Diablo Canyon May Have Leaked Significant Radioactivity In Recent Years

Some unusual radiation readings may provide clues to a significant set of radiation leaks at Diablo Canyon back in 2015.

Unusual spikes were discovered on US EPA’s Radnet at the Bakersfield CA station in late 2014 and early 2015. We pulled multiple years of back data including data prior to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster to confirm that these spikes were indeed unusual for this station. We also found that these spikes correlated with activities at Diablo Canyon. (details on those events at the end of this report)

This is the EPA Radnet graph:
bakersfield_2015

The same graph with events at Diablo Canyon flagged:

bakersfield_2015

 

Event numbers for the graph:
1 November 5 Diablo Canyon 2 ends refueling outage and begins power up processes
2 December 5 Diablo Canyon 1 begins reducing power for maintenance work then powers back up on December 9
3 January 1 Diablo Canyon 1 goes to zero power after experiencing a feedwater leak (started 12.19.14) then powers back up to 100% on January 6

The geography of the area between Diablo Canyon and Bakersfield could have played a role. Bakersfield sits in the end of the long valley surrounded by a bowl of mountain terrain. The higher topography between the coast and Bakersfield has a number of low valleys that run east-west towards Bakersfield. Contamination may have concentrated in this valley around Bakersfield enough for it to show up on Radnet. This kind of topography channeling of radioactivity in the air was seen at Fukushima Daiichi as contamination that floated inland was circulated towards a mountain range and funneled south by that range.

bakersfield_topo_mapWe looked at a number of other potential causes including precipitation or drought induced radon increases, oil and gas drilling in the area, another nuclear facility, monitor malfunction and Fukushima Daiichi.

We found no precipitation or high winds in Bakersfield associated with these spikes that could indicate radon or disturbed contaminated soils as a clear cause. In checking with local watchdog groups for the oil and gas drilling in the area they could not cite any specific new events that could have caused the spikes. We looked for other nuclear facilities in the region and could not find any that were in close proximity and in a geographically suited location to blow contamination to Bakersfield. Monitor malfunction seems unlikely and there were no incidents of the monitor being shut off for maintenance among these spikes. Fukushima Daiichi is also unlikely. There were no major airborne releases known around this time frame at Fukushima Daiichi and no other west coast Radnet stations checked for this time frame indicated a spike that showed a pattern similar to Bakersfield. The spikes in the beta monitor indicate that this would not be cosmic radiation as that would give off only gamma radiation increases. So cosmic radiation events could not be the cause.

Events at Diablo Canyon do closely fit with the beta radiation spikes. The start of the spikes begins as they power up unit 2 from a refueling outage. The other spikes match power up or power down events including the known feedwater pre-heater leak. Radiation releases are known to increase during refueling outages. Purges of decay tank gasses or areas of the reactor building during shutdown and startup activities have the potential to release radioactive contamination to the air. Leaking equipment such as a feedwater pre-heater (what leaked at Diablo Canyon #1) could potentially lead to leaks to the environment. These pre-heaters are located in the turbine building. Turbine buildings are not contained and air managed as the containment structure for the reactor is. The three events from Diablo Canyon that occur at the same time as the spikes in Bakersfield each have the potential for radiation releases to the environment. The lack of real time public radiation monitoring data from US nuclear power plants makes it difficult to refine this issue further.

Our field notes for this report can be found here. The notes contain weather data, reactor power data, NRC event reports, considerable background information and citations for our research that went into this report.

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