At least they can take solace in figuring the NRC will get to the bottom of this month's incidents . . . a few months from now.

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UPDATE, FEB. 8, 5:59 P.M.: U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) has sent a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) seeking a comprehensive safety review of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in light of the recent leaks and mishaps at the plant. "I ask the NRC to thoroughly assess the conditions at the San Onofre plant to determine what further investigation and action is required at this time, and whether similar actions may be needed at other nuclear facilities," reads Boxer's letter to NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko.

Besides leaks in tubes that led to the recent shutdown of Unit 3, which may have prompted radiation to seap into the atmosphere, as well as the subsequent inspection and discovery of unusual wear to similar tubes at Unit 2, which was closed for maintenance, Boxer's letter cited a SONGS worker falling into a pool of water laced with a small amount of radiation. It is feared the worker accidentally consumed some of that water, although he did not get sick.

She could have also brought up this event we reported last November:


Boxer is not alone in her worries about SONGS, as residents in adjacent San Clemente asked their City Council this week to install sensors around town to monitor radiation levels.
 
UPDATE, FEB. 2, 3:26 P.M.: Since those inspecting the cause of the water leak in a steam generator tube in Unit 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station were there anyway, they decided to take a gander at Unit 2, which has been closed for maintenance and refueling. Leaks and unusual wear were found on several similar Unit 2 tubes, according to federal regulators who add this kicker: those tubes were virtually new.

The feds reiterated that no dangers were present, perhaps a small amount of radiation leaked into the air, and anyone with concerns can monitor the progress via www.songscommunity.com.

UPDATE, FEB. 1, 2:07 P.M.: Southern California Edison officials confirmed that water and steam may not be all that leaked from Unit 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. An "extremely small" amount of radiation may have also leaked into the atmosphere as well, SCE revealed today as the search continues for the cause of a small water leak in a steam generator tube that forced Unit 3's shutdown Tuesday evening.

"It would have been very, very small, low level, which would not pose a danger to anyone,'' Victor Dricks, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman, reportedly told the Associated Press.

No evacuations have been ordered.

ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 1, 10:05 A.M.: This is something you don't like hearing first thing in the morning: one of the two units at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station underwent an unplanned shutdown Tuesday evening.

Southern California Edison officials this morning were continuing today an investigation into what caused a small water leak in a steam generator tube of Unit 3, which was detected by a sensor that prompted the shutdown around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"The potential leak poses no imminent danger to the public or plant workers," reads an SCE statement issued this morning. "There has been no release to the atmosphere."

Despite Unit 2 already being offline for maintenance, and Unit 3 normally generating 1,100 megawatts power and the potential to meet the needs of 700,000 customers, no interruption in service is expected from the shutdown, SCE officials say.

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