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Los Angeles City Council To Vote On San Onofre License Resolution

The Los Angeles City Council will take up a resolution Friday calling for Southern California Edison to apply for a formal license amendment and hold a public hearing in order to restart two reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente.

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station
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Above: San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

Unit 3 of the plant has been shut down since Jan. 31, when station operators detected a leak in one of its steam generator tubes. Inspectors later found premature wear in a number of the two-year-old tubes. Unit 2 was taken down for planned maintenance Jan. 9. Both have remained offline since under orders from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Southern California Edison submitted a plan to the NRC in early October to restart Unit 2 at 70 percent for five months.

The resolution introduced by Council members Paul Koretz and Bill Rosendahl states that "a formal license amendment with an adjudicatory hearing is the appropriate and transparent process'' for the NRC to evaluate any design changes because such a process where the public is privy to the evidence.

A "less transparent, more perfunctory'' review process during the initial application for the nuclear power steam generators is what led them to fail, the resolution states.

Southern California Edison spokeswoman Jennifer Manfre said "there seems to be some misunderstanding about what a `design change' is and when a license amendment is required.''

The utility applied for and was granted two license amendments when it replaced the two generators in 2010. Manfre said the switch to the alloy tubes that were degrading in Unit 3 was an industry-wide switch that did not require the more extensive procedure.

The NRC publicly stated in June that Southern California Edison had followed the proper procedures when it replaced the two generators in 2010.

"The issue is already put to bed,'' Manfre said.

The City Council members' call for a license amendment is being driven by a group called Friends of the Earth which "just wants the plant shut down,'' Manfre said.

The council members cite the fact that parts of Los Angeles are within 50 miles of San Onofre as justification for their concern. NRC officials in 2011 recommended a 50-mile evacuation zone around Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant after it was severely damaged by an earthquake-triggered tsunami.

The NRC announced this week that a decision on whether to allow Southern California Edison to restart either of the reactors is still months away. NRC staff sent technical questions to the utility as recently as Monday, according to a post on the federal agency's blog.

"It's important to remember the NRC's review will take many months to complete -- we're still in the early stages of that process,'' Scott Burnell, an NRC public affairs officer, wrote. "The NRC wants to be perfectly clear here -- this is only one step in a long process, and a final decision on whether San Onofre can restart is months away.''

The agency has scheduled a public meeting for next week in Rockville, Md., to discuss restart plans at San Onofre.

Anti-nuclear activists are opposed to any plans to restart the seaside facility near the Orange-San Diego County line.

Friends of the Earth contends that new steam generators installed at San Onofre in 2010 were of such a different design that SCE should have to go through a rigorous procedure to amend its license before the plant returns to service.

The utility is the majority owner and operator of the plant. San Diego Gas & Electric owns a 20 percent share and receives 20 percent of the power it creates.

NRC staff plan to take questions from the public at the Dec. 18 meeting, which will begin at 10 a.m. Pacific Time in Rockville, Md. The meeting will be webcast.

Burnell said the NRC would hold one more public meeting near San Onofre, and there would be several more opportunities for public input before a restart decision is made.

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