1. These sorts of tactics are effective only because of the LNT model. Since the current yardstick says that any radiation level above 0 will kill you stone cold, it is extremely easy for these so-called ‘Friends’ of the Earth (how is replacing nuclear with gas ‘friendly’ to the planet, may I ask) and similes to claim grievous harm without the need to prove their position. Were saner limits enacted, the burden of proof would shift to the accusers, as it should be in all cases where a party postulates adverse effects from an activity.

  2. Rod,

    Thanks for clearly laying out this strategy, and exposing the fact that “Friends” of the Earth is such a gross misnomer. Hopefully this lesson learned can be fully disseminated amongst all U.S. nuclear operators that adhere to the CFR.

  3. Rod,

    Appreciate the editing to tie together the various points I was discussing with you on this issue. You took the talking points and made them into a whole narrative.

    As I said in my email to you, I was more focused on the technical issues of the steam generators at the time. The legal strategy required to push SONGS and the NRC towards a public license amendment process was not a focus point of mine. Mr. Gunter’s comment that I responded to initially caused me to view the entire SONGS decommissioning decision process in a whole new light obviously.

  4. just a quip about 50.59.

    Any changes to the license or tech specs require a license amendment.

    The FSAR can be changed without an amendment provided the criteria of the 50.59 evaluation are met. (You might have meant this but it was a little uncertain to me). I have made several FSAR changes under the 50.59 rule and am qualified to perform these evaluations at commercial nuclear plants.

    The 50.59 is used when there is no other process governing the change. For example, emergency preparedness or security programs have their own change process. The 50.59 is used to determine if permission is required before a change is made. Again, the license and tech specs always require a license amendment.

    You can also use the 50.59 process to create new programs. For example our free air cabling program used generic evaluations to show that wiring telecom/IT cable per our free air program would never be adverse under 50.59 and with that evaluation our free air routing program can be utilized with no additional 50.59s required.

    Additionally, changes to the operating procedures that fall under the “plant operating manual” as described in the FSAR also require a 50.59 to change. So if I want to have a procedure give me different guidance or even add a new way to use a system, that must be evaluated.

    Some changes fall under multiple processes. For example a security system change would fall under the security rule, but the wiring changes associated with it would fall under 50.59 if it was connected to plant power.

    50.59 is simple in concept and complicated in application. It’s a good tool and helps to prevent unnecessary license amendments, but unfortunately it shifts a lot of the risk into individual workers to perform. With the large influx of new nuclear workers we have seen an increase in 50.59 misapplications, as less experienced workers are doing these screenings and evaluations. But with time this will become second hand again.

    Just my thoughts.

    1. @ Michael,

      You said The FSAR can be changed without an amendment provided the criteria of the 50.59 evaluation are met. (You might have meant this but it was a little uncertain to me).

      That is a point I was trying to get across and is one of the underpinnings of my questioning the FOE petition and ASLB decision. It is possible to update the FSAR by following the 50.59 process without undergoing a full license amendment process. We are working a job right now that may require a license amendment but we are walking the entire 50.59 process to its end point. It is a very minor issue but it may technically be outside the license boundaries. So the license amendment process may be invoked once the 50.59 reviews are complete. However, we aren’t jumping right to a license amendment.

      So why did the ASLB require a full license amendment process just based on the CAL? Why not just make a statement that SCE and the NRC should follow the normal 50.59 process since that review and screening would require the SONGS engineering staff to discuss license boundaries and tech spec issues. Then if that 50.59 review process indicates a full license amendment was necessary, the public licensing process could then be invoked?

      Instead the ASLB went straight to a full license amendment process thereby opening the doors to anyone and everyone including people like Arnie Gunderson who was already grinding on his ax about the changes in the steam generator design. It is my understanding though that the changes to the steam generator design would have screened out anyway under the standard 50.59 process. However with the ALSB decision, it no longer mattered if the design details screened out at the SONGS/NRC level. The ASLB opinion ensured the design was going to be discussed ad infinitum in a public hearing.

      One of the issues of the FOE petition discussed is that the CAL does not specifically state the 50.59 process will be invoked. It appears from my reading that the FOE jumped on that supposed missing verbiage as a lever to open up a public hearing. However, the plant would have to follow the 50.59 process with a test of this magnitude in accordance with all their procedures. Why then would the CAL need to be a detailed step by step process for SCE/SONGS to follow?

      The CAL is for big picture action items from my understanding, not a step by step listing of each and every action that SONGS would have to complete to meet the requirements of the CAL. So it comes back to the ASLB jumping into the fray and forcing a public hearing versus ensuring the 50.59 process was adhered to first. How was that possible?

      If I am missing some subtle details of the ASLB legal process I open to the education. I may be getting too far into the weeds about this point. But based on my reading of the documents and my current level of understanding of the 50.59 review process, I don’t see how and why the ASLB could jump right to a public hearing. It almost appears like they superseded the entire 50.59 process with their published opinion since the 50.59 process regarding the testing was probably still in development at that time.

