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San Onofre Operator Requests to Restart Reactor

The operator of the San Onofre nuclear power plant, Southern California Edison, has submitted a draft request for a license amendment to restart the plant at 70 percent power this summer. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission meets this week to consider the request.

The operator of the San Onofre nuclear power plant, Southern California Edison, has submitted a draft request for a license amendment to restart the plant at 70 percent power this summer. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission meets this week to consider the request.

It’s the next step in the long-running saga of whether to restart the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which has been shut down for more than a year since a small radiation leak was detected in one of its new steam generators.

Southern California Edison has conceded it could only run one reactor safely at 100 percent power for 11 months, so the company is seeking a license amendment from the NRC to run Unit 2 at 70 percent power.

According to the request, “SCE would be asking the NRC to act on the amendment before the end of May to facilitate timely restart of Unit 2 to meet peak summer electricity demand. Following the initial five-month operating period, SCE would shut down Unit 2 for steam generator tube inspections. Based on inspection data, Unit 2 would resume operation at 70 percent power for an appropriate operating period during the remainder of the 18-24 month fuel cycle while SCE updates its analysis to determine the appropriate long-term power level.”

Rochelle Becker of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility said ratepayers should oppose the idea of restarting at 70 percent power.

“When Edison originally applied to the new steam generators in 2004, their statements said the plant would only be cost effective if both units ran at 88 percent power,” she said, “so granting them a license to run at 70 percent power is not cost effective.”

Ken Schultz, a retired nuclear engineer and chair of the San Diego Chapter of the American Nuclear Society, said Edison’s strategy makes sense: generating at least some power while they figure out who will pay to replace the faulty steam generators.

“If it’s running at 70 per cent power, meanwhile someone can manufacture a new one so that the downtime for replacement would be less,” Schultz said. “If you look at the economics of it, I think replacing the whole thing is probably preferable to taking it apart and replacing parts and putting it back together again.”

The faulty steam generators cost more than $700 million and since they only operated for a year or two before being shut down, rate payers have paid only a portion of that cost already.

Becker said Edison’s financial statements note that it would take five years to replace the steam generators. She said California’s Public Utilities Commission, which is currently investigating the problems at San Onofre, must calculate whether it is cost effective to spend more time and money to bring the plant back online.

Opponents of the restart plan say Edison is attempting to sidestep federal regulation by applying for the license amendment with a “No Significant Hazard Consideration,” which would exempt the company from public hearings on the license until after the amendment was granted.

Edison said it is considering submitting a final amendment request after discussing it with the NRC staff at a public meeting Wednesday in Rockville, Maryland.

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