San Onofre Power Plant Contractor Fell in Reactor Pool

The independent contractor suffered no significant radiation dose in the Jan. 27 incident

By Jason Kandel
|  Friday, Feb 3, 2012  |  Updated 11:46 AM PDT
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A reactor at San Onofre Nuclear power plant was shut down Tuesday night after sensors reported a radioactive leak.

Vikki Vargas, Kevin Dahlgren

A reactor at San Onofre Nuclear power plant was shut down Tuesday night after sensors reported a radioactive leak.

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Small Leak Could Have Escaped Plant

Federal regulators say a tiny amount of radiation could have escaped into the atmosphere from a Southern California nuclear power plant after a water leak prompted operators to shut down the reactor.
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A worker was leaning over to retrieve a flashlight when he lost his balance and fell into a reactor pool at the San Onofre nuclear power plant last week and did not receive a significant dose of radiation, Southern California Edison officials said on Friday.

The worker was wearing a life preserver when he fell into the more than 20 foot deep pool that holds water that circulates through the reactor core.

He received 5 millirems of radiation, Gil Alexander, a spokesman for Southern California Edison, which operates the facility, told the North County Times.

That's not considered a major dose and he went back to work the same day. By comparison, a chest X-ray provides about a 4-millirem dose.

The worker fell into the pool Jan. 27, five days before officials reported an "extremely small" amount of radiation could have escaped from the plant after a water leak prompted operators to shut down the reactor.

Alarms alerted station personnel to the leak at the power plant at about 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Because the building into which the gas leaked is not airtight, it is possible that a small amount of radioactivity escaped into the environment, officials said. But he said the levels would likely be immeasurable against existing levels in the atmosphere.

The amount of radiation leaked from the steam-generator tube would have been "extremely small" and possibly not detectable by monitors.

The leak occurred in the part of the facility, located off the I-5 just south of San Clemente, which houses thousands of tubes carrying radioactive water, officials said.

There are radiation detectors throughout the plant and none measured any amount of radioactivity, said Alexander.

The investigation into what caused Tuesday's leak continued Friday. An evacuation was not required.

Officials were waiting for the reactor to cool before crews were sent in to analyze and fix the leak.

Once the problem is resolved, it will likely take several days for the reactor to be restarted, officials said.

This was not the first time a leak-scare has occurred at the San Onofre plant. In November, a level 1 alert was issued at the plants but the appropriate alarms did not go off.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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