In defense of San Onofre refueling process

By John J. Schmidt

Michael McQuary’s ramblings (Nov. 5) require refutation. So Cal Edison is replacing the steam generators at one of their two operating reactors at San Onofre.

From day one in the nuclear age, equipment hatches have been built into the side of containment buildings and are used during the annual refueling/maintenance outages to move materials into or out of the idled plant. Originally the steam generators were planned to be dismantled in place, removed and replaced with new generators to be assembled in place.

However, this activity occurred on the critical path of the refueling/maintenance schedule and extended the down time of the plant. One day of operation earns close to a million bucks for the power company, and the incentive is there to get back on line as quickly as possible.

Someone in the nuclear power business discovered that by removing the whole steam generator and replacing it with an assembled one, many days could be saved. How to do this? Easy — cut a hole in the containment building’s dome and lift out the drained, purged, sealed and slightly radioactive generators and slip in a new one. This has been done many times and is the accepted procedure worldwide for changing steam generators.

The only risk is in dropping one of the multi-ton assemblies during lifting and is limited to workmen and capital equipment that may be under the load. The next generation of nukes will have soft patches designed into the dome and enhanced polar or gantry cranes to assist in the heavy lifting.

Now, if you want to consider hazards to the community from a nuclear incident, I would suggest consideration be given to Seal Beach, Pendleton, Fallbrook, Miramar, Point Loma, North Island, every Navy ship entering or leaving San Diego harbor, and all carriers and submarines. They have the capability of depopulating Southern California and northern Baja. Don’t expect this to be mentioned by the pusillanimous Democrats, tree huggers or Organization of Concerned Scientists.

John J. Schmidt is a La Jolla resident.