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By Eric Heinz
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hosted a webinar on Thursday, Nov. 8, providing more details about the Aug. 3 canister incident at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and the courses of action going forward.
During the loading process of the spent nuclear fuel canisters at SONGS on Aug 3, one canister got snagged on an outer ring of the repository, causing detected elevated levels of radiation in the area and causing one of the two redundant straps that load the spent fuel to lose tension. The fear from officials and concerned residents was that the canister could have dropped 18 feet, damaging it and causing an extremely unsafe environment.
Both the NRC and a San Diego County analysis conducted by its senior health physicist reported that the incident never created an unsafe situation, despite the procedural deficiencies that led to the incident.
Two preliminary violations have been registered with the NRC pertaining to the incident: the canister incident itself and that Southern California Edison (SCE), the owners of the plant, did not report the incident in a timely fashion. Those two violations could be elevated from a baseline infraction.
“…Apparent causes are lack of adequate training and lack of oversight for the activities. Some of the corrective actions that SONGS will do are training requirements procedures and equipment enhancements,” said Eric Simpson, the NRC’s special inspection team leader on the incident of the Region IV fuel cycle and decommissioning branch, during the webinar. “SONGS is also looking to perform improvements in oversight and SONGS must fully assess these corrective actions before storage resumes.”
Simpson said during the canister load, there was not sufficient supervision, possibly someone wasn’t paying close enough attention to the alignment of the canister, and that likely contributed to it snagging on the outer ring.
SCE stated in a press release that it will comply with the NRC’s instructions.
“The special inspection process, along with SCE’s own in-depth review, has been extremely helpful in strengthening fuel transfer operations. SCE’s findings, developed through rigorous evaluations, match many of the commission’s findings,” the release stated. “SCE looks forward to reviewing the final special inspection report when it’s completed and continuing discussions with the commission.”
SCE continued by saying the drop analysis an independent analyst conducted validates its canister’s integrity and would not have been breached if a drop occurred.
“SCE will not re-start spent fuel transfer operations until satisfied all corrective actions are in place and proven effective, the public has been briefed, and the commission has completed its onsite inspection actions,” SCE stated.
SCE stopped storing spent nuclear fuel after it loaded the 29th canister of the 73 Holtec International, Inc. canisters it expects to harbor onsite at the offline nuclear power plant. There are 51 canisters in horizontal storage that have been housed onsite in AREVA-made storage units.
“Each licensee must demonstrate the ability to retrieve (the spent nuclear fuel) and put it back in the cooling pools if available. And they must be able to cut open a canister to be able to inspect the contents inside,” Simpson said during the webinar. “Holtec has demonstrated that they can cut open a canister.”
NRC officials said they expect the full report to be published before Thanksgiving. Per a settlement agreement that concluded last year, SONGS has a California Coastal Commission requirement to inspect the condition of the spent nuclear fuel canisters in November 2020.
The officials who spoke during the webinar said the NRC does have a petition process in place if people want to petition for more regulations. More information can be found at www.nrc.gov.
The next Community Engagement Panel public meeting is at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 29 at the
QLN Conference Center, 1938 Avenida Del Oro in Oceanside. Visit www.songscommunity.com for information.
Councilmember Steve Swartz, the city’s liaison to SONGS’ Community Engagement Panel, reemphasized his effort to compel officials to install real-time radiation monitoring with results that can be viewed by the public.
“I’ve been hammering that now for six months, but we don’t seem to be getting the message across yet,” Swartz said during the Wednesday, Nov. 7, city council meeting. “As you see in the report, the slippage didn’t create that much of an issue and didn’t put us at risk, but it’s not impossible that it could have. The point is, it shouldn’t have taken a month and a half and an employee saying to get this out to the public.”
Swartz said based on his best guess, the spent nuclear fuel isn’t going anywhere “any time soon.”
Editor’s note: The location of the next CEP meeting was changed following the San Clemente Times print deadline.