Update 6:45 p.m. -- San Onofre has cancelled the alert issued earlier and now reports that its onsite emergency response team has contained the release and cleaned up hazardous material at the unit following an ammonia leak. The leak had no impact on radioactive material or cooling units.
Plumbing union expert involved with installation of piping and ammonia monitoring system at plant speaks with ECM
By Miriam Raftery
November 1, 2011 (San Diego) – Staff at a unit at the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station have been evacuated, ECM has learned.
“The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) notified the County of San Diego that the alert at the plant is due to an ammonia leak at one of its units,” the San Diego County Operational Area Emergency Operations Center (EOC) stated in a media release issued at 4:40 p.m.
The EOC confirmed that “there is no radioactive material involved in the leak and no protective action is recommended for the public...We will continue to monitor the situation very closely and advise the public of any changes,” the EOC alert states. “All resources and support personnel have been identified and are on standby, ready to be mobilized if needed.”
A Level Two emergency has been declared after detection of a leak at 3 p.m. in the No. 3 water treatment system at a non-nuclear section of the plant, according to the Los Angeles Times. Under federal regulations, there are four emergency levels, depending on the severity of the situation. Level Two involves any "potential substandard degradation in the level of safety of the plant."Other sections of the plant continue to operate normally, the Times reports.
Dexter Levy was head of the plumbers and pipefitters union when its members installed all of the piping used to handle the ammonia as well as instrumentation for detecting it. He told ECM that ammonia is a cooling agent and in the nuclear industry, a byproduct of refrigeration.
“Normally it is controlled, but ammonia is a very dangerous product,” he said in a phone interview today. “It finds holes where there aren’t holes. It is a very touchy product and it’s very corrosive...The biggest thing is that it is absolutely deadly. When you have a large amount of ammonia, there is no oxygen so you’d suffocate, and it burns.”
There are two ways to get rid of the ammonia, Levy explained. One is to use water to dilute it and get it into a state where it can be handled. “There are sprayers, all kinds of ways,” he noted, “or they can use a very slow venting. There are a whole bunch of scenarios.”
Despite potential risk that an ammonia leak can pose to workers at any facility using the material, Levy sees little chance of a threat to the nuclear reactors or to people outside the plant.
“Not unless there’s a big release,” he concluded, adding that plant monitoring would provide adequate notice of any major release to shut down roadways nearby and do a broader evacuation in time, in the unlikely event of such an occurrence. “But I think it’s only a matter of time before it dissipates," he assured.
According to NBC TV, officials at the plant said 25 gallons of ammonia leaked. Emergency sirens sounded and San Onofre officials indicated people close by were called within 15 minutes in accordance with plans.
For additional information regarding this alert, the EOC asks that calls be placed to the Public Information Hotline at 2-11. Do not call 9-1-1 unless there is a life-threatening emergency.
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