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Southern California Edison wants to restart San Onofre reactor

October 4, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A controversial request was released Thursday from the operator of the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

Southern California Edison wants to restart one of the reactors and is asking for federal approval. Critics call it a "reckless gamble."

For nearly nine months, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has stayed shut down.

Now the operator, Southern California Edison, says it has a plan to restart one of two reactors despite damage to hundreds of tubes that carry water heated by the reactors.

"We are confident in our plan to restart that safely and the NRC will evaluate it," said SoCal Edison spokesperson Jennifer Manfre.

SoCal Edison has submitted a plan to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a response to an NRC request for answers after a small leak was found in a steam generator tube in Unit 3. SoCal Edison says there was no danger to people even though traces of radioactive gas escaped during the leak in January.

Investigators soon after discovered excessive wear on hundreds of tubes in both units 3 and 2. SoCal Edison officials blame the tube-to-tube wear on strong vibrations.

"The computer modeling, when the steam generators were designed, under-predicted the flow inside the tubes and inside the steam generator, so now we know that those high steam velocities, that lack of moisture content, caused some energy, which caused vibrations, so what we do is we decrease that flow," said Manfre.

SoCal Edison is proposing running Unit 2 at 70-percent power for five months before stopping and re-inspecting.

"'Let's just turn it back on, slow it down a little and see what happens': That's their plan," said Donna Gilmore, writer of SanOnofreSafety.org, a blog about safety issues at the plant. "All their inspections just proved that it's got premature wear all over the place."

Some residents insist restarting a reactor is a gamble with safety, especially since the troubled steam generators are fairly new.

"They were supposed to last 40 years and they failed in less than two years, leaked radiation after less than one," said Gilmore.

SoCal Edison officials say they conducted nearly 200,000 inspections to understand and correct the problem.

"My main concern is that if they restart we're going to have a major radiation leak," said Gilmore.

"We will not restart this unit until the NRC says it is safe to do so," said Manfre.

The NRC is expected to take months to evaluate the plan, so there's no timetable for restarting the plant. The NRC plans a public meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday, October 9, at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point.


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