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Radiation From Nuke Plant May Have Escaped Outside, Officials Now Say

"Very, very low level' of radioactive gas could have been released into atmosphere, NRC officials say.

Officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission now say that some radioactive gas may have escaped the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, but it was undetectable by monitors and therefore posed no threat to anyone.

A unit at the station was shut down Tuesday when sensors detected a leak in one of the unit's steam generator tubes.

NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said because the equipment-housing building into which the gas leaked is not airtight, it is possible a "very, very low level'' of radioactivity escaped into the environment. Dricks said those traces would be
"barely measurable against [existing] background levels'' and would pose no
danger to the public.

Related: Plant Shutdown Costing $1 Million a Day

Technicians were still cooling down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Unit 3 today after what a plant official called an "extremely small leak" was detected in the steam generator system Tuesday.

Plant spokesman Gil Alexander said it was impossible to say how long the assessment and repairs would take to bring Unit 3 back up to par because the damage has not yet been able to be assessed.

Alexander and a Nuclear Regulatory Commission official confirmed that the leak is isolated and the cool-down of the unit is proceeding without a hitch.

"I was in the control room the whole time," said Greg Warnick, senior resident NRC inspector for San Onofre. "They followed their procedures as required. They isolated the suspected leak... They closed all the valves that go into [the compromised water system] and out of it to bottle it up."

The leak, detected at about 3 p.m. Tuesday, comes from the primary system containing water that actually touches the nuclear fuel, making the water itself radioactive. When the plant is functioning properly, the water in this system remains sealed; it boils clean water through a series of heat-exchanging tubes to make steam, which turns a massive turbine to make electricity.

Now, Warnick said, some of the mildly radioactive water from the primary system has leaked into the secondary.

The steam generator system in this unit is only a little more than a year old—it was replaced

Warnick said this kind of leak is not common in nuclear power plants.

"It's not common," he said. "In fact, that's one of the reasons they replaced the system; the new one is made of more durable materials."

Warnick said the diagnosis of the problem was still several days away.

"It's hard to comment on that because there is still discovery to take place," Warnick said. "However, it is a thing the plant is designed for. Most of the operators [in the control room Tuesday] coincidentally had gone through training in the simulator the night before on this exact same scenario."

Related:

Meanwhile, Warnick said Wednesday morning that the leaking system had been cooled to about 320 degrees and the pressure was down to about 450 pounds-per-square-inch from its operating pressure of about 2,500 psi.

Once the plant is cool enough, inspectors will start their work.

"Based on that, there won't be any developments for several days," Warnick said.

San Clemente Councilwoman Lori Donchak Wednesday urged residents to remain calm. Donchak and the rest of the council spent a lot of time last year researching the plant and responding to resident concerns over safety after the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

"We have a very strong emergency preparedness community program in place and it worked yesterday as planned," Donchak said. "The interruption at SONGS was handled efficiently and constantly."

She also mentioned that a blue ribbon commission about on-site nuclear waste storage at plants had completed its findings last week, a commission President Obama started in 2010.

Donchak said the report is on the agenda as an educational item at the Feb. 7 Council Meeting. The full text of the report is attached to this article in PDF form.

