Sunday, December 2, 2012

Southern California Edison: San Onofre's Emergency Diesel Generator May Have Been Tampered With

Mysterious case of coolant in the diesel generator oil system. How did it get there? The plant operator suspects a sabotage.

From Huffington Post (11/29/2012; emphasis is mine):

San Onofre Nuclear Plant Investigating Possible Sabotage Of Safety System

by Tom Zeller Jr.

A California utility said Thursday it has notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of potential sabotage, possibly by an employee, of a crucial piece of safety equipment attached to one of its nuclear power reactors.

Southern California Edison said the incident did not pose an immediate safety threat because the plant involved, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente, is currently offline. But the plant operator found engine coolant had been poured into an oil reservoir on an emergency backup generator, which would have likely caused the generator to malfunction if needed to help cool the reactor during a power failure. The tampering is being taken seriously and security at the plant has been tightened, SCE said.

"The comprehensive investigation has included rigorous tests, a review of station logs and employee interviews to determine the cause of the presence of the residual engine coolant," the company said in a statement late Thursday. "Based on the unexpected discovery of the coolant in the diesel oil system and the ongoing investigation, security at the plant has been enhanced."

An employee at the plant who asked not to be named because he feared reprisals from management said supervisors told employees on Thursday that the FBI would be taking over the investigation and that criminal charges were possible. A company spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the FBI was involved.

The incident was first discovered in late October and was reported to an on-site NRC inspector shortly thereafter. "The plant initiated a review of the incident, which is still ongoing, and subsequently reported the incident as a security-related incident on November 27," said Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the NRC. "Because the NRC’s review is ongoing and the incident is security related, we have no further information to share at this time."

The backup diesel generator, attached to Unit 3, one of the site's two nuclear reactors, would be needed to help keep the reactor cool if off-site power was somehow lost.

According to the Voice of Orange County, which first reported the incident in early November, NRC's on-site inspector said the coolant likely would have made the generator run unpredictably.

(Full article at the link)

Voice of Orange County reported on November 9, 2012, quoting John Reynoso, NRC inspector at San Onofre Plant:

San Onofre’s diesel generator was taken offline on Oct. 21 for two weeks of maintenance when about two cups of coolant was found in the oil for its governor, Reynoso said.

If the coolant had been left in place and the generators activated, Edison believes the governor, which controls the generator’s speed and prevents it from running too fast, would have failed, Reynoso said.


Anonymous said...

The Union of Concerned Scientists tried to bring this problem to the forefront of nuclear policy but 9/11 gave the NRC an excuse to close ranks and exclude the public from future discussions on the matter. I'm sure the NRC wants to portray the public exclusion as a safety measure to keep their plans from the terrorist. But, I think it has more to do with the fact 99.9% of people never think about the unthinkable and the NRC doesn't want to alert the public to any possible problems or the fact they have no answers.

>The NRC and the nuclear industry often boast that nuclear power plants are the most heavily protected parts of privately-owned infrastructure in the United States. This assertion seems obvious to anyone who understands the risks of sabotage at a nuclear power plant. The risk of contamination and fallout from an attack on a nuclear plant is clearly higher than the threat from other energy generation systems like wind farms or solar panels.

UCS engaged the NRC on less-than-adequate nuclear plant security before 09/11. UCS met with the NRC in public meetings on an almost monthly basis in 1999, 2000, and 2001 about proposed upgrades to security regulations and their implementation.

Sadly, the NRC used 09/11 as an excuse to jettison the public from virtually all of its security policy conversations. The NRC and the nuclear industry worked behind closed doors on steps to better protect Americans from sabotage at nuclear power plants.


Atomfritz said...

Great! Just a can of common chemicals for the diesel tank and a backpack of explosives for cutting some HV lines to create the desired station blackout.

It's so easy to sabotage a country that has stationary nuclear mines littered around...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I read this a while ago. One of the articles said there are lots of other sabotages at nuclear plants all over the U.S. by unhappy laid-off workers.

Nobody cares that their petty sabotage may end up destroying half or all of the world. This is why I repeatedly state that humans are incapable of maintaining such technology responsibly.

Sean said...

Got the wrong people doing maintenance. Trying to save a buck and this is what you get. I see it time and again.....