      If the ASLB can at any time determine themselves what is and what isn’t a license amendment without allowing the 50.59 review process to reach its termination point, then that is just another legal avenue for the FOE to use to shut down nuclear power in the US. And this ALSB decision may require the NRC to ensure all future CAL’s be more of step by step process instead of an overarching action item list. How much redundancy can be pushed onto nuclear power before it cracks?

      If SONGS was not pursuing a 50.59 regarding the testing of the S/G’s then I could see a whole other line of discussion but it still comes back to the 50.59 review as the starting point.

      In any event, thank you for that clarification.

      1. @Bill Rodgers October 9, 2014 at 12:09 PM
        Bill, you provide the details to describe the exact point I made in my October 9, 2014 at 9:51 AM comment. This ASLB decision was premature, unnecessary, and legally wrong. It should have been legally challenged by SCE, and SCE probably would have won. But of course that path results in the same project delays SCE wanted to avoid. So that route was about a lose/lose call for them. It is probable they considered this, after all SCE certainly understands 50.59, and even if this had run its course without the ASLB interference, SCE was going to end up with an USQ anyway, resulting in the same required license amendment process. They were really between the rock and the hard place. The real problem is the process is flawed, especially giving “standing” to participate in license amendment without technical justification.

        1. @mjd

          Thanks for the clarification. However your answer was the one I was concerned I would get back.

          After my review of this whole debacle, I agree that the process is flawed. Even under the expansive umbrella of LNT, the FOE petition didn’t hold water.

      2. So SONGS was trying to get a license amendment to allow operation not to exceed 70% power for one cycle. They had a preliminary finding of no significant hazards. However the amendment they were seeking was for surveillance testing and instrumentation, not for the actual steam generators themselves.

        Regardless of the CAL, and regardless of the ASLB, I think SONGS could not have legally restarted without an amendment. Even if the CAL was not there, I think they would have needed one. (Now whether or not they would have gotten one or gotten caught not having one is anyone’s guess. Likely they would have already restarted, then gotten a violation later on, but I digress). Because the CAL was there, it created a public document that FOE had more access too, and made an avenue for intervenors to complicate the restart efforts. It didn’t help that the NRC was not even sure what was needed to close out the CAL, and in my opinion is really the ultimate failure of the NRC. It took the NRC a whole year to come up with all the items required for SONGS to restart. I believe that’s longer than what it took for them to tell Ft. Calhoun, who was shutdown because there was no confidence that management could even safely operate the plant.

        When something is degraded or non-conforming in a nuclear plant, it gets evaluated for OPERABILITY and functionality. OPERABILITY is a magic definition that has to do with the tech specs, and a system is only operable if it definitively meets the verbatim descriptions and tests as described in the license. Additionally, if the particular component is described in the FSAR (All tech spec systems are in the FSAR), then it also gets a functionality evaluation.

        In the FSAR, you can have systems which are functional but degraded virtually indefinitely. You can even have some systems that are non-functional. This is acceptable as long as you are using your corrective action program to take action in restoring/repairing the system commensurate with the safety and operational significance of the particular system and degradation. As long as you are not accepting a failed condition and are actively attempting to repair it, you do not necessarily need a 50.59 for continued operation, and you are allowed to use engineering evaluations to determine what your operating limits are and to continue operating the plant. This is known as a “Condition Adverse to Quality”. Some functionality issues may require a 50.59, usually if you have to change procedures or the way you operate the plant as part of the workaround of the failed component, however you have a lot of latitude if you are in this space and the 50.59s are usually very simple/straightforward. Also if the degraded state is going to be kept in place longer than an FSAR update period, then you usually have to put in an FSAR change to document it (which needs a 50.59 as well, again this is relatively simple because you have latitude in your evaluations).The SGs were definitely in not-functional space, but could be operated in their degraded state safely.

        When something is not OPERABLE per the tech specs, like the steam generators, you no longer have that level of latitude in how you approach it. In tech spec space, everything either absolutely works 100% as described, or it is not OPERABLE, there is no middle ground. The steam generators were described in the tech spec bases as being capable of 0% to 100% power operation. By the definition of OPERABLE in the tech specs, the steam generators were not capable of meeting their description of OPERABILITY. Because of this, regardless of any evaluation or acceptability, the plant could not enter any operational modes which required the use of the steam generators (Modes 4, 3, 2, 1, or Hot shutdown, hot standby, startup, and run/power operation). The actual tech specs are “owned” by the NRC, but the tech spec bases documents themselves are not owned by the NRC, and can technically be changed by the licensee provided a 50.59 evaluation is performed and the criteria are met. But it would have been a tough 50.59 to sell, and it reaches a point where the more complicated something is that you are trying to 50.59, the more and more you have to do to justify why you are still in 50.59 space (see nearly any digital upgrade performed in the last 5 years on a safety system for examples of this). Bases documents in particular are challenging to change unless you are either doing it in response to an approved license amendment, correcting errors, or major plant design changes.

