San OnofreNuclear Plant: More Damaged Tubes Found

San Onofre Nuclear Plant Reopening Pushed Back as 1,300 More Damaged Tubes Found

May 16, 2012
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Despite alarm expressed recently across a broad spectrum of critics–from polar philosophical opposites Larry Agran to Dana Rohrabacher–Southern California Edison had been saying that the offline San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) could be humming by next month to meet summer power needs, if only the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would green light it. Now Edison is pushing back a reopening as damage has been found to about 1,300 more tubes.

“SCE and the [California Independent System Operator] have maintained throughout the SONGS outage that nuclear safety has no timeline and the units will only be returned to service when SCE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) are satisfied it is safe to do so,” reads a statement from the utility giant. “SCE has not filed a request with the NRC seeking to restart the plant.”

An Edison executive’s recently reported rosy statement that the plant serving 1.4 million homes could be good to go in June if allowed to do so by the NRC was actually made in March to the Independent System Operator and was for administrative purposes only, Edison claims.

It was unusual tube wear in a steam generator, which had recently been upgraded, that led one SONGS unit’s shutdown three months ago. That prompted inspections of a second unit that was already offline for maintenance–and the discovery of similar tube wear. Neither unit has been brought back up since.

On Monday, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko issued a strongly worded statement that called talk of restarting San Onofre’s damaged nuclear reactors “clearly premature” because Edison has yet to respond to actions ordered by his agency in March.

Huntington Beach Republican Congressman Rohrabacher recently toured SONGS and said once the plant is up again it should be allowed to operate another 10 years before closing permanently.

Agran, a so-called progressive Democrat, last month led his Irvine City Council to send a letter to Jaczko urging that SONGS not be re-licensed until safety concerns are met. The councilman has also called for a permanent shutdown of the plant.

His council on Tuesday night demanded Edison outline energy efficiency plans in light of the power company’s representatives having stoked fears that a prolonged SONGS shutdown would prompt rotating blackouts across SoCal this summer and cost ratepayers more than $100 million.

“The Edison company would do well to stop threatening blackouts as an excuse for prematurely restarting a dangerous nuclear plant,” reacted David Freeman, former general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water and special adviser to Friends of the Earth, heading into the council meeting.

“Blackouts are a failure by a utility to supply reliable service and are not new to Edison’s customers,” Freeman added. “Blackouts are a concern whether or not San Onofre is operating.”

Officials from Edison and the Independent System Operator continued their backtracking in the Irvine council chambers Tuesday night, reassuring the public there will be no blackouts over the summer thanks to transmission upgrades, customer incentives to conserve energy and the firing up of a Huntington Beach natural gas plant.

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