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No Timetable For San Onofre Nuke Plant Restart

The chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday there is no timetable for restarting the sidelined San Onofre nuclear plant on the Southern California coast and a federal review of its troubled tubing will take whatever time is necessary to complete.

A couple stands near the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at San Onofre State Beach on March 15, 2012 south of San Clemente, California.
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Above: A couple stands near the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at San Onofre State Beach on March 15, 2012 south of San Clemente, California.

The statement from Chairman Gregory Jaczko came just days after a senior executive for operator Southern California Edison disclosed that the company was hoping for a possible June restart. The twin reactors have been offline for more than three months while investigators look into excessive wear on tubing in the plant's steam generators.

The agency is waiting for documentation on repairs and other work at the plant.

"Any discussion of a date for the restart of Unit 2 or Unit 3 is clearly premature," Jaczko said. "We will take whatever time is necessary to conduct a thorough safety review." A restart would require federal approval.

Last week, Edison executive vice president Stephen Pickett said the company was looking at the possible June restart. The company is drafting a plan under which the twin reactors would run at reduced power, at least for several months, because engineers believe that will solve a problem with vibration that has been causing unusual wear in alloy tubing.

Costs related to the long-running shutdown could climb over $100 million, company officials say, and state officials have warned about possible rotating blackouts in Southern California with the reactors offline.

About 7.4 million Californians live within 50 miles of San Onofre, which can power 1.4 million homes. The seaside plant is located between Los Angeles and San Diego.

The trouble at San Onofre began to unfold in late January, when the Unit 3 reactor was shut down as a precaution after a break in a steam generator tube carrying radioactive water. Traces of radiation escaped, but officials said there was no danger to workers or neighbors.

Unit 2 had been taken offline earlier that month for routine maintenance. But investigators later confirmed accelerated wear on tubing in both units. Hundreds of tubes that were heavily damaged will be taken out of service at the two reactors.

That number is well within the margin to allow them to keep operating, Edison officials say.

SCE projects that the bill for repairs and tests could run as high as $65 million, and $30 million was spent on replacement power through March 31 - a bill that keeps mounting.

Gradual wear is common in such tubing, but the rate of decay at San Onofre was startling because the equipment is relatively new. The generators were installed in a multimillion-dollar makeover in 2009 and 2010.

The plant is owned by SCE, San Diego Gas & Electric and the city of Riverside. The Unit 1 reactor operated from 1968 to 1992, when it was shut down and dismantled.

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