        In all cases, to evaluate the acceptability of the steam generators, and to modify station operating procedures for the plant to limit power to 70%, the 50.59 evaluation would ultimately have to answer why changing the way you are operating the steam generators is not more than a minimal increase in the frequency or consequence of an accident. The consequence part was very minimal. The frequency part is probably the hard part to really evaluate and justify, as until recently (this year I think) there have been no comprehensive studies on risk assessment of steam generator tube ruptures which are caused by other accident initiators, which was a big argument made by FoE and other intervenors of the SONGS restart. Typically steam generator tube ruptures were treated as an independent accident or initiating event, and were not considered in accident analysis as something which could occur as the result of a separate initiating event. The ASME code qualification of the steam generators was generally considered sufficient to preclude one initiating event from triggering a large steam generator tube rupture.

        I personally have a hard time, at least knowing what I do now and knowing what they didnt have available to them in 2012, really believing that all the restart items could have been evaluated sufficiently at that time under the 50.59 process. The ASLB getting involved seemed kind of odd, but really they were asked to participate by the NRC because the NRC was not in a position to really know if they were in the right or not. As I said before, the NRC was almost more challenged with how to deal with this issue than SONGS/MHI were.

        In all cases, I fully believe the plant could have safely been restarted. I think the issue was the NRC and SONGS figuring out exactly what process they were under and how to get there. And once FoE got their petition/intervention passed on to the ASLB, it was going to be nothing but an uphill battle which would likely have dredged on for at least another year.

        Just my thoughts………sorry if this is a bit of a jumbled mess, just got off a 12 hour shift.

        1. @Michael Antonelli

          Thank you for taking the time for such a detailed write up after a long shift. It was always difficult for me to fall asleep immediately after working a long shift; participating in technical discussions was often a way to transition. Looks like you have a similar strategy.

          By my interpretation, your following assumption is not correct.

          “When something is not OPERABLE per the tech specs, like the steam generators, you no longer have that level of latitude in how you approach it. In tech spec space, everything either absolutely works 100% as described, or it is not OPERABLE, there is no middle ground.”

          It’s been a while since I read San Onofre’s tech specs, but I’m pretty sure I remember that the maximum allowed leak rate from the primary to the secondary is (was, since the plant no longer has an operating license) 150 gallons per day in mode 1. That means that the plant always had the permission to continue operating with small leaks. The plant designers and regulators knew that steam generators have never been perfect and do not last forever. The initial leak that resulted in the shutdown was calculated to be about 75-85 gallons per day. There were NO leaks in unit 2.

          The plant never violated its tech specs. Simply identifying and plugging the leaking and significantly degraded tubes should have been sufficient, especially since the most affected steam generator would have required only 2-3% of the tubes to be plugged.

          Both units were fully operable. SCE never had to do anything other than notify the NRC of an unusual event and report its planned actions to repair and restart.

          I have no way of getting inside the heads of the decision makers, but I think they might have been thinking about ways to establish grounds for a law suit against their supplier instead of thinking of the best way to move forward and continue supplying reliable, affordable, emission free electricity to their customers.

          1. Rod, I concur with your interpretation of OPERABLE, and also your basis discussion. Mr. Antonelli’s discussion is correct in one narrow application for the NRC’s interpretation of operability, Surveillance Testing. If you are passing your STs the equipment is 100% operable, if not it is junk; there is no middle ground. But in the real world everyone realizes the material condition of the equipment is not affected by a date on a calendar when the Tech Spec Surveillance interval is exceeded. This is why a utility can ask for, and usually receive from the NRC, “discretionary enforcement” to increase the available time to complete the test. However the NRC will consider if this is a programmatic breakdown, a constant occurrence that has not been addressed properly, etc. and also the plant’s plan to prevent recurrence before granting this.
            I also did not agree with Mr. Antonelli’s discussion of SG operability, however I realize he may be following the guidance provided to him by the organization where he works. It is not against the regulations to be over conservative.

          2. Hi Rod, I completely agree that the the SGs and reactor coolant system leakage techspecs were never violated.

            The issue that I saw, and this is my interpretation of it, is part of a system being OPERABLE is that you need reasonable assurance that the particular SSC will remain OPERABLE during its mission time. There are 2 tech specs involved here, the reactor coolant leakgae tech spec, and the steam generator tech spec. RCS leakage was clearly OPERABLE after tube plugging was performed, and at 70% power there was documented reasonable assurance that the RCS leakage rate for the entire operating cycle would not have been violated, (150 gal/day) therefore it is reasonable to declare the RCS leakage tech spec OPERABLE. RCS leakage tech specs don’t list power levels as part of their bases.

            For the steam generators, the tech spec bases say they need to maintain structural integrity up to 100% power, and their mission time (which not clearly stated in the bases) is up to a full cycle. The evaluation SCE and MHI performed determined that 70% was an acceptable power to run the SGs at, but they also knew that if they ran at 100% power, there was no reasonable assurance that continued OPERABILITY could be assured for a fully cycle. (They knew degradation would occur at 100%). The tech specs requires the SGs to be OPERABLE for the entire range of power operation, up to 100%, so by the letter of the law as written in their bases, the steam generators did not have reasonable assurance of OPERABILITY at 100% power for the full cycle. They would have met it at 70%, but until the tech specs are changed to say 70% is acceptable for the cycle, they technically don’t meet it.

