U.S. nuclear regulations don’t address what to do if San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station lost all power for as long as Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant did.
Though plant and government officials uniformly say that risk is minimal, it was one of the findings from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s preliminary look at the disaster at the Fukushima plant.
Caused by the March earthquake and tsunami, the disaster sparked a public .
Southern California Edison officials at San Onofre say it’s too early to say what plant administrators will have to do in response to the recommendations from the NRC’s Japan Task Force, but agency officials said in hearings last week they would put together a specific plan within three months.
SOME PRELIMINARY LESSONS LEARNED
The Fukushima plant experienced extended “station blackout” when the 45-foot tsunami (27 feet higher than the plant was built to withstand) inundated the diesel generators that were supposed to keep instruments running.
“The operators were faced with a catastrophic, unprecedented emergency situation,” the initial report states. “They had to work in nearly total darkness with very limited instrumentation and control systems.”
(A complete copy of the Japan Task Force's 90-day review accompanies this article in PDF form. In it is a full timeline of the events at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.)
One of the NRC Japan Task Force’s main findings was that “station blackout is not a design-basis event,” meaning the engineers and architects of nuke plants in the U.S. weren’t required to envision a scenario in which the station could lose all power for an extended period.
Charles Miller, the head of the Japan Task Force, also reported to the NRC that, though “a similar sequence of events is unlikely to occur,” and “continued licensing and operations activities don’t pose a threat,” the current regulatory framework is a “patchwork” that needs an overhaul.
The recommendations from the committee include better preparations for extended station blackouts, a number of technical improvements to safety systems and continuing updates and retrofits according to the latest information about external hazards.
Southern California Edison is now
These Japan Task Force recommendations come as various media outlets such as the Associated Press and Pro Publica are questioning the efficacy of the NRC and the safety of U.S. nuke plants in general.
On Thursday, Pro Publica published an article quoting NRC whistleblowers who, in reports, “cited lapses by a parade of NRC inspectors … and systemic weaknesses.”
Furthermore, a scientist from anti-nuke group Friends of the Earth has heavily criticized the initial recommendations from the Japan Task Force. Friends of the Earth has connected with San Clemente Green and other local groups fighting for a San Onofre shutdown.
San Clemente Green founder Gary Headrick —experts who may challenge the assessments of NRC and SoCal Edison officials at the public informational meeting scheduled for that date.
NUKE PLANT OFFICIALS TRY TO REASSURE PUBLIC
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station officials .
Plant spokesman Gil Alexander said the first line of defense is simply sucking power from the existing grid. The plant is powered through power lines like any other business, and the power system.
If, as in Japan, the grid were severed, diesel generators would kick in—in San Onofre’s case, unlike at Fukushima, the generators are sealed in concrete bunkers, offering some protection against a possible tsunami.
“Each of the reactor systems has two diesel generators, either one of which can power all of the safety systems,” Alexander said. “The backup generators have backup generators.”
To back up those power supplies is an array of batteries “that are ready to go in the case of the unimaginable … we’re way into the hypothetical here,” he said.
Alexander said that even in the case of a prolonged disconnection from the power grid, the San Onofre plant could run indefinitely off diesel generators as long as fuel could be trucked in; there’s enough on site to run the safety systems for seven days.
In addition, a tsunami wall, the top of which is 30 feet above sea level, protects the plant, Alexander said.
Despite reassurances by plant officials, it’s likely the plant administrators and technicians will have to adapt to new regulations and protocol in the coming months.
“It’s too early to tell yet in the NRC review process exactly what recommendations will be adopted and how they will be applied at San Onofre,” Alexander said.