Normally, I’m a huge fan of ingenious McGuyver fixes to problems; integrating common materials to repair something is a great use of resources that also encourages people to get innovative when it comes to empowering themselves. One of my few exceptions to that rule?
Nuclear power plants.
An anonymous tipster provided 10 News with a truly terrifying photograph taken at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station between San Diego and Los Angeles, showing a leaky pipe fixed with an arrangement of tape, broomsticks and plastic. The source evidently works or has access to the inside of the power plant, and felt it was in the interest of the public to be aware of conditions inside San Onofre.
According to 10 News, “‘There’s a pipe that runs along the security fence, from one side of the plant to the other side of the plant — itís totally blistered,’ one inside source told Team 10…Records obtained by Team 10 show SONGS staff were concerned about ‘hundreds of corrosion notifications’ and ‘degraded equipment’ throughout the plant. Staff sent a letter to management saying SONGS ‘clearly has a serious corrosion problem” in pipes throughout the plant.’”
If these claims are true, they are indicative of serious deferred maintenance at the facility, and of a larger culture of negligence when it comes to both worker and community safety. An accident at the San Onofre plant would be incredibly dangerous for Southern California, and large amounts of corrosion, improper inspections and workers too frightened to report these issues sound like a recipe for disaster.
Southern California Edison, the plant’s owner, responded to the photograph, identifying the pipe in question as a seawater pipe in Unit Three, an area of the plant which hasn’t been operational since January 2012, when it was shut down as a safety precaution. The energy company states that:
We identified a small leak in the water box and will perform maintenance per our scheduling process. In the meantime, plastic is in place to direct the water from the small leak to a drain. While this system is not needed while unit 3 is defueled, we do periodically circulate ocean water through the system and that’s why we use the temporary plastic to route the water to a floor drain.
This image highlights the decaying infrastructure at many U.S. nuclear power facilities. Originally built to provide efficient, “clean” energy to a country with a growing demand for electricity, they are starting to show wear and tear, and unfortunately, maintenance and government regulators are not keeping up. The release of this image raises some uncomfortable questions about conditions at other plants, and how safe nuclear power in the U.S. really is — after the horrors of Fukushima in the wake of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, nuclear safety and emergency preparedness are especially critical issues to be considering.
Southern California Edison’s statement seems to be designed to soothe the public with an assurance that the pipe isn’t leaking radioactivity, will be addressed at some point, and isn’t in an area of the plant that’s operational. But the bigger question here is this: why would any part of a nuclear facility be repaired with tape, plastic and broomsticks?!
Photo credit: Tobin