Plastic bags, tape, broomsticks fix San Onofre leak

NRC contemplating restart of nuclear plant

SAN DIEGO - An inside source gave Team 10 a picture snapped inside the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) showing plastic bags, masking tape and broom sticks used to stem a massive leaky pipe.

San Onofre owner Southern California Edison (SCE), confirms the picture was taken inside Unit Three, but did not say when. The anonymous source said the picture was taken in December 2012.

Unit Three is the same unit that leaked radiation in January 2012.  SONGS has been shutdown since then as a precaution.

"[Staff] identified a small leak in the water box and will perform maintenance per our scheduling process," SCE spokeswoman Maureen Brown wrote in a statement. "In the meantime, plastic is in place to direct the water from the small leak to a drain."

"The condition represented in the photograph has been identified as a minor saltwater leak at Unit 3 and poses no danger to public health and safety," NRC spokesman Victor Dricks wrote after three days of analysis. "The licensee is tracking the issue and will repair the condition in accordance with their work prioritization process. The unit is currently in an extended shutdown with no plans to operate at any time in the near future."

"If that's nuclear technology at work and that's how we're going to control leaks I think the public should know," the inside source said.

More than one anonymous source talked about the picture with Team 10. They said the public has a right to know about the plant's condition, as the NRC decides whether the plant will be allowed to restart.

Unit Two is the generator under consideration for restart - not Unit Three - where the picture was taken.  Currently there are no plans to restart Unit Three.

Sources also pointed to what appears to be corrosion on the pipe as a sign of the power plant's age.

They claim rust is rampant throughout SONGS -- including what sources call a fire suppression pipe, which protects both units.

"There's a pipe that runs along the security fence, from one side of the plant to the other side of the plant -- it’s totally blistered," one inside source told Team 10.

"To take an isolated picture and leap to some kind of conclusion about maintenance is a pretty big leap," SCE’s Brown said in a phone conversation.

"We are dealing with unknown territory here which has never been explored before," another inside source said.  Two inside sources called restarting SONGS “risky.”

SCE disputes those claims and told Team 10 the plant is safe to restart.

Records obtained by Team 10 show SONGS staff were concerned about "hundreds of corrosion notifications" and "degraded equipment" throughout the plant. Staff sent a letter to management saying SONGS "clearly has a serious corrosion problem" in pipes throughout the plant.

"This is nuclear, this should be tip top," one source said. "Everything in that plant should be tip top, not bottom of the barrel."

The NRC is expected to announce its decision on restarting Unit Two at 70 percent in May.

Team 10 sent these questions to SCE:

Where is this pipe? 

What does it do? 

Is the pipe in service currently?

If it is not in service, why not?  

Was it in service in December 2012?

Why is it sealed in this fashion?

Is this common practice at SONGS?

SCE responded with a statement and and a spokeswoman added, "we don't have comment beyond the statement."

SCE full statement:

The component in the photograph is a circulating water box in unit 3 which is defueled (not operating). This is part of the system that takes in ocean water which is circulated through condensers and then returned to the ocean. This water is not radioactive.

We identified a small leak in the water box and will perform maintenance per our scheduling process. In the meantime, plastic is in place to direct the water from the small leak to a drain. While this system is not needed while unit 3 is defueled, we do periodically circulate ocean water through the system and that's why we use the temporary plastic to route the water to a floor drain.

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