San Onofre Officials Aim to Justify Nuclear Restart

Edison wants to restart half its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which has been shuttered since a radioactive steam leak in January.

Southern California Edison brought out a chief engineer from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Friday night to give an intensely technical presentation in a bid to convince regulators they should be able to restart Unit 2 at the plant.

A January radioactive steam leak in Unit 3 revealed plant generators were riddled with that had to be taken out of service. The plant has been shuttered since, as inspectors comb data related to the leak and unprecedented wear of steam tubes.

Meanwhile, local and national anti-nuclear activists continue to call for the plant's shutdown, using the latest reported potential sabotage to safety backup generators to further justify their protests. The latest protest includes Buddhist monks' starting a six-day fast in front of the plant.

Protesters crowded the Laguna Hills meeting Friday, booing and chanting during certain intervals.

Edison officials said they well understood the factors that caused the leak and could safely address them in the restart of the less-damaged Unit 2. They described to Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors in deeper detail than ever before what their testing and assessments revealed about the problems at the plant.

Design flaws by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries were responsible for the tube wear, caused by vibrations of tubes against one another and against support structures, they said.

Tom Palmisano, Edison's vice president of engineering at San Onofre, explained the complex science behind the tube failures, the four central reasons the tubes wore down, how Mitsubishi made their mistakes, and why Edison's plan to operate Unit 2 at 70-percent power would solve the tube-wear problems.

Most importantly, said Chief Nuclear Officer Pete Dietrich, Unit 2 would have been able to restart under current guidelines (it had been down for routine maintenance when the Unit 3 leak happened), but the plant "conservatively" chose to treat the generators there as if they could have the same problems.

"For a unit that has not seen the same type of wear ... we're treating it as if it did," he said. "We took a unit that operated successfully at 100 percent power for 21 months and we're operating at 70 percent for five."

The NRC still has weeks of work to determine if Edison's plan is adequate.

Tube-to-Tube Wear

Inside each of the four steam generators at the plant – two per unit – are about 10,000 heat-transfer tubes containing radioactive steam. The tubes boil pure water in a separate system to make steam that turns turbines.

Palmisano said the cause of the wear was "fluid elastic instability," the phenomenon in which intense heat and hydraulic pressure causes the tubes to vibrate. Engineers take this into account when designing steam generators, Palmisano said, using support structures and special alloys.

But at San Onofre, a new type of vibration that nuclear operators hadn't seen before caused the worst wear, Palmisano said.

The U-shaped tubes are arranged in a nesting pattern; each U-tube smaller than the next and stacked inside the last and laying flat (see the attached photo). There is a space between each U-tube. Then, each of those "columns" of U-tubes are stacked on top of one another inside the generator and separated by anti-vibration bars and retainer bars, Palmisano said.

In the Unit 3 generators at San Onofre, the tubes experienced "in-plane vibration," meaning the tubes vibrated back and forth against their fellow tubes in their column, rather than tubes in adjacent columns, something scientists had never seen in a nuclear plant steam generator, Palmisano said.

According to multiple independent assessments, Palmisano said operating Unit 2 (which was far less damaged than Unit 3 and could have been restarted after the leak) at 70 percent wouldn't produce the levels of heat and pressure that caused the tubes to vibrate back and forth.

Retainer Bar Wear

Also implicated in tube wear were components situated among the steam generator tubes' U-bends, called retainer bars. Palmisano said these bars serve no function during normal operations but are necessary during the manufacturing process.

In San Onofre's Mitsubishi generators, newly installed in the last few years, half the retainer bars were thinner than the manufacturers had used in the past, leading to increased vibration, or "fluttering," Palmisano said.

As a precaution in both Unit 2 and Unit 3, operators removed from service the 94 tubes in each generator that came into contact with retainer bars.

Squeeze Film Damping

Another factor in the tube wear that caused the shutdown was a phenomenon called "squeeze film damping," specifically the lack of it.

Squeeze film damping refers to the tendency of the steam inside the generators to create a film of water between the heat exchange tubes and the support structures, Palmisano said.

That film is enough to help keep the tubes from vibrating against the support structures, he said.

