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CPUC Releases Secret Report on San Onofre’s steam generator failure

J. Budnitz is a fraud — or at least, for what we (the ratepayer) paid
(almost $5,000 of a $150,000 contract), we (and the CPUC) got exactly
nothing. According to Budnitz’s report, Budnitz successfully figured out
that the new RSG design was different from the old one, and also
different from Diablo Canyon’s steam generator design.  He therefore
concluded the SanO design must have been flawed.  Brilliant?  I think

In fact, I wonder if Dr. Budnitz has learned anything about the
futility of safely storing nuclear waste since he was on the science
advisory board of the EPA on High Level Radioactive Waste Disposal in
1983-1984, i.e., 30+ years…  Then he was on Yucca Mountain’s team…
then WIPP… and along the way, investigated Three Mile Island and many
other nuclear fiascoes… as far as I can tell, Budnitz has accomplished
nothing all his life, and everything he touches turns to… whatever
the opposite of the Midas touch is.  Spent fuel.

Robert J. Budnitz has been apologizing for the nuclear industry for
decades.  It’s unlikely he would have changed his tune over the steam
generator failures.  Here’s a few things SCE did wrong along the way.  I
don’t know how many of them Budnitz would have identified even if he
had been given a million dollars to investigate the steam generator
failure at San Onofre:

1) Prior to the replacement, SCE appears to have
intentionally chosen to run the reactors in such a way that they would
produce extra steam (aka: an uprate) while at the same time, accelerate
the wear so that the need to replace the steam generators would not fall
at the same time as the relicensing hearings that were coming up around
2022-2024.  Perhaps if they had cut back power, instead of increasing
power, the old SGs would even have lasted another decade or two.

2) Prior to replacement, SCE intentionally included
numerous additional repairs that needed to be done to continue to
operate the plant.  These repairs were removed from the “$670 million
dollar” figure that has been cited as the total cost of the repairs.  In
fact, the total expenses that accompanied the repair but were not
properly assigned to the task totalled well over a billion dollars.  My
guess is that’s been paid for by the ratepayers in other ways, but at
any rate, it was spent needlessly.  (CPUC had hired one of those fraud
companies much like Budnitz (called the Aspen Group or something like
that, I think) to produce a report showing that indeed the steam
generator replacement project would be worthwhile for the citizens of
California because it would save us money.  The possibilities of ANY
failure were literally completely ignored from any sort of financial
perspective.  It was ASSUMED the money would cause the reactors to
operate for another 20, 30 or more years.  Such an assumption was
invalid for numerous reasons, of course, what happened being only one of

3) Prior to replacement, SCE (and the nuclear
industry) made a big deal about the new alloy being more
corrosion-resistant.  But I’d be hard-pressed to find ONE instance where
SCE admitted that it was 10% less heat-conductive and would therefor
absolutely, without question, require numerous changes in design to get
not just the same steam output, but in fact, they were hoping for (and
sort of got) more steam, for their replacement turbine blades.

4) Prior to replacement, design changes were
considered “like for like” even under the following conditions: 
Problem: An increase in the diameter of a pipe causes an increase in
risk because more steam can escape into the containment building within
the NRC-regulated time period.  Solution: Increase the quality of the
valves used to isolate that portion of the system so that the chance of
that accident happening would be lower, thus the overall risk
calculation would remain the same.  I’m not saying such calculations are
not valid engineering behavior.  I’m just saying you need a permit, and
it needs to be approved, because it’s NOT “like-for-like” and more
importantly, the CPUC knew this stuff was going on and let it happen. 
The CPUC, during the original SG replacement hearings, had every
opportunity to figure out this replacement project had all sorts of
fraud involved in it.  No reasonable citizen paying attention wanted it
to happen.

5) Prior to the accident, a more careful inspection
of Unit 2’s steam generators would have revealed extensive damage, if
not Fluid Elastic Instability (i.e., coordinated tube-to-tube wear from
whole rows of tubes swaying to and fro in the in-plane direction).  Unit
3 could have been shut down in December, 2011 because the problems with
Unit 2 were so severe, and the tube-to-tube wear could have been
discovered.  For a $670 million dollar replacement project with 4 main
parts, one would think the first chance to take a close look at those
parts would have been taken.  But it wasn’t.  That was negligent (as are
many of these other things I’ve mentioned, if not all of them).

6) During the SG replacement project, SCE refused to
do a “hot test” which might have shown the wear problem without even
irradiating the new 1/3 of the reactor cores, that were replaced and
used only 11 months and 22 months, respectively, in Units 3 and 2.  Now,
those reactor cores are the most dangerous and difficult to deal with,
because they have so much U-235 in them and so few “poisons.”

7) On that fateful day, 1/31/2012, had the leak
leaked just a little differently, the utility would have kept running
Unit 3 until a cascade of tube failures occurred (other adjacent tubes
were 99% worn).  They’ve been lauded for their “quick” response but in
fact, they waited about 18 minutes to do anything after the radiation
alarms went off, waiting to figure out how fast the leak was leaking. 
If it had been a little lower, it might have allowed them to simply keep
operating with the leak — until there were multiple-tube failures,
which would be a beyond-design-basis accident.

8) After the accident, SCE had every opportunity to
realize that Unit 2 was damaged beyond reasonable repair, that
replacement SGs were not a reasonable option, and the plant was never
going to operate again.  They kept a lot of very expensive workers
around for a long time for no reason.   Economically, they should have
realized the plant was a white elephant when the original steam
generators started to fail — if not sooner.

9) Throughout this time, SCE insisted that the spent
fuel waste problem was solved by — and I quote: “Yucca Mountain.”  It
was never a good solution and every reasonable person who reviewed it,
knew it.  But more importantly, the Yucca Mountain team of scientists
themselves were free to suggest any other better solution, if they could
find one, except the same thing (geologic repository) in another
location, because siting the damned thing appears to be just as
impossible as doing it safely is.  They could consider rocketing the
waste into space (too risky, everyone knows that, and also too
expensive).  They could consider deep sea disposal (illegal by treaty,
and even without that problem, the plans were so iffy no one could take
them seriously (dropping huge weights from large ships in order to
pierce holes deep into the bottom seabed muck, for instance)).   There
were no better solutions then and there aren’t now, either (I’m not
recommending Yucca Mountain, just pointing out it already was a last

10) The CPUC’s main duty now is for they themselves
to learn from what has happened, and to use that knowledge to close
Diablo Canyon.  It’s far more important than figuring out who was to
blame for San Onofre’s failures, though they certainly should see that
through to the end, too.  But the whole place was a hazard and a
threat.  If it hadn’t been this, it could have been something else: 
Giant pipes carrying primary coolant were rusting out, one of them might
have failed (that’s even a design basis accident).  Diesel backup
generators were cross-wired improperly, and wouldn’t start, and hadn’t
been tested, and on and on and on.  Records were falsified and workers
who complained about the hazards were intimidated and/or let go.

San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station was an accident waiting
to happen and so is Diablo Canyon, Indian Point, Palo Verde (which SCE
owns 20% of) and all the others.  Just another day in the nuclear

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