            This is a “letter of the law” type of problem, not an actual problem with the way SCE wanted to operate their plant. The SGs absolutely could function at 70% for a fully cycle with more than reasonable assurance, the problem was that their tech specs and FSAR specifically state that the SGs shall be OPERABLE for the full range of power operation.

            The only way to get around that is to do what SONGS was in the process of doing before the ASLB got involved, which was to have a tech spec amendment with a footnote stating that for the remainder of that cycle, rated power was limited to 70% power. And with the preliminary finding of no significant hazards this could have been done relatively quickly without public hearings. I think the ASLB’s argument really was that the scope of their amendment was too limited and didn’t cover all the stuff that the ASLB said it needed to cover, which ( I believe) is why the ASLB ruled there was a de facto license amendment change.


            Now SCE jumped the gun on stating they were going to shut the plant down.The NRC staff was recommending that the ASLB motion be denied, because they were, in an unprecedented fashion, viewing things more broadly than they typically do.


            But like you said, SCE may have been gearing for a lawsuit. Additionally by shutting the plant down, they get access to the decommissioning fund, which immediately turns a (short term) liability into revenue (you’ve written about this before, and how the decom fund can artificially drive companies to retire plants early).

            Side note: Palo Verde in the early 90s had SG tube ruptures and ended up overflowing their condenser and spilling primary coolant all over their turbine building and overflowing to outside their plant. In a few months they got permission to run at reduced power for a cycle as they did repairs and evaluations. I have no idea why the NRC and SONGS could not simply look at the Palo Verde event and model the CAL and restart after that. There’s no reason it should have taken as long as it did just to figure how to do a license amendment. It should have been an open/close case in under a year.

            @mjd – Tech spec calls can be very challenging to make. The tech specs are overly complicated in many areas and sometimes whether or not something is OPERABLE hinges on a foot note in the bases or something bizarre like that. While it is typically ok to go over conservative, the NRC actually does not like a licensee declaring things INOPERABLE when they are not. While they won’t give you a violation for it in and of itself, they can hit you in other areas if you are calling things INOP when they arent. The way we are trained is that you always take the tech specs as a ‘plain language’ interpretation. The NRC supports this interpretation. See the Clinton power station violation on how they began to interpret what an “Operation with Potential for Draining the Reactor Vessel” or OPDRV is. The tech specs doesn’t define how much leakage would be considered an OPDRV, so Clinton made their own interpretation. They got a violation on this. The NRC said the plain language interpretation meant ANY operation which could drain the vessel was an OPDRV, because the tech specs did not define allowable leakage rates for OPDRVs, and that Clinton essentially made an unapproved tech spec change. This mess resulted in the NRC and industry coming to an agreement on what was considered allowable and required mitigating actions, but the point really remained that the plain language read of the exact words in the bases and tech specs is what you need to use when you make these calls.

            Tech spec calls are only made by licensed senior reactor operators.

          3. I had written a response at home, but I think my browser crashed before it got submitted. I’m going to take another approach on my view on this, not from the operations/operability standpoint directly, but from the perspective of an engineer who performs these 50.59 evaluations. I’ve been a design engineer for several years and am now getting my senior reactor operator license, so I’ve been trained on understanding the license basis both from the engineering side and operations side.

            So lets take SCE/SONGS/NRC/ASLB/FoE out of the picture for this discussion.

            I have indications of primary to secondary leakage, and the unit is taken offline. Inspections find uncharacteristic wear on the steam generator tubes, and that the wear is due to a faulty design. There are two activities that need to be completed at this point, the first is I need to make sure the primary to secondary leakage is operable, and the second is that I need to ensure the steam generator structural integrity is operable.

            The leaky tubes are plugged. This goes to engineering for their evaluation and to update the SG tube sheet. The SGs have a 10% margin for plugged tubes which was pre-evaluated, and because the number of plugged tubes are still within the 10%, this is not only acceptable, but the NRC doesn’t even consider this a “Change” which would require a 50.59 (because it was pre-accepted). With the tubes plugged, you can now declare the reactor coolant leakage tech spec operable. This item is closed.

            Now for the SG integrity, engineering evaluates that 100% power wont work until repairs are performed, however 70% will work until the necessary repairs are ready to go. Because we have a degraded piece of nuclear safety related equipment that we are going to be using for up to a full cycle, accepting this deficiency is considered a “Use-As-Is”. All “use-as-is” evaluations are considered a “Change” by the NRC. Because it is a change, I now have to go through the 50.59 process.