In the San Onofre generators – at least, in Unit 3 – some patches of steam that had boiled up into the turbine had way less moisture than other patches, meaning the crucial water film was non-existent, leaving the tubes to vibrate against support structures freely, Palmisano said.

Palmisano said that many independent calculations showed that operating Unit 2 at 70 percent would keep the steam more even and ensure that the squeeze film remains intact during the operation.

Improved Mathematical Models

The real crux of the problem with the San Onofre Generators, Palmisano said, was the outdated mathematical model Mitsubishi used. There were mistakes in the parameters concerning the arrangement of the heat transfer tubes, Palmisano said.

Mitsubishi typically makes generators with tube arrangements in a different shape than the tube arrangements in the San Onofre generators. Because of this, Mitsubishi engineers had to plug in a different batch of numbers to their equation – numbers that proved to be wrong, Palmisano said.

The older formula also included mistaken assumptions about the nature of fluid elastic instability, Palmisano said, leading to a drastic underestimation of the amount of heat and pressure that would run through the tubes, and in turn, leading to the unprecedented vibration.

To figure out how it would be safe to restart Unit 2, Edison, Mitsubishi and other independent consultants used a better formula developed by the Electric Power Research Institute.

Independent consultants – including Mitsubishi competitors Areva, Westinghouse and B&W Canada – also used the better formula and found that it would have predicted the kind of problems San Onofre experienced if Mitsubishi had used it during the manufacturing.

It follows, Palmisano said, that this formula can predict accurately safe operating parameters for Unit 2, which include operating it at 70 percent power for 5 months with certain tubes plugged and taken out of service, as has been done.

