Details Fuzzy Surrounding San Onofre Alert

The liquid ammonia leak on an outdoor turbine deck was ultimately not a health risk to the public

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    A incident prompted officials at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station to sound its alert yesterday.

    But early on, the real magnitude of the safety issue wasn't clear.

    San Onofre Emergency Sirens Sound

    [DGO] San Onofre Emergency Sirens Sound
    So-Cal Edison now says 25 gallons of ammonia leaked in Unit 3's water purification system in a non-nuclear section of the plant.They say no radioactive material was released and there was no immediate danger to the public. Employees were evacuated. But the big question is...why wasn't the public immediately notified about the leak? Tony Shin reports. (Published Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011)

    The liquid ammonia leak on an outdoor turbine deck was ultimately not a health risk to the public.

    But the process of getting the word out seems to have gotten complicated by misunderstandings and assumptions. 

    San Onofre officials said they gave public agencies courtesy calls that an alert had been declared, for a non-radioactive event ranking second from the bottom of four orders of severity.

    But neither they nor the plant's operator, Southern California Edison, returned news media calls seeking details.

    Meantime, certain agencies cited a gas leak, telling reporters their emergency centers had gone to a Level 3, on a scale of out of three in terms of staffing and readiness capabilities.

    Taking no chances on underestimating the situation, news outlets gave the story immediate prominence, then downplayed it as facts finally came into focus.

    Three hours after the alert, San Onofre reported that the leak was contained and cleaned up.

    About 50 of the plant's 2,300 employees had been evacuated and only a few on-site sirens were sounded.

    On Wednesday, plant officials conducted a 'What Did We Learn?' session.