San Onofre Whistleblower Cites "Potentially Catastrophic" Design Flaw

Surfers catch waves in the shadows of the San Onofre nuclear plant. (Photo: digitizedchaos/ Flickr)

San Onofre Whistleblower Cites "Potentially Catastrophic" Design Flaw

Inside source tells local news channel that cracked generator pipes at nuclear power plant could cause a full or partial meltdown

A former safety engineer with the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is blowing the whistle on a "potentially catastrophic problem" at the currently offline Southern California Edison plan.

According to a report by San Diego's Channel 10 News, the unnamed source--who has 25 years working in the field of nuclear safety--said that a faulty redesign of the plant's steam generators has put the system at risk of a "full or partial meltdown."

"There is something grossly wrong," he told the news station.

Since Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) undertook a redesign of the generators in 2010 and 2011, the tubes that carry scalding water and steam from the generator have been crashing into one another creating cracks and "unprecedented tube failure."

Of 19,400 tubes, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) report found more than 17 percent were damaged.

Dr. Joe Hopenfeld, a former employee of the NRC, explained to Channel 10 that "the worst case scenario is a main steam line break," which could be caused by tubes cracking, the tube walls thinning or metal fatigue.

Both the unnamed safety engineer and Hopenfeld agree that if such a thing occurs, "there is potential for the reactor core to overheat--which could mean a full or partial meltdown."

"Many tubes, and I don't know how many, have exhausted their fatigue life--they have no fatigue life left," Hopenfeld added. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a very serious risk."

Earlier this month, Southern California Edison announced intentions to fire up the plant, after nearly a year spent offline, by June 1. Though the NRC has not committed to meet their target date, they are expected to make a decision about the possible restart within the coming weeks.

Both the anonymous source and Hopenfeld said that "no one can predict what will happen if the plant restarts."

"If an accident like this happens, (an) emergency plan is not geared to handle such a public safety devastation," added the inside source. "Those things have never been practiced or demonstrated in a drill scenario."


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