Southern California Edison (SCE) is so desperate to get one of its two idled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station reactor units near San Diego back on line by June 2013 that the company is threatening to permanently shut the nuke if it doesn't get the restart approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A 14-month shutdown of SONGS Units 2 and 3 has put both shareholders and ratepayers on the hook for almost $600 million to date. SCE now wants to hasten the restart of Unit 2 limited to a maximum power level of 70% of its thermal rating. Friends of the Earth and Committee to Bridge the Gap are two of the groups working to keep these dangerous reactors shut down.
The two crippled nukes, located between Los Angeles and San Diego, California, have been idled since January 2012 because of significant damage to safety-related reactor power systems.
The problem stems from a botched $675 million equipment deal between SCE and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to squeeze more power out of SONGS Units 2 and 3 with the installation of new steam generators in 2010 and 2011, respectively. A design change to cram more steam tube into the generators resulted in severe damage to hundreds of thin walled nickel-alloy heat exchanger tubes leading to radioactive leaks after only ten months of operation. The steam generators each containing thousands of tubes are a major portion of a pressurized water reactor’s extremely high-pressure boundary (approximately 2000 pounds per square inch) and recycling system for the reactor coolant essential for safe operations.
The steam generator tube damage sustained in San Onofre Unit 3 is universally recognized, including by the NRC, as so severe that short of extensive repairs or replacement, restart introduces an unacceptable level of risk from tube rupture and a nuclear accident even at reduced power level.
However, SCE wants the NRC to approve a hastened restart of SONGS Unit 2 after plugging the tubes known to be damaged and a company commitment not to power the reactor above 70% maximum power level with periodic shutdown inspections to see how the component is holding up. The power company seeks this restart approval first, while proceeding through an NRC License Amendment process,which would include the opportunity for full public hearings afterwards. The hearings would allow public interest groups to present independent expert testimony on the risks to public health and safety presented by amending the operating license for a flawed design even at limited power.
Dan Hirsch, President of Committee to Bridge the Gap has called the process of permitting the reactor restart first and holding the public hearing later akin to frontier justice for public safety; “Hang ‘em first and give 'em the trial later.”
You can go to the Friends of the Earth nuke-free site for Alerts on San Onofre. Stay tuned for updates.