1. Something very similar happened to fuel elements – grid to rod fretting and vibration caused mechanical damage and corrosion. This was the leading cause for fuel failure for most PWR/BWR fuels. Recently effective solutions have been adapted to solve the problem.

    Fuel elements are partly removed every 12-24 months. It’s not quite so easy to replace a large fraction of the steam generator tubing, so any vibration problems in steam generators are much more troublesome than fuel vibration damage, interestingly.

  2. It is a terrible waste of resources; operating fossil fuel powered replacement generating plants has made the air dirtier and the people in Southern California a little less safe …

    Rod – What makes you think that the people of Southern California are bearing any of the ecological burden from running fossil-fuel plants to make up the difference? I’m sure that these people couldn’t care less. That’s why they keep reelecting nitwits like Boxer.

    California imports more electricity than any other state. If you want to know where the bulk of the replacement power is coming from, google “Path 46.”

    1. Brian

      Though I understand your comment, neither you nor I can effectively toss stones at CA for buying its electricity from plants located in other states.

      1. Rod – I know what you’re saying, but I’ve been a strong supporter for a third reactor at North Anna (preferably a 1650 MW EPR 😉 ) for about a decade now.

        How many Southern Californians can make a similar claim?

  3. While I agree with most of your post, I am still questioning why SCE did not go with a more experienced company for fabrication of these larger SGs (e.g., KEPCO/W or Ansaldo). Yes there may have been a price issue, but as we see here the financial and regulatory consequences are magnified when there is an error (especially in California!).

    1. When things are going well, utilities have sometimes a tendency to cut corners. Penny wise, pound foolish, as it sometimes turns out. It also happened recently with a containment job where the postensioned cables in the concrete had to be removed, it was done incorrectly and the damage to the plant (and lost revenues) was astronomic. Don’t recall which nuclear plant it was.

      1. It wasn’t because it was cheap; it was a job done incorrectly. A cheap job or item doesn’t always mean faulty, nor visa-versa.

        James Greenidge
        Queens NY

      2. Whilst not exactly the same this is very similar to what happened at Flamanville, however the reason was not cost-cutting from edf but from the construction company (using people who had received no adequate formation to do the soldering for example). Unfortunately deep cost-cutting has become the standart by which all construction companies go in France (edf changed provider for some of the recent components but here too had to have them rebuild because they were defective)

        1. @Pete51
          Not quite, once the true cost of the fix was known and the source for that money is understood, the “utility” (either Duke or Progress) no longer has control of the decision. Thus Duke announced the decision, but it was made by Exelon. Research how NEIL, Ltd functions and is owned. Exelon has 18 votes. The same process will apply to SONGS, however the decision is currently being “deferred” pending NRC approval of SONGS2 “test”. My prediction is SONGS3 will never run again, SONGS2 is iffy, but probably never also.

  4. I haven’t followed the SONGS situation closely, but one number in your post gets to me.

    84 gallons a day seemed not so small an amount to me, and I wanted a comparison with amounts that mean anything to me. I divided the gallon/day measure to ml/minute. I came to 220 ml a minute, that is less than my morning cup of coffee! If my tap gives me that, I call my water supplier for bad service!

    Am I right that the utility shut down two reactors because of a leak of a cup of hardly radioactive water a minute? Words fail.

  5. Senator Boxer and Congressman Markey need to read Henry Petroski’s book To Engineer Is Human, The Role of Failure in Successful Design. It shows that nothing is perfect, that failure leads to successful design, though successful design can become too conservative, which is also detrimental.

    A positive message from the steam generator failure at SONGS is that an important engineering lesson was learned. And the lesson was learned without endangering public safety. Those who want to keep SONGS closed are endangering the public now, as the replacement power is coming from more dangerous sources.

  6. re: “Aside from the fact that such an assertion was absurd – why on earth would any corporation take the risk of installing components known to be faulty into a vital, multi-billion dollar production facility”…

    For the same reason TMI Unit 2 didn’t install a $35,000 automatic condensate bypass valve as they had on Unit 1.

    1. That is an invalid comparison. You are comparing an alleged failure to install a backup system to an allegation that SCE deliberately chose to install a major component of production that was known to be faulty.

      Deciding against installing a piece of backup equipment that might never be used is different from deciding to knowingly install a faulty piece of vital equipment that is in continuous use. In the first case, the bet might pay off if the situation where the backup MIGHT be used never occurs. In the other case a faulty piece of major equipment would be likely to fail and its failure of which would inevitably result in a complete loss of production.

      I might win if I choose not to pay extra money to install airbags in a car that was built without them. I am almost sure to loose if I purchase bald tires and plan to keep driving 24 hours per day. No rational decision maker would make the second choice, but might make the first.

  7. Ok you missed my point, The reasons are the same, they believed the fault would never make an appearance that mattered.

