11 Years Ago Today, San Onofre Nearly Became the Next Fukushima

by on January 31, 2023 · 13 comments

in Energy, Environment, History, San Diego

From San Clemente Green

Eleven years ago today — Jan. 31, 2013, we almost nuked Southern California. We owe a debt of gratitude to the nuclear operators that managed a swift and flawless emergency shutdown.

A Thank You Note to Edison Employees and a reminder to all. It is important to remember that they prevented a major disaster eleven years ago.

Your quick actions when radioactive steam began escaping into the environment, prevented a chain reaction from occurring in one of the newly replaced steam generators. It turns out that whistleblowers, afraid of known retaliation from management for such things, had rightfully warned us of this possibility two years prior.

When San Clemente Green was first asked to make the concerns of licensed nuclear operators known to the public, we got no help from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), only hollow reassurances. Little did they know that the computer model SCE and Mitsubishi relied on was flawed. The program miscalculated the actual force of the steam by 400%.

Heated discussions were taking place in the lunchroom between engineers about doing more testing before introducing radiation. Because they were behind schedule and over budget Edison opted to skip something called “Hot Functional Testing”. That is where auxiliary boilers bring the system up to full temperature and pressure. The NRC just trusted that SCE had replaced LIKE-FOR-LIKE steam generators when that was far from the truth. A core post which stabilized over 10,000 long narrow tubes had been eliminated to make room for more tubes and therefore more production capacity (profit).

This deception prevented a thorough license review which would have likely revealed the gross miscalculation. Unfortunately, that major error resulted in the tubes banging and rubbing against each other, creating much accelerated wear. The thin barriers between pure water and radioactive water had been breached. It could easily have become a cascading event. Intense heat and pressure could have quickly turned pin hole leaks into laser-like torches, cutting tubes clean in half. Those severed high pressure tubes would behave like wild garden hoses whipping and banging and destroying the other closely packed tubes. If it were not for the immediate emergency shutdown performed by alert engineers we might still be living the worst nuclear nightmare today.

We are so lucky, because, unlike the ongoing disaster in Japan, we have a dense population of 8.5 million people living within 50 miles. We also have mostly onshore winds that would have brought the plume directly over Camp Pendelton and wafted inland, up the coast, then out to sea, only to follow the ever-present eddies back again.

Not only would radioactive clouds have blasted into the atmosphere, but the water making all that steam would be depleting the cooling water that keeps the reactors from melting down. This close call could have been avoided completely if they had only listened to their own engineers and done hot functional testing.

We face a similar dilemma now, 11 years later. Experts in the field who share our concerns and were willing to speak at the next Edison backed forum, the Community Engagement Panel (CEP), were flatly rejected.

Our experts have good reason to believe that, amongst other threats, flooding has not been adequately addressed. San Clemente Green is sponsoring our own public online event to allow for this presentation by a well-respected industry insider, Paul Blanch, and other distinguished experts in a lively Q&A session to follow. Edison and the NRC will be invited also. Details are still in the works for our upcoming event. Also keep a look out for the follow up story on what happened after the leak.

For now, let’s just give our gratitude to those who protected all of SoCal from a greater than Fukushima disaster. I encourage you to set your alarm for 3:05 pm on January 31st and join me in remembering the exact moment when our surrounding communities nearly became a no-go zone for decades if not centuries to come.

We may not know you by name, but you know who you are, and you should feel proud of your heroic accomplishment. You deserve our deepest appreciation for the key roles you played in a not-to-be forgotten episode in the saga of SONGS.

A most sincere thank you to one and all.



{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Headrick January 31, 2023 at 10:39 am

Thank you for extending our reach to others. The OB Rag ROCKS!
I look forward to reading other comments.


Frank Gormlie January 31, 2023 at 11:53 am

Gary, can you send us a link to your group.


Gary Headrick January 31, 2023 at 12:06 pm

The best way to keep in touch right now is for people to send an email to gary@sanclementegreen and I will update you about once a month, unless there is some pressing issue going on, (like now).
Btw, we are looking for some help with our social media efforts, so please mention that or any other way you might like to help.


Geoff Page January 31, 2023 at 11:34 am

Excellent piece, keep them coming.


Cathy Iwane January 31, 2023 at 2:28 pm

Thank you, OB Rag! It’s refreshing to see a ‘publication of conscience’, unafraid to magnify valid safety concerns regarding SONGS. San Clemente Green’s upcoming event will address SONGS’ nuke waste safety concerns, unaddressed and purposely bypassed by the both NRC and Southern CA Edison’s Community Engagement Panel (CEP) for years. The CEP tells us, ratepayers funding their meetings, that we can’t hear about SONGS’ dire safety concerns from an independent, lifetime nuclear expert Paul Blanch. Interesting, because their own Charter touts commitments to encouraging ‘transparent dialogue with the public on decommissioning concerns’ and ‘foster public engagement with Edison’. Complete BS! I’m thrilled the OB Rag isn’t afraid to stand for truth, in the face of powerful interests.

San Clemente Green writes about how the NRC ‘trusted’ Edison’s judgement about the installation of inappropriately designed steam generators without a requiring a license amendment or even an updated Final Safety Analysis Report FSAR. The NRC’s lack of oversight was so extreme, that their own Inspector General filed this damning report, documenting essentially the fox (NRC) guarding the hen-house (SONGS), here: https://www.oversight.gov/sites/default/files/oig-reports/ML14276A478.pdf

Keep it up, OG Rag~ I can’t wait to see you at San Clemente Green’s panel of experts meeting. Keep your eyes peeled for more info!