            The 50.59 starts with a 5 question screening. The first four questions basically ask if the change you are making is ‘adverse’. Adverse does not always mean ‘worse’, it means are you making a change which departs from your FSAR or license in such a way that you can have changes that have the potentail to be adverse. I’ve seen cases where improvements to the plant are considered adverse based on regulatory guidance. But, in this case, the SGs are described in the FSAR to run from 0% to 100%. Lowering their operating range to 70% would absolutely be adverse to the description of the SGs in the FSAR. The screening also asks if your operating procedure changes as part of this activity are adverse (they may or may not be….if they effect your casualty procedures they would most likely be adverse), it asks if the calculation methods used are adverse (they might be because the methods used to determine the tube vibration may not have been something which was already accepted in the plant’s FSAR), and finally the 50.59 screening requires you to review all applicable tech specs and the tech spec bases. You definitely are impacting tech specs for the definition of rated thermal power, and any surveillances which depend on RTP being above 70%. You are also adverse in the “tech spec bases” because the bases describe the SGs as being operable up to 100% power. The tech spec changes require a license amendment (tech specs ALWAYS require license amendments to change), however the “tech spec basis” could be done if it passes a 50.59 evaluation.

            So now I have to go to the 50.59 evaluation. The evaluation looks for “more than a minimal increase” in the frequency or consequences of a malfunction. Consequences means “dose to the public”. Frequency is a very vague term but pretty much looks at the qualitative and quantitative risk that something might fail. The 50.59 evaluation also looks for departure from established methods of evaluation that are more than minimal, bigger changes in the way you are operating your plant, that type of stuff. One of the questions asks if the design limits for a fission product barrier being altered, which it definitely is in this case. Looking at my 50.59 manual once of the items for fission product barriers is specifically stresses and wear on the barrier. Ultimately that is what needs to be conclusively answered in the evaluation to determine whether or not any additional licensing is required to accept the SGs. Based on what I know of the evaluations that SCE/MHI had at the time, I think they would have had a hard time explaining why this change would have been acceptable without a license amendment, because it is a significant departure from the established limits for a fission product barrier. Especially because this is a “use as is” evaluation and not a repair/rework evaluation where we are attempting to restore full structural integrity of the steam generators. Instead we are going to accept structural integrity that is less than what it is, and justify that acceptance by changing how we are operating the plant.

            Based on how I would have evaluated this, a license amendment would definitely have been needed for at least some parts of the use-as-is activity.

            Looking specifically a SONGS Tech Specs http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0531/ML053130316.pdf , there are 3 tech specs which are applicable here. is the steam generator tube integrity program, 3.4.13 is the RCS leakage rate (where the 150 gal/day is), and 3.4.17 is the tech spec for actual steam generator tube integrity. Unfortunately the TS bases are hard to find publicly, so we do not have all the details about understanding 3.4.17. But is very detailed and very explicitly states that “All inservice steam generator tubes shall retain structural integrity over the full range of normal operating conditions”. Because the “full range of normal operating conditions” was changing, that was absolutely a license amendment (and SONGS knew this too http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1309/ML13098A020.pdf). They absolutely needed a license amendment to reduce rated power to 70% so they could meet item in “Accident Induced Leakage Performance Criterion”. (this was one of the FoE talking points)

            Anyways, getting onto the OPERABILITY discussion. The station clearly did not meet, which states the SG tubes need to retain integrity over the full range of operations, because they SGs were not acceptable at 100% power. As a result they would be INOPERABLE according to 3.4.17. Because they were inoperable on 3.4.17, LCO 3.0.4 prevents entering modes 1 through 4. With a license amendment that temporarily restricts full power to 70%, along with a safety evaluation by the NRC of the SONGS/MHI reports that show 70% eliminates the complex flow elastic instability modes, this tech spec would have been met (in my opinion).

            @rod, fully agree they never ever violated a license limit. I also agree that SCE cut the cord on the plant way too soon, especially because the NRC staff was actively trying to deny the ASLB’s unprecedented decision http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1315/ML13154A395.pdf

            The plant definitely could have been operated at 70% power, and they were held up figuring out which paper they needed to do it legally and dealing with intervenors and the NRC.

            As you’ve said before rod, these plants also have an unusual incentive to shut down, because then they can draw from the decomissioning fun and turn a liability into a revenue. I also fully agree that there was no technical reason that SONGS 2 and probably even SONGS 3 could have started up at reduced power and ran safey for a whole cycle. Furthermore, I think SONGS should have known in the first few months that several tech spec changes were needed, and the fact that they waited over a year to put in even a simple license amendment request is just silly to me. If this were an exelon operated plant people wouldn’t have been seeing their spouses until they had a concrete plan going forward and an amendment drafted.

            Another item to look into Rod, is the Palo Verde steam generator tube rupture in the 90s. They had multiple ruptures and large amounts of leakage, and ended up overfilling their condenser to the point that they spilled thousands of gallons of primary coolant in their turbine building and outside the plant. They were back online in a few months operating at reduced power until it was more clear what repairs needed to be made. I think it’s absurd that SONGS/NRC couldn’t figure out how to look at Palo Verde as the model to follow for the restart.

            As always I respect the work you do!

            @mjd it’s more than just the surveillances. You need to meet every word in the tech spec bases at a minimum to be considered operable. This is guidance I have in our tech spec determination procedures, but it is consistent with the way that the NRC has been interpreting compliance with improved tech specs. Interestingly enough, being overconservative is not always good either, as the regulator will frown on overconservative entries into tech specs when they are not necessary. However, overconservative entries result in you getting knicked on human performance, where failing to enter when required results in a violation (and may result in getting your SRO license deactivated by your plant for a while).