Mark Notarian February 01, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Before someone says yeah but you need Electricity to produce Hydrogen, The Honda Corporation has made quantum leaps is the development of in home Hydrogen Production devices powered by Solar Panels. This device makes Hydrogen which is used by a PEM Fuel Cell to supply Power for a 3000 sq ft home and a Honda Clarity (Hydrogen Powered Civic) This is not going on in an Arthur C Clarke Novel but in Gardena California.
justme February 01, 2012 at 09:19 PM
I just feel they never tell us the truth and how will we ever know if they are or not? Such a scary thing to me. Look at Japan and the lies that poor out of there. They downplayed the amount of radiation that is still seeping out affecting the entire world. We will do the same exact thing. We will know it is serious when nobody is allowed to enter/leave all of a sudden. I just wish they would let the people know and it is our responsibility to remain CALM and not panic and act all psycho. Yes I know, too much to ask lol
george gregory February 01, 2012 at 11:20 PM
KI pills anyone ////////// i for one tirer of the trust me B.S. where or how will you live ,,,,homeless,, sick or worse
colleen February 02, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Why are we being cited "Dricks said those traces would be 'barely measurable against [existing] background levels' and would pose no danger to the public"? This kind of reporting (by NRC, not Patch) is not valuable at all! Where is the air monitoring DATA? I have to assume that there isn't any air monitoring data, and I would then question the SC City Council that "if we have such a great community safety plan, then why isn't there any air monitoring?". I guess we, the community, are left with only the less than educated guesses of senior NRC officials who have nothing to gain by informing the public with actual data that may prove their statements incorrect.
James Schumaker February 02, 2012 at 06:02 PM
I don't like any of the options presented in the poll. I would have preferred to say that while the day-to-day operations of the plant are basically safe, there are a number of unknowns that do cause serious long term concern. In particular, there is no safe and permanent way to dispose of the nuclear waste created at San Onofre, and there are many gaps in our knowledge of the seismic stability of the local area.
Jennifer McGrath February 02, 2012 at 06:25 PM
This poll has been hijacked by industry employees. There is no way in hell that a majority of respondents think "There is nothing to worry about". This poll, just like the nuclear industry, is a big, fat scam!!
Jack February 02, 2012 at 07:09 PM
All of the information you need to decide if they are telling the truth or not is available for free on the internet. Most people choose the easy path of allowing fear to drive their opinion. This is exceedingly easy as groups like Greenpeace and careless reporting (fear sells) use scary words on a regular basis. Given the consequences of current energy policy, it is the responsibility of the public to decide weather to increase their own level of understanding or allow fanatics to frighten them. The more I participate in this debate, the more I lose faith in my fellow man as I see so many choosing the easy path of simply being afraid of what they don't understand. (PS - the biggest lie to come from Japan since March of last year was the hysteria of an impending health crisis perpetuated by antinuclear organizations and a pandering media. Nearly a year later the death toll from radiation remains at zero).
Jack February 02, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Taking KI in a panic is far more likely to hurt you than protect you in this case. There are side effects and certain allergies that you need to understand before you start popping pills in a frenzy. Before you criticize me, know that as I type this comment, my thyroid gland is a 50 millirem/hour source of gamma and beta radiation. A month ago, a doctor gave me a pill containing 22,500,000,000 picocuries of Iodine-131, the same isotope that KI is meant to protect you from. That dose of medical radiation, the second I've taken in 2 years, saved my life. I'd have died from a heart attack at a very young age without it. Running past me at a full sprint will expose you to more radiation than anything in this story. Yet I was allowed to walk out the front door of the hospital without any containment of decontamination equipment...strange there are no activists following me with picket signs even though I have exposed the public to more radiation in the past four weeks than all 104 of the nuclear power plants in the US combined. Please, fact check everything I've just said. Science will prevail over fear when given the chance.
Jack February 02, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Are nuclear industry employees, who work inches from these radiation sources and live with their families only a few miles from the plant, not the most qualified members of the public to answer such a question? The fact that one understands the topic and can draw on experience and training rather than fear to answer should not disqualify that person. You would do well to listen to them instead of activists who carryout acts of sabotage and cheap publicity stunts aimed at sowing fear among the public. What a sad state we all live in where the ramblings of flamboyant extremists are more valued than the knowledge of trained professionals.
Jack February 02, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Last time I checked, hydrogen wasn't such a wonder fuel. The passengers on a certain airship that exploded in Lakehurst NJ might disagree. Wasn't it also hydrogen that caused the explosions at Fukushima? Wasn't it hydrogen that leaked out of the SRBs causing Challenger to explode? Are you sure you want to put a hydrogen tank in your basement? We already have one explosive gas pumping through our walls and under our streets causing explosions (San Bernadino, Philadelphia) why would we add another? Also, those solar panels don't produce much hydrogen at night or on a cloudy day. I doubt you'll power much with that, certainly not an industrialized economy like ours.
