The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting in Dana Point tonight to seek input on the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station and plans to bring it back online.
Elmo Collins, the regional administrator for the NRC, told reporters Monday that the agency "has several months of work ahead of it before any decision can be made" on reopening the power plant in northern San Diego County, south of San Clemente in Orange County.
"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will not grant approval for the resumption of power operation unless we have confidence that the facility can be operated safely," Collins said.
Southern California Edison, which runs the Northern San Diego County plant and co-owns it with San Diego Gas & Electric and the city of Riverside, submitted a plan to the NRC last week, proposing to restart one of its two power generators at 70 percent power for a trial period of five months, followed by more inspections. The plant then would be shut down again for more inspections.
So far, Edison has no immediate plans to restart its other generator, saying it needs further inspection, analysis and testing.
Called Unit 2 and Unit 3, the plant's power generators were deactivated in January. Unit 2 was taken offline Jan. 9 for planned maintenance, while Unit 3 was abruptly shut down Jan. 31 after a leak was detected in one of its steam generator tubes. A small amount of radioactive gas was released but the leak was not significant enough to endanger workers or the public, according to Edison.
The leak in Unit 3 was caused by tube-to-tube wear due to a phenomenon called "fluid elastic instability," Edison reported months after the plant closure. The utility said a combination of high-steam velocity and low-moisture conditions in specific locations of tube bundles and ineffective tube support systems in the same bundle locations causes the phenomenon and subsequent wear, leading to leaks.
Unit 2 was also susceptible to the same vibration-causing environment but to a lesser degree than Unit 3, SCE executives said, noting Unit 2 can be safely restarted at 70 percent power without triggering fluid elastic instability. Some critics contest the assertion, saying the designs of the units are essentially the same.
Edison's restart plan also envisions installing early warning monitors on the unit that can detect extremely small leaks faster and plant employees receiving additional training on how to respond to a leak.
"We have full confidence in our restart plan," said Edison spokeswoman Jennifer Manfre, who added the utility has no control over how long it will take for the NRC to make a decision on reopening the plant.
Tonight's meeting in Dana Point will include Collins, San Onofre Chief Nuclear Officer Pete Dietrich, Robert Oglesby and Ed Randolph of the California Public Utilities Commission, as well as several area residents and nuclear energy activists.
"We have a panel that reflects the diverse interests of Californians who have expressed interest in the safe operation of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station," Collins said.
"The facilitated panel discussions will provide an opportunity to allow these representatives to express their thoughts and opinions on a variety of issues," he said. "This will be followed by a facilitated question-and-answer session that will also provide an opportunity for members of the public to share their views on issues of pressing concern."
Twenty percent of the power produced at San Onofre went to SDG&E prior to the plant being shuttered. The impact of the lack of service over the summer was compensated for by the recent opening of the 117-mile Sunrise Powerlink transmission line, which transmits solar and wind energy from Imperial Valley to San Diego.
Officials with SDG&E said the new line provides twice as much energy as the utility previously received from San Onofre.