Economics for the Earth Blog

San Onofre: Edison’s experimental restart scheme may violate terms of plant’s operating license

Posted Dec. 28, 2012 / Posted by: Becca Connors

Controversial plan to run reactor at reduced power could require formal legal hearings

WASHINGTON, D.C. --  Southern California Edison’s experimental plan to start up one of the crippled San Onofre nuclear reactors and run it at reduced power may violate terms of the plant’s operating license, potentially triggering a formal license amendment proceeding.

On Wednesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a Request for Additional Information to Edison for its review of the company’s restart scheme, asking Edison to provide evidence that reactor Unit 2 can be operated safely at full power, as required by San Onofre’s current license. If Edison can’t show that the reactor can be operated safely in compliance with the terms of the license, Edison may be forced to submit to a license amendment proceeding requiring a hearing before an NRC panel of judges, with rules of evidence and expert witnesses.

Both reactors were shut down last January, after a leak of radioactive steam led to the discovery of extensive and unprecedented damage to hundreds of steam generator tubes in San Onofre’s twin reactors.

“Edison is saying they don’t know if their car is safe to drive at freeway speeds, so they’ll keep it under 50 mph,” said Kendra Ulrich, nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “But the NRC is asking, before you drive the car, can you prove it’s safe to operate on the freeway, as required by your license?””

“This experimental restart plan is yet another example of Edison’s disregard for safety and attempts to sidestep NRC regulations in the interest of making money,” said Ulrich. “Whether the plant can be safely operated at reduced power is one of the crucial questions that must be answered to ensure the safety of the 8.4 million Southern Californians who live within 50 miles of San Onofre.”

San Onofre’s steam generators were replaced as part of a $670 million overhaul in 2009 and 2010. Friends of the Earth contends that Edison crammed in hundreds more steam tubes than in the original generators in order to generate more power and profit. But the new defective steam generator design caused the tubes to vibrate against their supports and each other, producing premature tube wear on a scale never before seen in a steam generator. Independent experts have said that the major design changes should have triggered the license amendment process when the initial design was initially proposed in 2006.  

According to the Associated Press, cracked and corroded generator tubing forced the premature closing of San Onofre reactor Unit 1 in 1992. The following year, the Trojan nuclear plan in Oregon was shut down after cracks were found in its steam generator tubes.

CONTACT:
Kendra Ulrich, (202) 222-0715
Bill Walker, (510) 759-9911

« Back to main page