Jack February 02, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Radiation is incredibly easy and cheap to detect. If you are truly interested, try this and collect your own data: http://www.amazon.com/Quarta-Radiation-Monitor-RADEX-RD1503/dp/B00051E906 Although I could not use such equipment right now as my doctor made me so radioactive earlier this month when he treated my thyroid gland that I could not get anywhere near that monitor without pegging the scale. Other things you may want to avoid: salt substitute, brazil nuts, granite counter tops, smoke detectors, exit signs, and certain watches all contain radioactive substances and might convince you that a meltdown was in progress.
Shripathi Kamath February 02, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Jennifer, how do you suggest we verify if there is "nothing to worry about", "something to worry about", "a lot to worry about"? I agree that online polls are pointless. So what'll it take for you to accept one of "nothing to worry about", "something to worry about", or "a lot to worry about" and more importantly know it to be a fact?
Jack February 02, 2012 at 07:51 PM
James, there are certainly safe and permanent ways to dispose of nuclear waste. It has been safely stored underground on this planet for over 2 billion years at Oklo, Gabon where a natural nuclear reactor fissioned Uranium and boiled water back when all life on this planet was just a puddle of single-celled organisms. The correct way to phrase you point would be "there are no POLITICAL options available due to the fact that a powerful senator from Nevada has built his entire career around the fear of storing spent nuclear fuel a mile deep underneath a mountain in the desert and as such all of this fuel remains above ground at over 100 different locations around the country. The science is the easy part. It's the pandering politicians, as usual, that cause the problem.
James Schumaker February 02, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Yes, I agree with you, Jack. The political obstacles are currently insuperable. But what that means is that currently there is no safe and permanent way to dispose of our nuclear waste. Since this is the greatest long term problem, we need to get Washington straightened out on this issue.
george gregory February 03, 2012 at 12:43 AM
any one who thinks man can handle that machine is a fool if they can not build a toilet that doesnt over flow or work with ammonia with out it escaping and endangering then nuclear products and machines are out of the their capabilities
jhawk89 February 03, 2012 at 04:05 PM
It is a fact that there is more release of radiation from coal fired plants because the coal being burned contains natural radioactive isotopes that go out the smoke stack. The amount is not monitored or regulated. The nuclear are so tightly regulated, that enerything is monitored and almost nothing is allowed.
Dave Rackiewicz February 03, 2012 at 04:30 PM
If people like the facts, a steam generator tube leak like this is not a significant hazard. The primary water inside the tube does not touch the fuel itself but touches the highly corrosion resistant cladding that contains the fuel and all its fission products. The usual concern for a small leak of primary water is due to the small amount of "crud" in primary water from piping corrosion that can be activated when it passes through the core (typically cobalt traces which have a 5 year half-life and a strong gamma emission on decay of each cobalt 60 atom). The leak of even 100s of gallons of primary water through a steam generator tube leak permits primary side contaminants such as this cobalt to get into the steam (secondary) side of the system. Even though the steam side is also contained by turbines and condensers, and even though dissolved cobalt is not boiled away into the steam, a little steam (with almost none of the trace dissolved contaminants) can escape being condensed and go into the turbine building. Air in the turbine building is filtered, in turn, before release to the atmosphere so anything that gets out from a steam generator tube leak is very small and probably impossible to detect. People who understand what a tube leak is would tend to conclude this issue is nothing to worry about from a public safety view.
CoiledStrike February 03, 2012 at 04:40 PM
This really is a minor issue. Fact: More people have died riding in the front seat of Senator Kennedy's car than have died from commercial nuclear power in the U.S.
CoiledStrike February 03, 2012 at 04:51 PM
You have valid concerns about Japan. The U.S has been very candid and honest about nuclear power, and were politely encouraging Japan to do so during Fukushima. In the U.S., the only fault has been the information is candid but they haven't been good at putting it into proper perspective., For example, there were numerous articles about how much radiation ended up in the U.S. from Japan. In doing some research, the amount of radiation received to persons exposed in the U.S. was equivalent to eating 1/40th of a banana (which contains radioactive potassium). Nuclear is similar to other things we deal with. Water is essential to life yet we can drown. Fire keeps us warm and cooks our food but can be devastating if uncontrolled. Controlled radiation can cure us from disease and protect our food, but uncontrolled it can be dangerous. The key is to respect it and maintain strong control over over its use, just as we do for water and fire.
CoiledStrike February 03, 2012 at 05:00 PM
The NRC is between a rock and a hard spot. If they report that there is no release, they will be called liars because there is always the potential of a molecule escaping. The NRC will leave educating the public up to the plant, state and local agencies. The reality is more likely, there was no release of radiation due to this event that exceeded federal guidelines or limits. Any release is probably so low it is barely detectable and certainly not reportable. You have more to worry about with the radiation received from the sun walking around on the beach than from this. Keep it all in perspective...
H.O.P.I. Consulting February 03, 2012 at 05:33 PM