Anonymous said...

What sort of an idiot employee would sabotage a key safety system at a nuclear plant? One that lives nearby? Makes no sense.

If this is determined to be likely employee sabotage, the finger of blame should be pointing right back at San Onofre management for hiring sociopathic employees in the first place.

If one nut job got through their thorough hiring process, I expect there are at least a few more on staff. Really hate to propose it, but perhaps all of the employees and management should undergo independent psych evaluations and background checks. It's not fair, I know, but if the problem was in San Onofre's hiring process, then the hiring process checks need to be redone to a higher standard and any other questionable employees or managers terminated.

If the TSA can strip search us in the name of airplane security, then certainly the government should be able to re-screen the backgrounds of employees and managers of nuclear plants with the worst safety records in the US. A reactor in the wrong hands is far worse than a 747 in the wrong hands.

Anonymous said...

>the finger of blame should be pointing right back at San Onofre management for hiring sociopathic employees in the first place.

The nuclear industry likes to act like they have a rigid vetting system for their employees but according to David Lochbaum Back in 1980 a Brown's Ferry employee tried to poison his supervisors coffee with concentrated hydrochloric acid. An investigation quickly determined who did what and why but the plant owners wanted to avoid the negative publicity. They decided to downplay the situation because they didn't want it widely known that their employees were trying to kill each other. So they convinced the victim not to press charges or discipline the nutjob. The supervisor refused to work with his attempted murderer so the company transferred Mr. Crazy to another division within the plant. (If they fired him he would have spilled the beans)

I wouldn't be surprised if they announce it was all a misunderstanding even if they find a suspect and a motive just to avoid negative publicity.

Anonymous said...

" a can of common chemicals for the diesel tank and a backpack of explosives for cutting some HV lines"

A can of chemicals and some patience might suffice. Cernavoda Unit 1 tripped today (unexpected scram) because a storm managed to sever its (highly redundant, in theory) links to the national power grid.

Anonymous said...

Highly redundant links to the grid are power lines converging to the nuclear plant.
Obviously when a storm or an earthquake hits nearby the plant there is a fair chance that all lines will be affected (see Ariane gyroscopes or Fuku-1 flooded diesels: identical systems are not very redundant).
So when that storm hits you have a chance to test your diesels -- if you didn't do it too recently. (Now we know you will test your employees satisfaction too.)
If the diesels fail you have some six hours of battery life to fix that grid connection, then you will find youself in pitch dark, sitting on an overheating pressure cooker... good luck.

Anonymous said...

Well it's a nasty scenario, but still not catastrophic if you have lots of cooling water nearby and a means to deliver it, such as fire engine pumps. Even venting steam directly from the primary circuit is not all that dangerous (as compared to a full-on melt-down, I mean), if you have filters and a delay line.

In the case of Cernavoda, matters are simple as it is sited on the Danube - lots of freshwater there.

By the way, the more I think about Fukushima, the more I am convinced that some piping must have broke at Unit 1 because of the earthquake.

Anonymous said...

"The risk of contamination and fallout from an attack on a nuclear plant is clearly higher than the threat from other energy generation systems like wind farms or solar panels." - agenda-based rant at top of comments...

I find your agenda-based comment amusing, but I don't want to sit in the dark all night when there is no wind and the solar panels can't come online until the sun hits them enough at 10AM to 2PM daily. Nice thought, though, but not practical.

Your attack on our coal plants might result in some soot (pure carbon, no harm to anyone) on the lawn at the plant, but will never get the alarmist response you seek, like a good nuclear disaster will.

Stop nuclear power, is a great idea. Way too dangerous to be controlled by greedy corporations. That leaves us with clean coal, natural gas and oil, which we need to burn off before it destroys Louisiana, where it's pouring out of the ground and they can't stop it!

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Madrid Fault...

I don't particularly like photovoltaic solar panels myself, after learning about how the manufacturing companies in China have thoroughly contaminated the farmland with the toxic waste.

Anonymous said...

>>but I don't want to sit in the dark all night when there is no wind and the solar panels can't come online until the sun hits them enough at 10AM to 2PM daily. Nice thought, though, but not practical.

this is the reason storage exists.
More specifically :


Unknown said...

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Unknown said...

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