Nuclear Plant Fire and Shutdown Contribute to

Feb. 5, 2001

Nuclear Plant Fire and Shutdown Contribute to
California?s Electricity Woes

Breaker Explosion Shows Flaws in NRC?s Industry-Friendly Maintenance Rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The emergency shutdown this weekend of San Onofre nuclear reactor No. 3 not only exacerbates California?s energy crisis but provides a disturbing example of why the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission?s (NRC) industry-friendly maintenance rules are inadequate to stave off catastrophic failures, Public Citizen said today.

The reactor, located on U.S. 5 between San Diego and Los Angeles, had been shut down for about a month for refueling and maintenance. It was in the process of being brought back into operation on Saturday when one of the electrical breakers in the plant “failed catastrophically,” according to an NRC event report. The breaker exploded, causing a short and a fire that forced the reactor to be shut down. It will likely remain down for several weeks. The reactor generates approximately 1,100 megawatts, or enough to power 1.1 million homes, according to published reports.

The NRC?s maintenance rule requires utilities to do preventive maintenance of “important equipment” to ensure there are no catastrophic failures. But the NRC and the nuclear industry have been cutting back on the amount of time a nuclear reactor is taken out of service for refueling and maintenance by narrowing the scope of work conducted and allowing more maintenance to be conducted while the reactor is operating. The idea is to increase the utility?s profitability by decreasing the time reactors are down. The breaker that blew on Saturday is not considered “important equipment,” so it is not covered by NRC?s maintenance rule.

“The NRC and the nuclear industry have been skimping on maintenance during refueling

to improve the profitability of nuclear reactors,” said Jim Riccio, senior policy analyst for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “The nuclear industry’s shortsightedness and greed may extend California’s electricity woes for several more weeks as the nuclear plant recovers from the fire. Rather than providing relief to California’s electricity crisis, the nuclear industry is contributing to it.”

The utility declared Saturday?s explosion and fire to be an “unusual event” — the lowest level of the four emergency event classifications used by the NRC.

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