Rhen Kohan December 02, 2012 at 07:06 AM
During last night's feedback section, I heard several citizens directly, clearly and pointedly ask the men from SCE if any of them were ready to directly compensate each of us for the terrible losses which will result from this plant having another leak or worse. There was no adequate answer from SCE because they will not be responsible - and the terrible details of what we will be left to deal with from their lack of responsibility are touched on in your last sentence above.
Torgen Johnson December 02, 2012 at 07:08 AM
You should sit down with some of your neighbors who oppose the continued forced ratepayer financing of nuclear power via Edison's investor-owned-monopoly that continuously tacks on $billion dollar rate increases onto a weary public to finance endless problems at San Onofre. The CPUC just approved another $5.7 billion rate increase for Edison. Its CEO Ted Craver is paid a $10+ million salary for endangering millions of people living around San Onofre. The four massive new steam generators are lemons and cost the public $670 million. The seismic tests cost ratepayers $64 million. Edison is charging the public $54 million per month, for the past 10 months, to keep the power plant open yet it is not producing a single watt of power. Why should the public put up with this any longer? To show their appreciation for the $billions extorted from ratepayers, Edison is going to restart the most damaged nuclear reactor unit in U.S. hisory upwind of a good portion of its ratepayers homes. Please get better informed by visitng SanOnofreSafety.org
RATSJ December 02, 2012 at 07:42 AM
For the sake of all concerned citizens, this plant should never be reopened. It's a disaster waiting to happen at the expense of all of us.
Joanna Clark December 02, 2012 at 02:12 PM
The nuclear energy industry claims that nuclear power is "clean and green," but that is a false assumption. It takes enormous amounts of fossil fuel to mine and refine the uranium ore needed to run the nuclear reactors, construct the massive concrete reactor buildings and store the toxic radioactive waste created by the reactors. These fossil fuels release significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Large amounts of the banned chlorofluorocarbon gas (CFC) are released during the uranium enrichment process. CFC's are the primary destroyer of our ozone layer. What savings we get in the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is transitory. As the available uranium ore declines, we will expend more fossil fuels to extract the ore from less concentrated veins. And we have not yet solved the problem of what to do with the tens of thousands of tons of solid radioactive waste presently accumulating in the cooling pools beside the reactors at SONGS. When safety is discussed, only Three Mile island is mentioned, but there have been at least 56 accidents at nuclear reactors in the United States. The more serious accidents include Idaho Falls in January 1961 resulting in three deaths, the partial meltdown of Fermi 1 in Michigan in 1966, the Davis-Besse plant causing two of the top five most dangerous nuclear incidents in the United States since 1979, and, of course, Three Mile Island. Bottom line is that SONGS needs to be shut down permanently.
Swedina Hurt December 02, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Wait a minute! "San Onofre Officials Aim to Justify Nuclear Restart" Are you kidding? They haven't even been able to justify San Onofre's reason for EXISTING yet.
Joanna Clark December 02, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Of course they have - it's called M-O-N-E-Y! As long as they can laugh at us all the way to the bank each month, they don't care how many lives they put in jeopardy. And just think about it... it is so dangerous that they would not invest a single cent of their own M-O-N-E-Y in the building of it. We had to underwrite its building with our own M-O-N-E-Y.
Smokey Bear December 02, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Why put us all at any risk?! This is insane & an outdated concepf! How can they be ignoring the real problems here & not taking heed at what just happened in Japan?!! The scary nuke plant is very old, the tide comes right up to their sea wall already & has a huge potential of causing a catastrophic accident in the land of earthquakes, large storm surge & tsunami danger!! DO NOT OPERATE THAT NUKE PLANT!! WE ALL DON'T WANT TO DIE!! Why are they ignoring the facts here & that nobody wants SONGS in operation! LET THE PEOLE VOTE ON IT!!
Rhen Kohan December 02, 2012 at 10:31 PM
@Adam Townsend 12/1/12, "If you read the literally hundreds of articles I've written on the plant for Patch, you'll see I've addressed the opposition's arguments quite thoroughly, ....." I've read the articles but your take on this differs from what I witnessed on 11/30. The point is that on a topic as highly volatile as this, and with feedback that unlike you, I heard differ in content from previous meeting feedback, and as you are the press reporting BOTH sides of the issue, seems important to, in each article, present all sides. I didn't find that in your article. If the issue was more space for you to do so, I would presume the Patch could have, should have given it to you. One can go onto SCE's website for more details if they wish but surely it is harder to listen to a 2+ hour presentation to the end to hear the feedback. At issue also is an imbalance of power going on in that NRC and SCE seem to sticking to their agenda to re-open all the while acting like they are listening to our objections and worse, not granting the adjudicated hearing requested multiple times. These were not presented in your article. Witness Germany who has decided to close all Nuclear Plants by 2020. The bloom is off the rose of this type of energy...think Fukushima, and EGADS think Chernobyl. We must push ourselves to new alternatives. This plant must stay closed.
LN Mark December 03, 2012 at 11:05 PM