        2. @Michael Antonelli October 10, 2014 at 1:54 AM
          You said: “… and in my opinion is really the ultimate failure of the NRC.” You are absolutely correct about an NRC failure. But maybe not the “ultimate” one, TMI2 has to be in the running. They were the one organization with responsibility for, and in a position to, correctly evaluate the TMI2 precursor warnings which would have prevented TMI2. And they failed. But apparently there is no accountability in that organization. Virtually no NRC employees ever lost their job over TMI2, while several GPU/Met Ed employees did. Maybe that’s why they vote them self “best gov place to work” year after year, they know it. They can’t even “man-up” to admitting and correcting an injustice 35 years after the fact. Even when it is spelled out for them step by step.

    2. “Any changes to the license or tech specs require a license amendment”

      Am I missing something? Wasn’t the original problem that the tech specs were circumvented, and the steam tubes, (or generators?), were not built to adhere to the approved design? So wasn’t SCE already in violation even before the leaks were discovered?

      1. @poa

        No. Some antinuclear activists like Arnie Gundersen and Paul Gunter make the assertion that SCE violated its license by not applying for a license amendment before replacing its steam generators, but think about this critically.

        Do you really believe that a tightly regulated utility like SCE could spend a half a billion dollars replacing major components like nuclear plant steam generators without a lot of oversight and inspection? Do you really believe that the NRC believes that SCE violated the rules about whether or not to apply for a license amendment?

        The only finding that the NRC made against SCE related to the San Onofre steam generators was assessed as a “white” violation of low to moderate safety significance for “failure to verify the adequacy of the thermal-hydraulic and flow-induced vibration design” for the unit 3 steam generators. That finding did not say a word about violating the 50.59 process to determine if a replacement part required a license amendment.

        Here is a quote from the NRC document notifying SCE of the violation:

        Consequently, the inadequate thermal-hydraulic and flow-induced vibration design resulted in non-conservative flow conditions, which led to fluid-elastic instability of a group of tubes in the Unit 3 replacement steam generators. This resulted in one tube leaking, which prompted the licensee to shut down the plant on January 31, 2012. In March 2012, in-situ pressure testing on Unit 3 steam generator 3EO-88 revealed that eight tubes had failed to meet the performance criteria for structural integrity and accident induced leakage. Specifically, during in-situ pressure testing, tubes R106C78, R102C78, R104C78, R100C80, R107C77, R101C81, R98C80, and R99C81 in steam generator 3EO-88 failed to meet the structural integrity criterion limit of three times the normal steady state primary-to-secondary differential pressure of 5250 psig, with the tubes failing at test pressures ranging from 2874 psig to 5026 psig. In addition, tubes R106C78, R102C78, and R104C78 failed to meet the accident-induced leakage criterion of not exceeding 0.5 gpm leakage per steam generator at a main steam line break pressure of 3200 psig, with each tube having leakage rates of approximately 4.5 gpm, prior to exceeding 3200 psig.
        (Emphasis added.)

        Remember – each steam generator contained more than 9,700 tubes and each was designed with the ability to plug as many as 970 tubes (10%) before no longer having the ability to operate at 100% power.

        1. I would swear that I read that the actual design of the approved steam generators was deviated from, without clearance.

          1. @poa

            I’m sure you have read it; repetition of incorrect information about nuclear energy would be nothing new. It might have even appeared in a source that is often credible about other topics. That does not make it true; perception is not reality, no matter how often that statement is repeated by spin doctors.

        2. “Do you really believe that a tightly regulated utility like SCE could spend a half a billion dollars replacing major components like nuclear plant steam generators without a lot of oversight and inspection?”

          Along those lines….found this…



          The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s inspector general has concluded that the agency missed an opportunity to flag design changes to the faulty steam generators that eventually shuttered the San Onofre nuclear plant.

          The report (.pdf) comes as Southern California Edison and the NRC continue to face scrutiny from Congress and plant opponents related to the handling of the steam generators. One experienced a small leak in 2012 a year after it was installed.  Premature wear was subsequently found in the steam generators of both San Onofre units that the NRC later blamed on vibration caused by modifications to their design.

          NRC experts have suggested that those modifications should have required a license amendment – an intensive process that might have identified the flaws before the steam generators were installed. In 2009, though, an NRC inspection team reviewed the paperwork from SCE supporting its case that a license amendment was not required (under what is known as the 10 CFR 50.59 rule) and agreed with the utility’s conclusions.

          Additionally, the Office of the Inspector General, “found that NRC does not consistently use one of its primary oversight methods to assess whether licensees are keeping their power plant licensing basis documentation up to date.” The report noted that biennial updates on modifications made to reactors outside the license amendment process were frequently reviewed by agency staff well after a recommended 90-day timeframe, and in some cases not for a year or longer. At San Onofre, the report also found that NRC staff documented only two reviews of updates to the plant’s updated final safety analysis report over a 10-year span, when the plant had submitted six of them, as required. Also, the report noted that earlier inspections identified many changes made to San Onofre steam generators over a 25-year period that were not reflected in its UFSAR.

