Nuclear Regulatory Commission Faults Training at San Onofre Power Plant

“Operator Error” and weakness in management oversight blamed for “Serious Near-Miss” Accident at San Onofre

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) found “operator error” and insufficient training as the cause of a near-catastrophic accident at the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant earlier this year. 

NBC 7 Investigates previously reported the incident, which took place on August 3 and involved a 45-ton stainless steel canister filled with radioactive materials nearly dropping as it was lower into the ground. 

When the canister was lowered 18-feet into the vault, the NRC said for 53 minutes the canister was caught on a small ledge and dangled feet in the air as workers tried to figure out why it wasn’t moving. 

On Thursday, the NRC held a public webinar about the incident and while a final special investigation report isn’t completed, the agency did report some preliminary findings. 

This interim update reveals the NRC plans to provide additional oversight at the facility while the process continues to “bury” the canisters in the vault on the plant premises near the Pacific Ocean. 

One of the problems the NRC found was worker training for lowering the canisters was “insufficient”. 

The crews had trained on smaller canisters with a larger clearance then the ones they actually ended up having to lower into the ground. 

The NRC panel also noted the worker who was responsible for lowering the canister had limited experience and there should have been a supervisor with the worker. 

The NRC also said resources are needed to make this process safer. There were no cameras or alarms monitoring the canister as it was lowered so thats on the NRC shopping list. They are also requiring additional training for the workers. 

Bottomline for the agency? The mishap could have been prevented with stronger management oversight. 

One of those managers, the chief nuclear engineer at the plant Tom Palmisano, has just been moved out as the Edison employee responsible for the decommissioning of the plant. Douglas Bauder, who used to work at the plant, has been named to replace him in that role.

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