No science. Only fear. That's all you've got? I fear people like you will try to shut down all power generation until we're reading by candlelight again. Now, that's outdated. And the smoke from all the candles and campfires that will result. Wind power? Go sailing at night out of Dana Point and you'll see pretty quickly why that isn't reliable. And then you start your gas or diesel engine to get home. Solar? That little problem of the sun going down every night. Molten salt energy storage has some promise, but I'm sure a new group of anti-molten sodium folks will identify some risk that the salt will escape the containment and melt through the roof of our elementary schools and kill all our kids (see, I can make stuff up too). Oh, the horror! Fix San Onofre and get it back online so we can stop buying our power at much greater cost.
John Webb December 03, 2012 at 11:24 PM
http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_people_in_the_world_have_died_from_nuclear_power_plant_accidents Nothing in the world is completely safe. A wealthy nation has many complex problems. A hungry nation has only one. If we continue to fight all progress, listen to the monks chanting in the street, eventually we will get down to one problem.
LN Mark December 03, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Germany's decision was political, not scientific. They caved to fear mongering by the uninformed. These risks are manageable. And all systems have risk.
LN Mark December 03, 2012 at 11:40 PM
Even though the Wiki Answers like was pretty much useless, any reasonable accounting has many more deaths and health issues from coal than from nukes. But people tend to fear things they can't see, like radiation. Why aren't they picketing coal plants? I like nat gas, but that's not clean either. And it's not like we have extra Nat Gas plants ready to take up the slack. I never hear real solutions from the fearful, only their cries to shut it down.
Joanna Clark December 04, 2012 at 01:17 AM
LN Mark - There is plenty of science out there that say's nuclear energy is dangerous. There is also plenty of science out there that says there is adequate wind - Check out "Saturation wind power potential and its implications for wind energy" in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, or search the AAAS SCIENCE and NATURE publication databases. Or check out some of the articles on the "Union of Concerned Scientists" or "Federation of American Scientists" web site. Or you might check out "Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know" by Charles D. Ferguson, President of the FAS. The decision to move to renewable energy by Germany included some fear, some politics, and lots of good science and business smarts. The fact that they are bringing in more than $250 billion a year via renewable energy sales, is a pretty good indicator that they are doing something right. But answer this... if Nuclear Power is so safe, why does Wall Street refuse to build nuclear plants unless Uncle Sam underwrites them?
Tintinmilou December 05, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Those that oppose nuclear power do have some legitimate arguments, mostly the disposal of waste. But the rest is all based on fear of what might happen. That is illogical. There has never been a single death in the United States from the generation of electricity by nuclear power. Contrast that to the tens of thousands that die every year in traffic accidents, the thousands that die from airline crashes, electrocution, etc. Even wind-generated electricity has caused more deaths. Read this article on the "Deathprint" of various energy sources: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/ People let their rational thought and logic be ruled by emotion and irrational fear of the unknown. Nuclear power is safe, and it is the cheapest source of power. Period. Three Buddhist monks who can't differentiate between nuclear weapons and nuclear generation plants aren't going to change that.
Joanna Clark December 05, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Sorry Tintinmilou, but the SL-1 reactor accident resulted in three deaths. The SL-1 was a 200 kW nuclear reactor designed for electric power production for remote Artic stations. It was being operated by three men on the night of January 3, 1961, when radiation alarms sounded. Monitors a mile away gave alarms and health physics people rushed to the reactor. The building was intact and the lights were on, but they measured a level of 25 rads/hr at the entrance and 200 rads/hr as they approached the control room. Radiation levels over 500 rads/hr were measured at the reactor. Three men died. Their bodies measured over 400 rad/hr from the bodies, too hot for a normal burial. The SL-1 was a non-pressurized system. No meltdown occurred and less than 10% of the radiation was released, but it represented the worst nightmares about nuclear accidents.
Rhen Kohan December 05, 2012 at 06:38 PM
I am not as articulate or educated with data on this topic like Joanna Clark is. However I must reply to you as a citizen, a mom, a spouse in this area since 1987 recently awaking to this REAL danger SONGS presents because I have attended the hearings, have listened to data and presentation by experts on both sides and thru this, came to the conclusion we should close SONGS...not based on irrational fear but based on clear data and eyewitness to the damage from Fukushima, and the horror occurring to a body and property from the aftermath of a leak. Here Joanna offers up actual reactor accident deaths caused. Plus I am thankful for what the monks are trying to show and say by their demonstration.
