It could have been a day like any other as Jim Peattie led the employee safety briefing. Instilling safety priorities was something he, and his father before him, had done many times in three decades at the San Onofre nuclear plant.
But on this day in mid-July, Peattie was prepping the maintenance crew to remove fuel from the Unit 2 reactor — for the last time.
“I tell them to treat all systems and components with the highest level of respect,” said Peattie, whose father, James, retired from the San Onofre plant. “They need to understand what needs to be done if something unexpected happens.”
A few days later, on July 23, Southern California Edison (SCE) sent a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission certifying that all fuel was removed from Unit 2, an action that followed the utility’s announcement on June 7 that it would permanently retire the plant. A similar letter for Unit 3 was sent on June 28.
Peattie, manager of maintenance support services who has worked at the nuclear plant for 32 years, said his defueling team performed exceptionally well by all industrial and radiological safety standards. He noted the crew carefully reviewed all industry operating experience, dutifully followed a detailed schedule for each work activity and used standard industry peer-checking practices.
The removal of the 217 fuel assemblies from Unit 2 was the final regulatory step before San Onofre retired its operating license. The nuclear plant, which once produced 2,200 megawatts of electricity for 1.4 million homes, now has a possession license.
Specialized equipment was used to transfer the fuel under water from the reactor to the spent fuel pool, a steel-lined concrete vault of water that has safely housed used fuel during San Onofre’s operating life. Once the fuel cools for at least five years, it can be moved to dry cask storage containers at the nuclear plant.
As San Onofre moves forward with decommissioning — essentially dismantling the plant and support buildings — Peattie said safely managing the used fuel becomes the primary job.
Peattie’s co-worker, Mike Orewyler, the refueling services manager, said the work scope might be different, but the employee mind-set remains focused on preventing problems.
“We have the same conversation with our team every day, rain or shine,” said Orewyler, who has worked at the San Onofre nuclear plant for 26 years. “Every day at the start of the day, we remind them that we are here to protect public health and safety.”