The San Onofre nuclear plant has been shut down for more than a year, and it… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Federal regulators issued a preliminary finding Wednesday that a license amendment requested by Southern California Edison in support of the company's plan to fire up the San Onofre nuclear plant would not create significant new safety hazards, potentially paving the way for an expedited restart of the plant.
Edison wants to restart one unit at the coastal plant — closed now for more than a year because of unusual wear on its steam generator tubes — and run it at 70% power for five months in hopes that the lower power will halt the equipment degradation.
The plant was closed after one of the tubes leaked and released a small amount of radioactive steam.
After staff at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission signaled that they might require a license amendment to allow the plant to run at less than its full licensed power, Edison submitted a request for a license amendment under an expedited process in hopes of having the plant running by June 1.
The public will have 30 days to comment on the proposal and 60 days to request a public hearing, but the NRC could make a final decision on the request before then.
However, granting the license amendment would not automatically allow the plant to fire up again. NRC staff are separately reviewing the reasons for the tube wear and evaluating whether it is safe for the plant to run at all.
"We don't anticipate completion of all those steps before June 1," NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said.
The NRC's office of investigations is also probing whether Edison gave the agency complete and accurate information about the steam generator issues.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the head of the NRC Tuesday accusing Edison of "seeking to shortcut the license amendment process" and asking that the commission "take no action that could lead to any restart of the San Onofre nuclear power plant before the Commission completes its comprehensive investigation and provides a full opportunity for public participation."
The lawmakers requested an answer by the end of the day Wednesday, but the NRC has not responded.
[Updated at 6:12 p.m.: Boxer and Markey responded to the NRC's proposed decision with outraged statements. Boxer called it "dangerous and premature" and "beyond irresponsible" and Markey said the contention that the license amendment is unrelated to the future decision on whether to restart the plant is "like saying that giving someone a driver's license has nothing to do with allowing them to drive a car."]
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