San Onofre Power Plant to Remain Offline Through Summer

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Operators of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which has been idled for months while federal regulators investigate the cause of a small radiation leak, plan to keep the plant offline at least through the end of August, Southern California Edison announced Thursday.

“I don’t see how we could submit [a restart plan] to the NRC [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission] before the end of July, and their process is maybe another month, so that’s the end of August,” Edison CEO Ted Craver told the Los Angeles Times, referring to the federal nuclear safety agency.

San Onofre was shut down in January after the radiation leak was discovered. The commission and Edison have since linked the leak to excessive tube wear in its steam generators, but have not made a final determination of the cause. Edison recently acknowledged that it is likely the result of design changes to the generators.

Also this week, the NRC announced its first public meeting about the findings of its inspections.

High-ranking regional NRC officials and top Edison executives are scheduled to attend the June 18 meeting in San Juan Capistrano.

From the Times article:

Making the call on when it is safe to restart the plant will be a “huge decision,” [Craver] said: “I’m not sure there’s going to be a bigger decision I make in my time as CEO here.”

The NRC will have final say on when and under what conditions the plant can fire up again …

The short-term plan to restart San Onofre could involve running at lower power to decrease the rate of steam flow. In the longer term, Craver said other options could include adding supports for the tubes or replacing the steam generators entirely. The latter is a costly proposition since the last steam generator replacement came in at an estimated $671 million.

Edison officials have said they will seek to recover the inspection and repair costs under the warranty with steam generator manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, but ratepayers could end up on the hook for the costs to buy replacement power.

The steam generator problems and other issues at the plant have led some environmental groups and local residents to say the plant can’t be operated safely and should be decommissioned.

The NRC’s approval of generator changes has faced scrutiny from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs a committee that oversees the agency.

For months, Arnie Gundersen, a consultant hired by environmentalists, has asserted that the wear was caused by significant design changes to the generators in order to accommodate the addition of nearly 400 tubes in each of the four generators.

Gundersen also alleges that the company misled regulators about the changes in order to avoid a thorough, independent analysis of their safety risks.

Edison, meanwhile, has repeatedly stated it “provided open and transparent information” to the NRC “at all times” during the approval process. The company has yet to dispute any specific allegations raised by Gundersen.

The NRC has also stated that Edison informed it of the generator changes “in accordance with NRC requirements.”

— NICK GERDA

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