The History of Rancho Seco
SMUD purchases 2,100 acres in southeast Sacramento County for a nuclear
power plant. Construction begins on the cooling towers.
- SMUD raises rates...even though Rancho Seco hasn't produced a single
kilowatt-hour of electricity.
- The day Rancho Seco is dedicated there is a forced shutdown of the
reactor (unknown to those attending the dedication ceremony)... a portent
of things to come. [10/19/74]
- The turbine breaks down. The plant is shut down for 13 of the first
18 months of operation.
- Loose parts are found in Rancho Seco's generator. SMUD says the find
"will not cause any additional lost time." The plant is down
for six months. [4/9/76, SB ]
- Rancho Seco shuts down four times. Problems are due to a dangerously
- Radioactive iodine is found in milk from cows grazing near Rancho
Seco. [Quarterly Radiation Report on Rancho Seco ]
- Rancho Seco shuts down six times. Problems occurred with pipe supports,
reactor coolant leaks, malfunctions, turbine bearings and feedwater
flow. [9/26/83, SU ]
- SMUD is fined $25,000 by the NRC for violating federal safety standards.
- A state report on emergency planning estimates that a serious nuclear
accident at Rancho Seco could result in as many as 76,000 deaths and
110,000 injuries. [11/2/80, SB ]
- Rancho Seco shuts down 12 times. Problems are due to steam generator
tube leaks, feedwater, reactor coolant pump and turbine vibrations.
[9/26/83, SU ]
- Rancho Seco shuts down 11 times, due to problems with the turbine,
steam leaks, oil pressure and reactor trips. [9/26/83, SU ]
- SMUD is fined $120,000 for violating federal safety regulations.
- The steam generator leaks again...more radioactive steam escapes.
- Rancho Seco shuts down five times, due to maintenance, re-fueling,
modifications, oil pressure in turbine generator, heat imbalance in
reactor and leak in steam generator tube. [9/26/83, SU ]
- The steam generator tubes leak again and more radioactive steam escapes
into the atmosphere. The plant is shut down again.
- SMUD faces a lack of skilled workers for Rancho Seco. [3/6/83, SB]
- Rancho Seco is on the NRC's list of the ten worst nuclear plants in
the U.S. in overall assessment of management performance. [3/28/89,
Public Citizens Mishaps Report, NRC ]
- More than two billion gallons of water containing radiation levels
above federal guidelines have been dumped from Rancho Seco into a creek
that feeds the Cosumnes and Mokelumne Rivers, SMUD officials confirmed.
[4/14/84, SB ]
- Two workers are killed by high-pressure steam bursting from a boiler
at Rancho Seco.
- An explosion and fire shut down Rancho Seco for 38 days.
- SMUD raises rates twice...by nearly 30 percent. SMUD has the first
budget deficit in its history. From January 1, 1985 to March 31, 1988,
Rancho Seco operates only three months (out of three and one-quarter
- On December 26, Rancho Seco suffers thethird-fastest
shut-down in U.S. reactor history when a control circuit malfunctions.
The sudden temperature change could have cracked the reactor vessel
and led to a meltdown.
- SMUD customers are now paying 40 percent more than a year ago. Rancho
Seco work is $27 million over budget and another rate increase is being
- Sacramentans for SAFE Energy (SAFE) calls for the SMUD board of directors
to commission an independent, comprehensive study of the safety and
economic risks associated with Rancho Seco as well as a comparison of
alternative means of meeting our energy needs.
- Rancho Seco assistant manager for nuclear operations Dan Whitney said
plant managers sometimes deliberately withheld information about system
shortcomings when questioned by the NRC. [5/22/86, SB ]
- SMUD admits that Rancho Seco was "mismanaged, mismaintained and
misoperated" its entire lifetime. [5/20/86, SB ]
- Two Rancho Seco workers are fired for drug abuse. They claim there
is drug abuse throughout the plant.
