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San Onofre restart may happen without public hearing

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The operator of the troubled San Onofre nuclear plant might request a license amendment before restarting the plant through an expedited process that would not require public hearings before a restart.

Southern California Edison said Friday that it has requested a meeting with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to discuss the possible license amendment. The NRC has not yet responded.

Also Friday, a special NRC panel heard arguments from Edison and Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that has pushed for the commission to require a license amendment with a full trial-like public hearing process before deciding whether to allow the plant to fire up again.

san-onofre-nuclear-plant-20120315The panel did not rule on the issue Friday, and that proceeding is separate from the one that would take place if Edison submits a license amendment request.

The plant has been out of service for more than a year because of unusual wear on tubes in its recently replaced steam generators. Edison has proposed to restart one of the plant’s two reactor units — where the damage was less severe — and run it at 70% power in hopes that operating at reduced power would eliminate the conditions that led to the wear.

Friends of the Earth has argued that Edison should have applied for a license amendment for certain design changes when it replaced the steam generators and that it should be required to get an amendment before the NRC decides on the restart proposal.

Some NRC staff had also suggested that Edison would need a license amendment to run at less than its full licensed power. In response, Edison argued that 70% power would, in essence, be full power, but also submitted an assessment showing that the plant could operate at full power for 11 months without danger of a tube rupture.

Edison officials said Friday that because the NRC review of that assessment might be lengthy, the company is considering requesting a license amendment in hopes of hastening the process and getting the plant online before summer, when energy demand peaks in California.



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