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Precautionary shutdown operations began last night at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station’s Unit 3 reactor due to “a possible leak in one of the unit’s steam generator tubes,” says a release from plant operator Southern California Edison.

The generators siphon heat from a reactor’s core and convert it into steam, which in turn spins turbines and produces power. The failure occurred despite a recent multi-million dollar project to replace the generators on both reactors.

Due to the leak, radioactive water in the core could mix with non-radioactive water that’s cycled through to generate the steam. “We detected a slight increase in radioactivity, but it's still within acceptable levels,” said plant spokesman Gil Alexander, noting that the shutdown was not mandatory under Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules.

Author and former nuclear plant investigator Greg Palast told the Reader last November, however, that safety procedures at nuclear facilities across the country, including at San Onofre, still leave much to be desired. And the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, led by Rochelle Becker, has been pushing for greater oversight in safety evaluations as part of the relicensing process both California nuclear plants are undergoing in an attempt to extend their right to operate past scheduled decommissioning dates, which come in 2022 for San Onofre.

“The CPUC imposed a cost cap on [Edison]'s steam generator replacement project.,” says Becker. “The Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility has requested that costs of this leak from recently installed Japanese generators be applied to that cap. If these steam generators cannot hold up to daily operations how will they withstand a seismic event?”

An ammonia leak in November also led to a level-3 emergency being declared at the facility, theLos Angeles Times reported. Employees were evacuated at that time, though such a precaution was not deemed necessary in this instance.

The plant’s Unit 2 reactor has been offline since mid-January for maintenance, and Unit 1 was decommissioned in 1992. Thus, the plant is currently not contributing any power generation to the grid it serves.

“The potential leak poses no imminent danger to the public or plant workers. There has been no release to the atmosphere,” Edison declared in a news release on the incident, also saying that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already been informed of the issue.

Inspectors will enter the area where the leak occurred sometime today to further assess any potential damage and initiate any needed repairs.

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