Cracking wise

— Some residents of North County are upset about a delay in disclosure of a potentially dangerous crack in a radioactive water pipe discovered at the San Onofre nuclear-generating Unit 3 two weeks ago. The incident began, according to a federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission report, sometime on Friday, January 23, when plant employees discovered "an approximately .09-gallon-per-minute leak from a weld on a section of pipe." According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission report, "The crack is located in the heat-affected zone adjacent to a weld. The licensee's investigation and root cause analysis are ongoing." It didn't take long for officials of Southern California Edison, which owns the plant jointly with San Diego Gas & Electric, to decide they needed to fix the problem in a hurry, and they so advised the commission at 3:00 p.m. the same day. The officials then began shutting down the generator on Saturday, January 24, at about 12:30 in the afternoon. From there, the story gets murkier. Edison didn't bother to put out a press release telling the public about the situation, and the NRC in Washington, D.C., waited until Tuesday, January 27, to post a public "Notification of Unusual Event" on its website, explaining, "This preliminary notification constitutes EARLY notice of events of POSSIBLE safety or public interest significance. The information is as initially received without verification or evaluation, and is basically all that is known by Region IV, Arlington, Texas, staff on this date." The Orange County Register ran a small piece the next day -- Wednesday, January 28 -- quoting an Edison spokesman as saying the leak was "very, very small" but offering few other details. The Union-Tribune ran a brief story on January 29, almost a week after the pipe failure was found, apparently after the Associated Press carried the Register's account. The L.A. Times followed a day later, on January 30, calling the crack a "pinhole-sized rupture," which by that time Edison said had already been fixed. None of the coverage spelled out why the pipe, filled with highly radioactive cooling water, had cracked in the first place or whether the problem might occur again. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's disclosure of January 27, "[Edison] identified a higher than expected vibration of the regenerative heat exchanger and piping in the vicinity of the crack and also identified a preliminary cause for the crack as high-frequency vibration. [Edison] plans to determine and correct the cause of the crack, inspect the piping for additional cracks, and repair the existing crack. The licensee also plans to conduct similar inspections on Unit 2."... Meantime, UCSD is rolling out the red carpet for SDG&E parent Sempra Energy's chairman Stephen L. Baum, who is set to discuss "utility operations, their economics, how the grid works, why it fails, and what has been done to ensure safe and continuous operations." The tab is $50 for ordinary citizens who want to attend the dinner in two weeks, sponsored by the UCSD Economics Roundtable ... Last Saturday marked U-T publisher David Copley's 52nd birthday. Word has it that he's recovering from major heart surgery. He's had at least one bypass operation within the past decade.

Out of the money Departing San Diego city schools board trustee Ron Ottinger came up dry last week in his long-standing attempt to convince Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to put him on the state board of education. Despite having local district officials prepare his application material, Ottinger failed to pick up one of the seven appointments the governor handed out. In fact, no San Diegan got the nod ... Third District San Diego city councilwoman Toni Atkins is continuing to pad her campaign war chest with funds from folks associated with San Diego's newly revived toilet-to-tap-water recycling movement. This time it's $250 each from three members of Santa Barbara's Hatch and Parent law firm. The partnership has collected at least $1.2 million from the San Diego Water Authority for its part in negotiating the Imperial Valley water-transfer deal. More recently, the firm represented the city in its dealing with the Barona Indian tribe over a new water pipeline. Though she's not listed among the recent partners donating to Atkins, Chris Frahm, newly elected chair of the San Diego convention center board and an ex-member of the water board, now works for Hatch and Parent, where she is "special counsel" and a lobbyist.

Deaniac digerati Howard Dean may not be such a hit on the campaign trail these days, but some of his biggest Internet guns are coming to the Westin Horton Plaza Hotel in downtown San Diego this coming Monday for the "Digital Democracy Teach In." Sponsored by O'Reilly Press, a technical publisher out of Sebastopol (Northern California) catering to hard-core computer geeks, the forum will discuss what the World Wide Web has done to politics. Featured are Wes Boyd, cofounder of the liberal MoveOn.org website; David Weinberger, a senior advisor to Dean; Britt Blaser, another Dean high-tech insider; Doc Searls, co-author of the anti-corporate Clue Train Manifesto; and Ethan Zuckerman, founder of GeekCorps. Topics include electronic voting, "advocacy as an application," and "effective political blogging." The Dean folks may have some explaining to do. Federal records show the campaign raised more than $41 million in 2003, most of it over the Internet, but then blew much of the money well before any votes were cast. Head consultant and Internet fan Joe Trippi's firm collected $7.2 million in fees.

-- Matt Potter

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