    1. No, I did not miss your point. Boxer and Markey have asserted that SCE knew that the steam generators were faulty, not that they contained some kind of low probability chance of being faulty.

      That is completely different from deciding NOT to install an unnecessary piece of back up equipment on the off chance that it might be required under special circumstances.

  8. You wrote the question “why on earth would any corporation take the risk of installing components known to be faulty into a vital, multi-billion dollar production facility?”

    I answered that question, not any connection to Boxer and Markey. It’s the same reason that fire protection and fireproofing were installed knowing that it was faulty. Or not replacing it 30 years later, or the NRC ignoring it for 10 years.

    They believe the likelihood is so low that they sleep well at night.

    Furthermore, if you think that automatic condesate bypass valves are only needed at an “off chance” under “special circumstances” then you are overlooking things too.

    1. @howaboutit

      Again, I disagree with your analogy. There is a huge difference between NOT installing components that your engineers do not think are necessary – and have shown why they do not believe they are necessary – and installing faulty components that you KNOW are vitally important for the functioning of the production system.

      In my view, simpler is better. Prove to me that those automatic condensate by-pass valves that you are discussing are needed in anything other than an unlikely event like the one that initiated the TMI accident. Prove to me that they are the only way to address that rare event.

      I have the same issue with your assertion about fire protection. Where is the evidence that the hundreds of millions spent on fire protection and improved fireproofing has done anything to improve the reliability of the plants? There was only on significant fire at a nuclear plant that I know of and it was started by a preventable, stupid human error. Just stop using a candle for inspections.

  9. I did not make an analogy, your the one who continues to do that, and thereby miss my point, which answered the question you asked. You’re trapped in your own mindset.

    1. Of course you made an analogy. You compared one situation to another, imply some kind of similarity in the thought processes involved.

      I am trapped in a mindset of understanding reality, not a fantasy world in which corporations are evil even though they are run by normal, reasonable, human beings who are generally more logical and analytical than the average anonymous mudslinger on the Internet.

  10. I did not imply a thought process, I stated that it IS the thought process. And the same thought process appears in numerous situations. There is one thought process. Now go back and reread my first post.

    I never mention “evil corporations.” BTW The Kemeny Commision was most concerned about the “mindset” if the industry. You are a good example of that at times. Stating things like no one has been harmed at Fukushima. 1. you don’t know that 2. A million people lost their homes to the exclusion zone. If that’s mudslinging then its in the eye of the beholder. 😉

    Also, to change the arguement of needing fireproofing improvements to one of reliabilty, and not safety is a real eye-opener.

    We should debate on national radio some time! You are a worthy opponent.

    1. A million people in the exclusion zone ?? The reported number is around 110 000 people evacuated, with a significant part from areas that are ready to be resettled now.

  11. Hi Rod,

    Thanks for the blog – definitely a refreshing read as opposed to all of the factually ignorant, scientifically illiterate, anti-nuke propaganda that passes for news these days. And I certainly agree that Boxer and Markey are two of the most vile, loathsome TOOLS in Washington DC these days – and that is definitely saying a lot! However even as pro-industry as I am (like you), I still have a hard time believing that SCE is simply the victim of unfortunate circumstances in this case, or that their troubles are a result of “setting the bar too high.”

    I spent the better part of 16 years working at SONGS, the last 4-5 of that doing Root Cause Evaluations (RCEs) myself too. As you probably know, SONGS does not have a good track record when it comes to caring for their brand new, shiny, high-dollar, capital replacement equipment. Back in 2001 they wiped the newly manufactured and installed Turbine Rotor (also on U3 coincidentally) just after coming out of an outage. And while just as in this case there were a plethora of reasons in the RCE as to why this appeared to be an explainable, one-time event, I believe the underlying cause goes much deeper. Using SCE’s own processes and words, we should be looking at a Common Cause Evaluation (CCE) here, not an RCE.

    Just like the new S/G’s, the new Turbine Rotors were of a highly-optimized, reworked design meant to squeeze a few extra megawatts out of the Steam Flow – yet which SCE (and the manufacturer) claimed during the process were simply “in kind” replacement parts. In fact, the entire project to “Upgrade” U2&3 (new Rotors, S/G’s, Reactor Heads, etc) was a decades long effort to increase efficiency and boost electrical output (and thus of course revenue) from the aging units – ostensibly by taking advantage of better manufacturing techniques and improved material/mechanical efficiencies – yet all of which somehow did not require a license amendment. Now I admit I am no expert on the 50.59 process, but it just seems to me that this innocent effort to wring out a few more percent MWE has resulted largely in cost overruns, lengthy delays, blown schedules, and expensive damage control and mitigation.