Joanna Clark December 05, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Thank you for your kind words. Another accident worth noting that seldom gets mentioned is the Fermi I reactor located about 30 miles south of Detroit, Michigan (about 45 miles from where I grew up). Fermi I was a “fast breeder” and operated at much higher level of enrichment than ordinary light water reactor. Fermi I suffered a partial meltdown on October 5, 1966, coining the phrase “China Syndrome” when an engineer testified that the fission reaction “could create enough heat to melt its way into the earth, and it could go all the way to China.” The reactor was eventually repaired and made ready to resume operation in May of 1970. Unfortunately, as the reactor was ready to resume operation “a sodium explosion delayed it until July of 1970. In October it finally reached a level of 200 Mwatts. The total cost of the repair was about $132 million. In August of 1972 upon denial of the extension of its operating license, the shutdown process for the plant was initiated.”
Rhen Kohan December 05, 2012 at 07:36 PM
John William Gofman, MD. PhD., was professor emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California at Berkeley, and lecturer in the Department of Medicine, U.C. San Francisco. He worked on the Manhattan Project yet over time, saw the data on nuclear accidents distorted and became an outspoken critic of how nuclear power is portrayed, and until his death, testified very strongly on the dangers of nuclear power very unhappy to see this power misused. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1_-EFiajSg http://www.ratical.org/radiation/NGP/DrJohnGofman.html http://residentsorganizedforasafeenvironment.wordpress.com/ I know there are experts strongly speaking as well for the use of nuclear power. However, the risks, the coverups going on in Fukushima, all add up to not utilizing this type of power and finding alternatives.
Alex N December 05, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Nuclear is an economic boondoogle that would never fly without massive government and ratepayer subsidies. Not only is the risk unacceptable, but we don't even have anywhere to put the waste. Nuclear is invented by humans and humans make mistakes. We can't risk a Fukushima in our back yard. SoCal went through one of our hottest summers on record without SanO. Shut down this boondoogle, and use the savings for solar and conservation.
Torgen Johnson December 28, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Adam Townsend, I respectfully disagree with your response to sjchomeowner5772, The issue at hand is not a technical one, it is a unilateral business decision by Edison that could potentially impact the key stakeholders in the issue which is the public. The public is not the "opposition", the public is the customer base of Edison who are fed up with having their requests and safety concerns ignored. The true story here is not about steam generator tubes. That is what Edison wants the public to believe. The true story is about how state and federal regulatory agencies have allowed an investor owned utility monopoly to trample on the public to the point of possibly creating a massive man-made disaster in Southern California. By ommitting the public comments at the end of the meeting you are missing the whole point of what is going on at San Onofre.
Donna Gilmore January 23, 2013 at 04:01 PM
This article does not include independent nuclear experts' analysis of the problem. Links to well-respected independent nuclear experts' information, including NRC's own data comparing San Onofre with all other nuclear plants in the nation, can be found at http://sanonofresafety.org/ Educated concerned citizens, whistleblowers and independent nuclear experts are sharing information Edison doesn't want you to know. The current NRC lead on the investigation has asked Edison questions about their justification for restarting the plant at 70% power. Edison has yet to provide the answers. I heard this myself at recent NRC meetings. Hear independent nuclear expert, Arnie Gundersen, speak to the NRC Petition Review Board about the holes in Edison's restart plan and why it puts all of us at risk. http://fairewinds.org/content/games-people-play
Leslie Brooks February 12, 2013 at 09:36 PM
Close San Onofre! That's the only reasonable response to all available information. Why in the world do we want to pay for being exposed to unreasonable risks? There is no way our country could handle a serious nuclear accident in Southern California, evacuations and relocations, essentially permanent property losses of an unimaginable magnitude, sickness, death. These are not just fears, they are possible if not probable outcomes of running a very dangerous technology the way San Onofre has been run, and keeping aging plants going well beyond their built-in obsolescence. This is not a question of the emperor's clothes, this is serious, and we need to be able to talk about it without being called names and stifled.
rob March 08, 2013 at 11:01 PM
One word ' GREED ' . A very toxic word and no pun intended. These individuals proporting that it will be safe would sell their mother to make a buck. Shall we discuss their pensions! I love this country but I'm fed up with scandals.
Kathi March 08, 2013 at 11:23 PM
I don't have the expertise to fully evaluate all this, however just reading this a few points stand out in my mind that have not been addressed. 1. In 2 different places it is indicated that the threat of massive regulatory burden for doing what they should do served as a disincentive. Whatever all the other issues, with all those wanting more regulation, I think that this issue should be looked at. The 2 instances mentioned were the issue of if they made changes to the tubes design before installation, that could have triggered massive bureaucratic process, thus that acted as a disincentive to be as thorough as they probably should have been. The 2nd is their statement that they could have restarted the reactor but took the precaution to check it out further & now they have all this to deal w. So their step to do what was right, rather than re-start as they could have has led to this massive shutdown & uncertainty. Sometimes well intentioned regulations can have the unintended consequence of working against their intent. So those who are so zealous to regulate should take a look to see if there is another way to accomplish their intent such that they are not discouraging nuclear operators from taking precautions that might trigger a bureaucratic mess.
