Southern California Edison's nuclear power plant in San Onofre has… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Southern California Edison, majority owner of the closed San Onofre nuclear plant, submitted to federal regulators a draft request for a license amendment that would allow the plant to be fired up again before summer.
The plant's fate has been a subject of contention since it closed more than a year ago due to excessive wear on steam generator tubes that carry radioactive water.
Edison has proposed to restart one of the plant's two units, the one in which the damage was less severe, and run it at 70% power for five months before taking it offline again for inspections.
The company argued that reducing the power would eliminate the conditions that led the tubes to vibrate and knock against support structures and adjacent tubes. One of the tubes eventually leaked and released a small amount of radioactive steam.
Activists have pushed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to require a license amendment — a potentially lengthy process involving courtroom-like public hearings — before allowing the plant to restart.
Edison's draft request for a license amendment would ask the commission to expedite review of the request and give approval no later than May 24. That would allow one of the plant's units to be operating in time for summer, when energy demand peaks in California.
The company would ask the commission to find that operating at 70% power would not create any significant risk of an accident, meaning that the license amendment could be approved before the public hearings.
Groups that have pushed for a full license amendment process have decried the proposal as an end run around public participation.
The license amendment would restrict power to 70% for the next 18- to 24-month operating cycle. The company would then submit another license amendment request for long-term operation. Even if the NRC grants an initial license amendment, the agency will have to decide separately whether to allow the plant to restart.
The plant's other unit may require extensive repairs before it can operate, and Edison has not submitted a restart plan for it.
Edison and commission staff are scheduled to talk about the potential license amendment request at a meeting Wednesday.