          End excerpt.

          So, in answer to your question, yes, apparently so.

          1. @poa

            As noted in your quote, the NRC inspection team assigned to the task agreed with SCE’s conclusions. Unnamed “experts” told the IG that — using their 20/20 hindsight — that they believed that the modifications “should” have required a license amendment and that the more scrutinized (and lengthy, politicized and costly) process “might” have identified the “flaws.”

            That is an unsupported, anonymous opinion from an investigation made final almost 5 years after the possible review would have occurred. It is not a fact.

          2. @ poa,

            The IG report has a number of 20-20 hindsight comments. The reviewer of the 50.59 in 2009 stated: “……but said in hindsight, with the experience he now has, he might have probed further into certain aspects of the screening and evaluation package.” (emphasis is mine)

            So even the primary reviewer of the 50.59 did not conclusively state he would have changed his review comments on the 50.59.

            Other data points from the IG report that they themselves learned during this investigation.

            There are approximately 475 50.59 screenings per plant per year.

            There are approximately five (5) 50.59 evaluations per plant per year.

            And there have been 53 plants that used the 50.59 process to replace steam generators with only an additional 6 that required license amendments.

            So the 50.59 process is widely used and has been used for numerous steam generators. This is the first where adverse operational conditions were discovered.

            Many of the comments in the IG were related to the software used. Yes SONGS should have more actively pursued those software changes but documented results between the two software packages used were less then 1% difference which at the time was sufficient to proceed forward. The software changes then become a administrative detail not a show stopping moment in time.

            I was surprised though to see hand calcs were used at some point in time. Not against hand calcs but with all the discussion of the software packages used to analyze the steam generators, it was surprising to see there were places where hand calcs came into play.

            All this just goes back the central discussion point though. It is one thing to state with perfect 20-20 hindsight that a license amendment process might have been employed. That though is an example of time warping. What a person might have done 2, 3 or 10 years ago based on current knowledge is attempting to do time warping. Going forward and applying lessons learned – yes. Attempting to paint SCE/SONGS were bad actors (and the rest of the nuclear industry by default) for not seeking a license amendment knowing the results of putting the new steam generators into full operational mode – example of time warping.

            Also by focusing on just SONGS, all the anti’s are able to make it appear that the nuclear industry isn’t taking their requirement of maintaining public safety seriously. However, the fact that 53 plants have successfully replaced their steam generators using the same format speaks volumes that SONGS was the outlier not the norm.

            Finally, The FOE or any other anti-nuclear group should not have the ability to use simple language and verbiage discrepancies to their advantage in a legal forum to actively work to shut down not just SONGS but every other nuclear power plant in the US. The bar needs to be higher.

      2. I think there’s a misunderstanding here, which is completely understandable.

        Just because something is in tech specs does not mean I need a license amendment every time I modify the design of that system. I only need a license amendment if I change the tech spec.

        If you go look at improved tech specs for nuclear plants, you’ll see that they talk about the safety functions that must be performed, and don’t go into much detail about how they are performed. Just because something is listed in the tech specs doesn’t mean you can’t modify it without a license amendment. You only are automatically forced to a license amendment if the new design fails to meet the original tech spec, and even then, you are only forced into an amendment for the specific items that require one.

        To elaborate a little: very frequently we can make major changes to plant systems and equipment that are listed in tech specs, without needing a tech spec change for the equipment itself. However, I might need a tech spec change specifically for the new interlock setpoints that resulted from the system change. In this case, the NRC would only be reviewing the setpoint changes and ensuring the are appropriate, while the actual system change could be evaluated by the 50.59 process.

  5. While exposing these anti-nuke organization’s true motives for what they really are makes interesting reading, it doesn’t address the real problem. If organizations such as FOE can use a legal process, in a legal manner, such that fear (and cost) of their participation in that process can drive an organization such as SCE to change what is essentially a corporate engineering decision to something else, then either the process is flawed or its implementation is flawed. I personally think it is a combination of both. Why was FOE given “standing” based on a frivolous claim without providing substantial technical documentation to back it up? The process requires SCE to provide substantial technical documentation (at great cost to SCE) to counter the frivolous claim. A fair legal process should work both ways.
    These organizations do this because they can… and they get away with it. I am not aware of a single case where a utility went after one of these anti-nuke organizations to recover the costs of countering a frivolous claim. Even in cases where a law court (ASLB) ruled in the utilities favor. If SCE management thinks its cheaper, faster, and less hassle to S/D SONGS and build gas plants, and they get away with that also, where is the incentive for SCE to fight? The process is flawed.

  6. It’s partly our fault that the fossil funded NGOs (heck, even “GOs” like the EPA) have such an easy time of whacking high power density systems. We give ’em a single monolithic target.

    We let them place all strong force energy systems under the single moniker “Nuclear Energy”. without differentiation among the myriad of technologies that can be pursued that each have a higher power density than combustion systems.