    In all cases, SCE could (should?) have simply dusted off the old 1970’s blueprints for the components in question and shopped around for someone to build them to original spec. Instead, they opted for “new and improved” stuff which was passed off to Regulators, Shareholders, and the Public as “in kind”, but which we have all now witnessed through painful hindsight as having led to nothing but trouble. And add to this that all of these events took place during the years of SONGS’ spectacular, precipitous fall from INPO 1 to INPO 4 leads me to wonder even more. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems much more than just coincidence…

    1. How so very true. Also costing over 2000 local jobs and dumping 1500+ houses on an already strained housing market.

  12. How expensive is the fix ?

    Is the fix rocket science.?

    Why not give a a clean , simple , comprehensive answer , forget attacking Barbara Boxer.

    1. @Ganesh Dore

      The business challenge is that there is no way to estimate the cost of a fix that will be considered acceptable by the NRC, which is driven to attempt to give everyone a chance to express their opinion before making a decision. If the plant was a coal, oil or gas burner with some defects in its boilers, the owners would have found the defective tubes and inserted plugs. The plant would have been running within a week or so of its initial shutdown and the cost would have been measured in the tens of thousands of dollars.

      I have read the detailed reports from the engineering firms called in to do the investigation. A safe, technically sound repair path could have been to simply plug the offending tubes and then restart the plants. It might have been prudent to remind the operators to pay a little closer attention to the radiation monitors that detect primary to secondary leaks, but as a former operator (submarines) I expect they would do that automatically. Besides, the events in January 2012 indicate that the San Onofre operators were already well trained in what to do if a tube leak develops.

      All of the wailing and knashing of teeth by both the industry and its opponents overlooks the fact that no complex system is perfect, but some are pretty darned good.

      1. A safe, technically sound repair path could have been to simply plug the offending tubes and then restart the plants.

        @Rod. Isn’t this exactly what the NRC recommended?


        Actions for Unit 2 and 3 (p. 2 and 3):

        – pressure testing of tubes.
        – preventative plugging.
        – corrective actions (for retainer bar-related tube wear and tube-to-tube interaction).
        – protocol for inspections and operational limits.

        The only addition to this was from SCE seeking a license amendment to operate Unit 2 for a test period of 1 – 2 years at reduced power. Apparently, as was stated by the company, to recoup costs until a solution could be implemented to mitigate against design flaws and slow down excessive tube wear. The NRC responded as anticipated and scheduled a public hearing. NRC never suggested there wasn’t a technically sound repair path that couldn’t be developed in this instance (and restart the plants to run them on a cost effective basis at 100% power). Are you suggesting there should different set of rules for SCE than other license holders with the NRC?

        Ultimately, it was costs that were the deciding factor here. And these costs could have been minimized by seeking the normal process for design upgrades, and review of technical requirements and changes to existing designs. They were not in this instance, and SCE is paying a heavy price for their decision (ratepayers and consumers too). I don’t see where NRC is to blame for this. The generator design was faulty, and SCE apparently had a good sense of the risks involved (and took them anyway). Nobody is to blame for this except MHI engineers and SCE management. The regulatory process could have prevented these mistakes, and appears to be quite sound.

        1. @EL

          I am not going to disagree too much. I have a great deal of respect for the staff at the NRC. They are almost universally well trained and well educated. Their technical recommendations are generally spot on.

          My disagreement with you comes in not accepting the notion that the current process is acceptable. It takes way too much time. The NRC has been politically forced into a position of being unable to consider the expense associated with delay. They bend over backwards to listen to public commentary – especially from groups that have expressed opposition. The problem with that approach is that it ignores the fact that at least SOME of the opponents MIGHT include competitors that have an economic interest in stretching the clock and the cost as far as possible.

          Please understand that the ticking clock at SONGS was costing somewhere between $1 and $5 million per day, depending on gas prices and assumptions. That includes weekends and holidays. Something tells me that there was not much overtime approved at the NRC, so the bureaucratic capacity factor working the issue was about 30% (40-50 hours per week out of 168 available).

  13. Boxer and pot smoking hippies living off the State eventually closed SONGS. Hope they have solar Ipod chargers when their power bills double next year.

    1. @Tom

      Sorry, but the people that decided to close SONGS occupy corner offices and boardroom seats. They are NOT pot smoking hippies, but financially motivated (aka greedy) corporate “leaders”. I will agree that they live – rather well – by collecting taxpayer (aka ratepayer) money using what amounts to government power.

  14. By forcing me out of Fullerton my family is treating me as if there has been a meltdown at San Onofre. I am not economically self sufficient because I have cerebral palsy. Sometimes I wonder If I am being punished for making pro nuclear posts on the Internet. I was born in Fullerton and I lived in Fullerton almost all of my life. I told a few things about myself on the blog Friends for Fullertons Future. Unfortunately the blog was closed to further comments as of Feb. 27, 2013. People with disabilities are hurt by hurt by high energy prices more than anyone else. I knew virtually nothing about nuclear energy before I gained Internet access in 2004.

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