Back in August, workers at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), were lowering a 50-ton spent nuclear fuel canister into a holding tank at the controversial nuclear storage site, not far from Old Man’s. While the workers thought they’d lowered it all the way, the massive canister containing deadly amounts of nuclear waste, was resting—barely—on a metal ring at the top of the tank, never intended to support the weight of the canister.
There it sat for almost an hour, a hairsbreadth from falling nearly 20 feet to the floor below, where it could have burst open, releasing its toxic contents. Once it was discovered, the canister was safely lowered to rest.
But it was too close of a call.
Officials involved at the plant and with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission stress that there was no danger to the public and that the canister would have likely maintained integrity, and not caused a serious nuclear health incident for Orange County. But these are the same officials who also have stressed that the storage method for these canisters is completely safe, and well, see the events above. Until the NRC completes its study of the incidents, no more spent fuel is to be transferred to the storage site.
The NRC held an event this week to go over the details of the incident with the public.
“Not only did they lose one method of drop protection," said Troy Pruett, regional director of Nuclear Materials Safety, "they lost all methods of drop protection. So that's what makes this event so serious."
It looks like carelessness on the part of the workers is what caused this incident. There are several layers of safety protocols in place to prevent incidents like this from occurring, but it’s awfully difficult to account for the human element.
This also represents the third time transfer of nuclear waste has been halted due to either personal or technological failure.
Southern California Edison, which runs SONGS, is likely to be cited by the NRC for this incident, though what the penalties may be is unknown.
So far, SCE has moved 29 spent fuel canisters to long-term storage at SONGS, out of a total of 73 canisters slated for storage.
For more SURFER’s recent feature on the controversial spent nuclear waste storage plans, click here.