People react irrationally to things that they do not understand. Other methods, currently available, to generate electricity create more problems, pollution, and safety concerns than nuclear generation. Other industries are not as transparent in communication to the degree to which the nuclear industry is mandated. I have worked with Mr. Warnick and he is a good regulator. He demands compliance with regulation but his job is not to be a press agent. Operators at the plant responded to the steam generator tube rupture (SGTR) efficiently and while it is not a horrendous accident it does pose some problems for plant management. First, the steam generators are new. They need to determine if this is a unique failure or if they have a design issue with these important pieces of equipment. Second, they need to determine if they have an externally caused failure such as one caused by foreign material or poor chemical control. These factors need to be addressed programatically and corrected because that can result in possible failures. There are many good points brought forth in the previous posts, but there is also a lot of fear driven responses. I believe that education is the key to understanding this technology and the proper categorization of risk. The press needs to quit sensationalizing communications; I understand why they do, but enough already. KNOW Nukes, not NO Nukes.
Gary Ault February 03, 2012 at 09:01 PM
I believe your assumption is correct: There probably is no air monitoring data. As Mr. Dricks indicated, IF there was a release of radioactive material, the concentration was so low it could not be detected with available equipment. There are levels (concentrations) of every substance in the environment which are too small to measure with even the most sensitive equipment. That includes all manner of chemicals as well as radioactive material. One of the limitations is natural background radioactivity -- like the Potassium 40 in the banana I ate this morning, and the radioactive metals in the brick in your home. From my experience, nuclear power plants have the most sophisticated air monitoring systems available on there ventialtion system exhausts. If nothing was detected, it is because the concentration was below detectable limits. The thresholds at which radioactive materials found in nuclear power plants can be detected are above the level at which those substances are a threat to human health and safety, short-term or long-term. You will get far more additional radiation exposure -- additional because you already receive perhaps 300 millirem annually from natural soruces and cosmic radiation -- from one cross-country airline flight than you likely ever will receive living next door to or down the county from a nuclear power plant. So, relax, have a banana, it's good for you.
Steve Ganthner February 03, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Assuming the leak is from steam generator tubes, an investigation and understanding of the cause of the leaks should be conducted. Steam generator tube leaks are not uncommon and are inherent with the design of PWRs. Such leaks and subsequent releases are not significant except for their "media" implications.
dc February 03, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Why did the radiation alarm sirens go off in San Clemente if there was no radiation leak? And why did the alarm suddenly stop? Were any emergency procedures in the city put in place once they city was notified? Were the schools contacted? Sounds like we need to get a better understanding of the emergency procedures. I heard the siren and thought it was another test. There have been so many tests this year I think the residence don't even respond to the sirens if it was an emergency. dc
William S Lacey February 04, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Sounds like dc ought to find when Siren testing is held.
george gregory February 04, 2012 at 02:19 AM
they are just warming the sirens up before they make us all homeless
William E. Kessler February 04, 2012 at 03:00 PM
As a past nuclear power professional, I am somewhat displeased at our current means of storing nuclear waste at the individual plant sites. However, if our U.S. Govt. would apply the same means of storage used by as our Nuclear Navy in Idaho, the storage problem itself, would be simple. On the other hand, if we wish to use the nuclear waste in the future as fuel for breeder reactors, we should use the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada in which we have already invested Billions of dollars. It seems that we are somehow "cowed" by the process by which we ship the spent fuel to Yucca. I can assure anyone that there are absolutely safe means available by which to ship this spent fuel to Yucca Mountain. These means have been tested to absolute extremes to assure their adequacy.
george gregory February 04, 2012 at 10:21 PM
radiation may be released by burning coal but the potential release from a nuclear plant is hugh
Chelsea m February 10, 2012 at 02:03 PM
I agree with William, and as a current nuclear facility worker I will second the displeasure of how we currently store our used fuel. The US is currently working on building a reprocessing (recycling) facility so that we can use our fuel to its full capacity and not have to store still energy rich fuel on site. This will be a wonderful development. We will not have to store as many assemblies in our fuel pool and will be using our fuel to its full potential. If a repository such as yucca mountain is to be used, the structure will be designed impeccably.
Gary Ault February 10, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Tjhe US had a pilot-scale reprocessing plant for commercial nuclear fuel, operated by Nuclear fuel Services, at West Valley, New York until ???. GE built the Midwest Fuel Recovery Plant at Morris, Illinois in the 70s. It used their proprietary Aquafluor process, but the facility was abandoned during preoperational testing. For years, they stored spent fuel from various commercial nuclear plants until it was all shipped back to its point of origin so GE could terminate the license. There was also a commercial-scale facility being, I think constructed, at or near the Savannah River site by Allied-Gulf Nuclear Services (AGNS), but it was abandoned after our beloved President Jimmah Carter caused reprocessing to be banned over (I believe over-wrought) proliferation concerns. AGNS would have used the Purex solvent extraction recovery process which had been proven at Hanford. We could have been recycling nuclear fuel for years, except for a complete absence of leadership, which characterizes our national government in all areas of endeavor except lining their own pockets.

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