After a small tube leak at a nuclear power plant in Orange County, California caused and indefinite shutdown, it turns out the tubes leaking radioactive steam were not tested by the manufacturer before installation.
The San Onofre nuclear power plant shut down on January 31st after operators discovered a small steam radiation leak in one of two units. Since it is located about midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, this plant is critical to electricity throughout all of southern California. The extended shutdown runs the risk of power outages throughout the summer as warmer temperatures increase electricity demands.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a conference on Monday where they reportedly blamed the leak on Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, who they believe underestimated the power of water and steam surging through the generator while performing computerized tests. 8 of 129 tubes failed pressure testing after the shutdown.
The tubes were also not tightly held together, causing them to rub against each other and cause premature wear that went undetected. Officials say the plant will not reopen until thorough tests determine it is safe, but there is no timeline yet as to when the plant will be restarted.
Nearly 400 concerned Californians showed up for the hearing, with particular concerns about the safety of nuclear power and what happens when leaks like this occur. There were also dozens of environmentalists rallying before the meeting with anti-nuclear signs, even referencing the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan last year.
A written report on the findings and plans is to be released next month by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Thankfully it’s apparently nothing dangerous this time, and it’s a problem that can be fixed. Now that the public is on its toes because of the Fukushima disaster, there should be a new level of transparency available, too.
Image CC licensed by Jason Hickey: San Onofre nuclear power plant