By Gary Headrick, cofounder of San Clemente Green
It is important to remembering that you prevented a major disaster 11 years ago.
Your quick actions when radioactive steam began escaping into the environment on Jan. 31, 2012, prevented a chain reaction from occurring in one of the newly replaced steam generators. It turns out that whistleblowers, afraid of known retaliation from management for such things, had rightfully warned us of this possibility two years prior.
When San Clemente Green was first asked to make the concerns of licensed nuclear operators known to the public, we got no help from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)—only hollow reassurances.
Little did the NRC know that the computer model Southern California Edison and Mitsubishi relied on was flawed, as reported by Los Angeles Times. The program miscalculated the actual force of the steam by 400%.
According to this whistleblower who came to us, heated discussions had taken place in the lunchroom between engineers about doing more testing before introducing radiation. Because they were behind schedule and over budget, the whistleblowers said, Edison opted to skip something called “Hot Functional Testing.”
That is where auxiliary boilers bring the system up to full temperature and pressure. The NRC just trusted that SCE had replaced like-for-like steam generators, when that was far from the truth.
A core post, which stabilized over 10,000 long narrow tubes, had been eliminated to make room for more tubes and, therefore, more production capacity.
This prevented a thorough license review, which would have likely revealed the miscalculation. Unfortunately, that error resulted in the tubes banging and rubbing against each other, creating much accelerated wear.
The thin barriers between pure water and radioactive water had been breached. It could easily have become a cascading event. Intense heat and pressure could have quickly turned pinhole leaks into laser-like torches, cutting tubes clean in half.
Those severed high pressure tubes would behave like wild garden hoses, whipping and banging and destroying the other closely packed tubes. If it were not for the immediate emergency shutdown performed by alert engineers, we might still be living the worst nuclear nightmare today.
Not only would radioactive clouds have blasted into the atmosphere, but the water making all that steam would be depleting the cooling water that keeps the reactors from melting down. This close call could have been avoided completely if SCE had only listened to its own engineers and done hot functional testing.
We face a similar dilemma now, 11 years later. Experts in the field who share our concerns and were willing to speak at the next Edison-backed forum, the Community Engagement Panel (CEP), were flatly rejected.
Our experts have good reason to believe that, among other threats, flooding has not been adequately addressed. San Clemente Green is sponsoring our own public online event to allow for this presentation by a well-respected industry insider, Paul Blanch, and other distinguished experts in a lively Q&A session to follow.
Edison and the NRC will be invited also. Contact email@example.com for updates on our upcoming event.
For now, let’s just give our gratitude to those who protected all of SoCal from a greater-than-Fukushima disaster. It is important to remember there was a time when our surrounding communities nearly became a no-go zone for decades, if not centuries to come.
We may not know you by name, but you know who you are, and you should feel proud of your heroic accomplishment. You deserve our deepest appreciation for the key roles you played in a not-to-be-forgotten episode in the saga of SONGS.
A most sincere thank you to one and all.
Gary Headrick is the founder of San Clemente Green, which was created to develop a sustainability action plan to make San Clemente more environmentally friendly and now also raises awareness about the ill effects of nuclear power.
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