Updated: Feb. 1, 2012 2:01 p.m.
After an unplanned, precautionary shutdown of a reactor at the San Onofre nuclear plant Tuesday, a plant spokesman said Wednesday that a leak in one of the reactor's steam generator tubes could have resulted in a tiny release of radioactive material into the atmosphere.
In Tuesday's incident at unit 3, plant operators chose to shut down the reactor, he said, after sensors picked up a possible leak in one of the tubes that carries water heated by the reactor.
It will likely be another day before the reactor cools sufficiently to allow workers inside to determine where the leak is and how difficult it will be to repair , he said.
The leak poses no danger to the public or to workers at San Onofre, Southern California Edison spokesman Gil Alexander said.
Water leaking from the tube would be mildly radioactive, he said.
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And from another source:
The NRC is evaluating the plant's reaction.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Victor Dricks said radioactive gas "could have" escaped the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station on the northern San Diego coast.
The leak occurred in equipment that was installed in the plant in the fall of 2010. The leak occurred in one of thousands of tubes that carry radioactive water from the Unit 3 reactor.
However, the company has found damage to other tubes, Dricks said.
"The damage that they have found to many other tubes is unusual, and they are attempting to identify the reason," Dricks said.
Alexander said he could not confirm any additional damage, pending an inspection of the equipment.
This is the pattern with nuclear news. The first announcement says: minor incident, might have leaked a little, but no danger. This is always before any actual measure is taken. Then we get that it is undetectable from background radiation.
Soon, the news changes.
In Illinois, this process went:
Just steam released, little radiation released, no danger.
It wasn't steam, it was smoke, but there was no fire, still not dangerous.
At San Onofre:
Small leak, a little radiation possibly released, but no danger.
NRC comes in: Unusual damage has been found to many other tubes. Plant spokesman says he can't confirm other damage.
There's more to come, but it will fade away. Things will be found, but the final message the public will get is: "no danger".
I am so reassured.