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By Eric Heinz

Some of the operators working at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) storing spent nuclear fuel lacked proper credentials and training, and its owners did not report an incident in a timely manner, according to the latest preliminary report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

On Friday, Oct. 19, the NRC released some of the findings from its inspection of SONGS after the plant experienced a “near-miss” incident with one of the canisters harboring its spent nuclear fuel.

Some of the findings released in the preliminary report included inadequacies with ensuring projects were overseen by proper personnel and certain quantitative and qualitative procedural material.

Following the preliminary report, Tom Palmisano, the vice president of decommissioning and chief nuclear officer for Southern California Edison, sent out a letter about the incident.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission continues its review of the event and our corrective actions, and has provided valuable feedback,” Palmisano stated. “Additionally, the NRC has created a new page on its website dedicated to its progress on the special inspection. This page includes some of its preliminary findings and answers to questions asked by the public. Many of these findings match our own conclusions. I believe it’s important to note that our robust analysis, reviewed by third-party experts, concludes the canister would maintain its integrity, with margin, if dropped. We have provided that analysis to the NRC and it’s currently under review.”

The full letter can be reviewed by clicking here.

One of the 29 canisters currently in dry-cask storage at SONGS was improperly loaded on Aug. 3, as the crane that was loading it into a vertical repository snagged the 50-ton vessel on an outer ring. When contractors noticed elevated levels of radiation in the area, they discovered the canister wasn’t loading correctly after about an hour and realigned it.

That put the canister in an “unanalyzed condition,” the report stated.

The report said Holtec International, the company that constructed the newest canisters being loaded at SONGS, had completed a study of what could happen when a canister drops 25 feet, and had to resubmit it when the commission found the first study unsatisfactory.

Another problem noted was the incident wasn’t reported officially to the NRC until Sept. 10, although SCE did notify the NRC a few days after in an unofficial report, and wasn’t publicly announced until David Fritch, a contracted engineer working on the project, revealed the incident at a public meeting on Aug. 9 in Oceanside. The NRC’s preliminary report said safety incidents must be reported to them within 24 hours of discovery.

San Clemente Times has reached out to Fritch seeking comment since August, but he has not responded.

Public affairs officials with the NRC said there is not a definitive timeline for when the final report will be completed. SCE has not been cited based on the preliminary report.

“Over the past few weeks, SCE has analyzed the event and developed its cause evaluations to help better understand performance gaps in the overall fuel transfer operation. SCE is implementing corrective actions,” said John Dobken, the public relations official with SCE. “More to come once the NRC has completed its review.”

The full preliminary report can be found at under the “Spotlight” tab.

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