    “Combustion” isn’t a monolithic single power source in the public mind to the great benefit of Oil and Gas companies; How is it beneficial that we allow NGOs to damage “nuclear power” as a single entity?

  7. @Bill Rodgers October 9, 2014 at 1:28 PM
    Bill, I need to clarify my USQ comment. In my technical opinion (and I have done plenty of 50.59 reviews), SCE shot them self in the foot by agreeing to S/D and inspect SG tubes after a 6 month 70% power run. That, by itself, made this “a test or experiment not described in the FSAR.” Because what they are indirectly admitting is they are not confident in their engineering understanding of the cause of the initial tube failure. So they will run this “test run”, then verify. Admittedly, I don’t know anymore than the rest of us, other than what we read in public documents, so this could have been a “back room” deal on how “we” (NRC & SCE) get out of this easily.
    There is no tech basis for FOE claiming since SONGS is licensed for 100%, running at 70% and not being able to go to 100% requires license amendment, it’s pure BS. Plant power coast down at EOL can’t get to 100%, nor can choosing to run at reduced power for an equipment problem (failed RCP or MFP). There are a lot of operational limits, all described in FSARs. There is no license condition requiring running at 100%. Plants run all the time at reduced power limited by an engineering problem to a piece of equipment.
    If SCE was confident with their engineering understanding of the cause of the original tube failures (a design flaw combined with increased primary & secondary flow in the “uprated” new SGs), they should have stated running at 70% (combined with plugging flawed tubes) puts the plant inside the original “probability of occurrence for a SGTR accident” and we will run at 70% and monitor in accordance with our Tech Specs (RCS leak rates, MSL and condenser off-gas rad monitors, etc); just like every PWR does. So no USQ. This is not 20-20 hindsight, they committed to running a test not described in the FSAR (because they didn’t trust the engineering?), so it’s a USQ. They never should have agreed to do that. Make your submittal, force the NRC to do their job; agree or technically explain why not.
    But when fear of a process trumps the engineering in a decision, something is wrong.

  8. @mjd October 9, 2014 at 2:56 PM
    I believe that at the time the CAL was written and the 70% “test” was begin proposed, the actual failure mechanism of the tubes was still in debate. Remember that warranty claims were involved (lawyers), and MHI got real quiet there for a while, and multiple other parties (competitors) were given a chance to peek at and “critique” the MHI proprietary design and calcs.
    Eventually, the failure mechanism was declared solved, but that happened much later. At the time of the CAL and the 70% proposal, the alarmists were saying that we don’t know why they failed, so the plant shouldn’t start up.

  9. Well, while it’s a good point that the ALSBP did not find that a restart would be unsafe, I also don’t find it reasonable to blame FOE for the NRC following established laws and procedures. The ALSB found that restarting under the conditions SCI proposed constitutes a License Amendment Procedure. Are they somehow wrong? Is it somehow FOE’s fault that the ALSB found that way?

    If there are legal processes in place that create a financially untenable situation with regards to the NRC making determinations if a plant is safe to restart, then we should attack the laws, not the people who are just asking for the law to be followed. For example, I do not understand why a PUBLIC comment period would be at all involved in the NRC making TECHNICAL decisions regarding safety. It’s undue political interference and foot dragging in what should be an expedient technical analysis process.

    I don’t see how the public can help the NRC make such a determination of technical merit?

  10. “……and fighting proposals to design and build new reactors and use federal funds to underwrite such initiatives”

    Troubling. It is one thing to seek to curtail the use of a technology you consider unsafe. But to seek to curtail research and development that may render that technology safer is ludicrous to the extreme. Such a “strategy” definitely lends credence to Rod’s assertion about underlying motives attributable to groups such as FOE. If the interest is public safety, R&D should be encouraged, not discouraged.

  11. If California really wants to demonstrate the superiority of their wind and solar power generation, perhaps we should give them the opportunity to do so. Right now Cali imports a very large amount of their electricity. ‘Cut the cord’ and let them show us barbarians how it’s done!

  12. I just spent the evening reading the OIG report. http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1427/ML14276A478.pdf
    What’s odd to me is how much they focus on the change in Finite Element Analysis software from STRUDL to ANSYS. My understanding of the packages is that this is like saying “you used the 2012 Cadillac instead of continuing to use the 1982 Cadillac”. If both produce accurate results over the range of interest, then they are just as good. Now if the licensed analysis methods were required to use certain assumptions, or maintain certain margins, that might be a concern, but this is never mentioned in the OIG report.
    Also it appears that the software used (STRUDL or ANSYS) weren’t relevamt to the steam quality issue that caused the failure anyway. So this seems to be a lot more hype stirred up by somebody.

  13. “So if anyone is trying to revise history it is you Mr. Gunter.”

    Gee. I wonder whether the mass media got that memo to educate the public by where it all ultimately counts.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  14. I think that that real goal of FOE is to get electric power rates to “skyrocket”. If rates increase at the rare of 8% a year then it will take less than 9 years for power rates to double because of the compounding effect.

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