An early morning surfer, with the San Onofre nuclear power plant in the background,… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)
Southern California Edison has submitted a formal request to federal regulators for a license amendment that would allow the San Onofre nuclear plant to be fired back up for the first time in more than a year.
Company officials told U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff at a meeting last week that they hope to have one unit at the plant -- which was shut down because of unusual wear of steam generator tubes that carry radioactive water -- running again by June 1.
The request submitted by Edison asks the NRC to make a decision on the proposed license amendment by May 24. The utility is proposing to run the plant at 70% of its current licensed power.
The formal request was similar to a draft request submitted last month, except that the company also committed to submitting a report to the NRC on the steam generators 60 days after every time it shuts down for inspections, instead of the usual 180 days.
NRC staff at last week's meeting did not commit to meeting Edison's target date, saying it might be a challenge to do so.
Even if the agency grants a license amendment, it would have to decide separately whether to allow the plant to be fired up again.
Edison has proposed to run the Unit 2 reactor at 70% power for five months before taking it offline for inspections. The company argues that the lower power level would eliminate the conditions that led the tubes to vibrate excessively and knock against each other and against support structures.
At last week's meeting with the NRC, Edison officials said the plant might start up and shut down again several times over the next two years while the company tries to determine the "appropriate long-term power level."
Edison requested that the NRC approve the license amendment under an expedited process that would not require full public hearings before approval.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth, which has been leading a push to keep the plant shuttered for good, said Edison was seeking a "rubber stamp" from the NRC. The group and others have called on Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), to use their positions on committees overseeing the NRC to push the agency to hold full trial-like public hearings before granting a license amendment.
Meanwhile, in a separate proceeding before the California Public Utilities Commission, Edison and ratepayer advocates are debating whether some or all of the plant's costs should be removed from rates and money be refunded to ratepayers because of the extended outage.
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