- wo water leaks lead to the release of approximately 10,000 gallons
of radioactive water, some of it flowing into the nearby creek, outside
of the plant's boundaries...[3/28/89, Public Citation of Mishaps, NRC
- In 1987, SMUD pays more than $350,000 in cash bonuses to fill positions
at Rancho Seco. [7/10/88, SB ]
- "Rates have increased 84 percent since March 1985, leading to
ratepayer dismay and a situation in which half of SMUD households pay
more than if served by surrounding Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
" [10/23/87, SB ]
- Chief of nuclear operations, John Ward, is fired despite reputation
as a fixer of hopeless cases."It was like being in charge of the
Keystone Kops," says Ward. [9/23/86]
- "Closing Rancho Seco is the option for the future of SMUD that
makes the most sense." [3/2/88, Sacramento Bee Editorial Staff
- "The never-ending series of mishaps are beginning to look like
a very high-budget Marx Brothers film, with Harpo in charge of warning
the city should there be an emergency." [2/19/88, TV 40 Editorial
- A SMUD-commissioned, $824,000 QUEST study team recommends closure
of Rancho Seco, saying that unstable operation of Rancho Seco could
- Rancho Seco operates at less than 37%--even less than its lifetime
capacity average of 39%. Rates have increased almost 92% since March
1985 due to Rancho Seco problems. [INPO ]
- The October 1988 SMUD bond prospectus states, "The District has
concluded that terminating Rancho Seco in June 1989 would not have a
materially adverse impact on the District's operations through December,
1999." [SMUD ]
- Measure B (to close Rancho Seco) loses on the June ballot by the narrowest
of margins--only two votes per precinct. Measure C (to give Rancho Seco
a trial run) barely passes.
- Rancho Seco supporters promise stability and low electric rates for
SMUD. However, immediately following the June 1988 election, SMUD General
Manager Richard Byrne is fired, Rancho Seco chief of nuclear operations
resigns and SMUD discloses the need for additional rate increases. Two
SMUD chiefs get $520,000 in severance pay and bonuses.
- Former SMUD general manager Richard Byrne said he was "stifled,
pressured and threatened by pro-Rancho Seco board members who wanted
to keep potentially damaging information from reaching the public before
the June 7, 1988 election. [6/18/88, SB ]
- SMUD gives out $248,500 in bonuses to middle- and upper-level employees
in May for ''extraordinary service.'' About 80 percent ($197,000 was
awarded to Rancho Seco managers and the balance to employees at SMUD
- SMUD secretly paid out more than 970,000 in cash and benefits to
eight managers who were forced to leave the utility during the past
two years. [11/17/88, SB ]
- Operating Rancho Seco in 1988 cost nearly twice the amount it would
have cost SMUD to have purchased the same amount of electricity from
other utilities. [12/26/88, SU ]
- December 12--Operators try to restart Rancho Seco with malfunctioning
valves. They rig the system in a manner for which there are no written
procedures. One of two steam generators runs dry. NRC officials say
operators took the plant through "uncharted waters" and showed
poor judgment in handling the restart.
- On January 31 Rancho Seco shuts down. Two days later, radioactive
gas is released into the environment. The plant is down for 45 days.
Bill Chapin, Rancho Seco plant mechanical maintenance supervisor and
co-chairman of the Rancho Seco Political Action Committee says, "I
think there's no doubt, the Ranch cannot have another breakdown between
now and June, politically speaking." A day after his quote, Rancho
Seco goes down yet another time. [3/28/89, SB ]
- SMUD and PG&E contract ensures cheap, reliable power for Sacramento
through l999. [2/27/89, SU ]
- The nuclear industry's own Institute of Nuclear Power Operations prepares
a report on the recent shutdowns at Rancho Seco, saying that Rancho
Seco's prior operating history as well as recent shutdowns "cause
us to have a renewed concern over the quality of Rancho Seco operations."
- SMUD pays $1,230 for one Rancho Seco employee's clothing as part of
the "distinctive attire'' program. Jackets, pants, shirts and ties
have already cost $72,000; laundry bills, $2,500 a month--all ultimately
paid by the ratepayers.
- The plant comes to an abrupt halt (is scrammed) on the 10th anniversary
of the Three Mile Island meltdown. High-level radioactive gasses are
vented to the atmosphere. On April 8 the reactor is started, even though
the cause of the March 28 accident has not been found and malfunctioning
equipment (from the March 15 accident) has not been repaired. [3/29/89,
SB, SU ]
- June 6th, 1989 Sacramento Citizens go to the polls and vote to permanently
close Rancho Seco.
Sources: SB: Sacramento Bee, SU Sacramento Union xxx The above was a
poster created for Measure K on June 6, 1989