Kathi March 08, 2013 at 11:34 PM
We've also seen unintended consequences w environmental regulations such as in the case of clean air regs that mandated oxygenates so MTBE was used & ended up polluting ground water. Wind energy has its own environmental issues in that there have been a lot of bird deaths from its use. Also, not sure what the issues are but a town back East that has Wind turbines is having a huge issue now w people reporting big health effects from it to the point that removing them at huge cost is under consideration. Personally I have reservations about nuclear power & would not want to live in San Clemente so close to San Onofre & that location also has major logistical issues in the event an evacuation is needed. There is 1 major way away--the 5 fwy, plus some local streets. Its my impression that it would be a logistical nightmare to evacuate people in a timely manner. But given that it is already there what are the total net effects of restarting vs the massive effort that would be needed to decommission it? That would include safety to workers & residents, costs, what to do w what is there if decommissioned? Would restarting make a substantial difference in eventual decommissioning? Need for power generated there vs alternatives? & there are probably other issues that need to be taken into account in weighing restart vs other alternatives.
Kathi March 08, 2013 at 11:43 PM
Another issue that I have not seen addressed really in all this discussion is that apparently Mitsubishi supplied a faulty product that has not worked as intended. I guess they have been involved in analyzing the problems, but what about responsibility & liability & financial responsibility? SCE spent massive amounts of $ for these defective steam generator units. They fell far short of providing the length of service projected. Apparently these costs have been passed on to rate-payers of both SCE & SDG&E which also is part of this, maybe to a lesser extent. What about holding Mitsubishi responsible to either issue at least a partial refund or provide other compensation for the results of their faulty product? I don't know what the legal aspects of this are, but it should certainly be looked at to see what could be done. & possibly the NRC might need to be involved to provide regulations or penalties for suppliers who supply defective products like this.
Kathi March 08, 2013 at 11:56 PM
As far as renewable energy sources, its my understanding that they aren't yet to the point that they are ready to supply a substantial portion of the power needed. I have heard that advances in solar technology are being made. But it is possible now for many homeowners to install their own solar systems or to make other changes to their homes to make them more "green." Or to switch vehicles to bio-diesal or natural gas, etc. (Not sure of the net effects of switching to hybrid or electric as that introduces more toxic waste eventually which needs to be taken into consideration.) So for all those who are campaigning & saying we need to switch to renewable energy, what are you personally doing about it? While it is my understanding that they technologies are not ready to take over, anything individuals do to convert their own homes & vehicles to use renewable energy will cut a little bit of the total energy requirements from the grid. I would also hope that environmentalists of various types would start to pay more attention to the total environmental load. Someone mentioned the load to produce uranium. The total load & effects to produce energy--such as mining the coal or damming rivers or producing oil or natural gas, or making & operating wind turbines & their effect on birds. We need to be looking at the total effects rather than just clean air or clean water in isolation that might cause other issues. & economic effects are also important.
mocker March 09, 2013 at 12:37 AM
If congress will agree to hold their legislative sessions at san onofre then I am ok with reopening the plant. "Let change begin with me" prove to us that it possible to operate a bureaucracy like SONPP with efficiency and I will accept the risks associated in return for the power created. I dont like how Orange County always say. "Not in my backyard" to prisons, industry and that amazing new larger airport we couldve built at the old air station. But i like boondoggles even less. This plants a waste in and of itself.
Richard Moses April 25, 2013 at 05:52 AM
So you would rather go back to generating electricity by burning Natural Gas, Fuel Oil, or Coal? Provided the construction of a nuclear plant is followed to spec, there should never be a need to completely take such a plant totally offline. The contractor which built the systems should be fined for using non-standard calculations in the design, as well as shipping non-standard materials to the plant for assembly. Personally, I see no problems with the restart of Unit 2, and running it at 70% power. This will provide more electricity to California, and allow the utility time to, if necessary, rebuild Unit 3. And it would put people back to work.
Joanna Clark April 25, 2013 at 07:16 AM
Richard, there are other means to generate electricity that don't require burning Natural Gas, Fuel Oil, or Coal? Consider for a moment Germany. We virtually bombed Germany back into the stone age seven decades ago. Germany has about as much annual sunlight as Alaska. Their wind resource is second rate compared to us, yet they have become a world leader in solar and wind. They attract more than $250 billion of new capital worldwide each year, and they have come to virtually dominate these energy industries. Oh, and one more thing . . . they will have phase out all of their nuclear plants by 2022. If Germany can do it, why can't we do the same?


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