Charles Langley January 31, 2023 at 3:05 pm

This is a great example of independent journalism in the OB Rag! I have followed this issue closely and I had no idea that Edison “opted to skip something called ‘Hot Functional Testing’ ” of its replacement steam generators before they were installed. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming event on flooding at San Onofre!


Ace Hoffman January 31, 2023 at 10:11 pm

Thank you OB Rag for publishing information about this important upcoming meeting. The Edison-funded and staffed “CEP” has been completely useless and biased. Paul Blanch is a well-known and highly qualified expert who should have been given a voice at the CEP meetings but has been repeatedly denied a chance.

A look back at the history of San Onofre reveals one colossal mistake after another, and one false promise after another. For example we have two kinds of dry casks at SanO: First horizontal, then vertical styles. Why the switch? Because when SCE was welding the original (horizontal) canisters shut, they weren’t paying enough attention, weren’t setting the robot welding equipment parameters correctly, weren’t properly inspecting afterwards, and weren’t documenting any of this. Other mistakes have included guards sleeping on duty, fire inspectors not making their rounds, a “dropped crane” because they neglected to use proper lifting technique, and an entire control panel whose power cable had been pinched between its own base plate and the floor for 30 years, until it finally wore through. These are just a few examples of the hundreds of safety violations over the years. The entire coast of southern California is at risk and needs to be properly protected from SoCalEd’s sloppy work ethics.


Frank Gormlie February 1, 2023 at 8:50 am

A reader wrote yesterday: “In your story “11 Years Ago Today, San Onofre Nearly Became the Next Fukushima” you write: “Eleven years ago today — Jan. 31, 2013, we almost nuked Southern California.”

I’m not a mathematical genius but if I count on my fingers and toes, I
get 2023 – 2013 = 10, not 11.

Unless, of course, you’re Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap.


Gary Headrick February 1, 2023 at 10:11 am

Sorry for the confusion. Your right! The year of the actual event was 2012. The plant closed in 2013. Oops.
Btw, Did anyone else have a moment of solitude yesterday at 3:05?
It started as a pretty solemn awareness for me to have to actually imagine what could have happened, as I looked across a panoramic view of San Clemente. However, that was quickly followed with a huge sigh of relief and deep gratitude. The more I think about it, the more I’d like to know the story directly from those who were actually at the control panels, not just what is in reports. Hopefully this will reach them somehow. Thanks again to those nuclear operators and to the whistleblowers who helped them anticipate this possibility, even when SCE and NRC chose to ignore them.


Cathy Iwane February 1, 2023 at 10:59 am

Thanks, Gary & Frank~

Yes, I had a moment of silence yesterday, just as I do every year on March 11, 2011 when Fukushima forever changed the trajectory of my family’s life. I’ll never forget when the SONGS radioactive releases happened in January, 2012 because I had just signed a rental agreement two days earlier for our family’s accommodations in Solana Beach after Fukushima blew in Japan. I thought that evacuating my kids out of Japan & harm’s way by settling in my native California after living in Japan for 25 years would make us ‘safer’. I never thought that I’d be dealing with the same safety concerns, lack of regulatory oversight and cover-ups in California that we witnessed in Japan as Fukushima Daiichi reactors went into triple nuclear meltdown.

Sure enough, here we are 11 years later witnessing our federal government renege on their promise to take possession of nuclear waste at SONGS & numerous other nuke waste sites around the US. At the same time, we fight tooth and nail to discuss safety concerns at a public venue because we’ve lost trust due to Edison’s horrendous record of safety violations.

That said, I’m thankful that Tokyo wasn’t lost due to the Fukushima tragedy… just as I’m grateful for SCE nuclear operators & whistleblowers responsible for bringing us back from what could have been the brink of disaster on a wide scale.


Laura Dennison February 1, 2023 at 10:32 am

Thank you for this Gary and Frank! Whew! It was horrifying to read and think what could have happened. Much appreciation!!


Gary Headrick February 1, 2023 at 10:56 am

You are welcome. Thanks for taking the time to absorb it.


Bill Smirnow February 1, 2023 at 2:08 pm

It’s totally disgraceful that experts that would and should be allowed to testify are being excluded. Just shows how terrified NRC and SCE are that the facts would be exposed and the public and hence what the public’s reaction would be. Now [February 1, 2023] with 123 or 128 canisters all buried under the beach, each with a Chernobyls worth of radiation in it not just southern California face San Onfre/NRC/SCE induced nuclear catastrophe but, potentially so does most or all of the northern hemisphere “just” via San Onfre radiation, If anything remotely close to all that radiation gets out there will be a massive cascading effect throughout at least the northern hemisphere in which most if not all people are killed off via San Onofre everyone else will be via said cascading effect as workers at other NPPs [nuclear power plants] and nuclear weapons sites and supply chain workers are killed off.
This is just a minute picture of what would happen going back to 1980 and only looking at one year’s worth of a reactor meltdown without any addressing of the “spent” nuclear waste mandated by NRC in 1980 with the study [propaganda] carried out by nuclear loving Sandia Labs looking at “Peak Early Fatalities,” “Peak Early Cancers,” “Peak Early Injuries,” and “Property Damage: CRAC-2 Report: http://www.ccnr.org/crac.html


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