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UPDATE: Feds deny group's request for San Onofre nuclear plant license amendment

A runner passes by the San Onofre nuclear power plant on April 6, 2012. The nuclear plant has been shutdown since a radioactive steam leak in January 2012.
A runner passes by the San Onofre nuclear power plant on April 6, 2012. The nuclear plant has been shutdown since a radioactive steam leak in January 2012.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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UPDATE 4:45 p.m.: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has denied an environmental group’s request to amend San Onofre’s license.  

The NRC is deciding whether it’s safe to restart San Onofre’s Unit 2 reactor at reduced power.
But the Washington D.C.-based group Friends of Earth, wants more. It wants a license amendment that requires judicial-style hearings with testimony under oath.
David Freeman, Senior Advisor to the group, says that’s because the new steam generators that Southern California Edison installed two years ago were different than those put in under the original operating permit.
“If you think of it as a big tent they took the tent pole out and stuffed more tubes in there, and then their modeling was all wrong and when they turned the things on they started doing a hula hoop dance,” said Freeman.

Even though the NRC denied the petition, Freeman feels vindicated. He says the decision allows his group to pursue their case at the administrative level – effectively a “lower court” of the NRC.
“They’ve taken what we’ve said very seriously and I think it reinforces the fact that the Edison company is in a heap of trouble,” says Freeman.

Edison feels differently. The utility says the NRC process already underway is appropriate.
And it points out that it filed license amendments for the steam tube generators four years ago, and there were no objections.

UPDATE 10:01 a.m.: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission turned down a request Thursday from an environmental group that wanted the operating license for the San Onofre nuclear plant amended.

Friends of the Earth said the license granted to Southern California Edison (SCE), which operates the plant, should have been amended when new generators were installed two years ago.

The group claims those new generators were a different type of design than what was in the original operating permit for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). 

But the NRC turned down the petition. 

Bill Walker with Friends of the Earth said the NRC decision was "complicated" and said via email that the group is assessing its response to the action.

SCE had opposed the FOE petition on the grounds that granting it would violate well-established procedural practices at the commission.

In a news release after the decision, SCE said it supported the NRC decision.

In the SCE statement, the company said "the NRC-established review process for Unit 2 restart, which will include a thorough investigation by the NRC and public meetings, is the appropriate process for confirming that SCE’s restart plan is fully consistent with protecting public safety.  As part of this process, the NRC is holding a public business meeting and webcast on Nov. 16 in Dana Point."

PREVIOUSLY: A leak in one of the reactors at the end of January 2012  led to the shutdown of the nuclear plant, which sits  on  a bluff on the seaside border of San Diego and Orange counties. The other reactor was already offline for maintenance.

But an  investigation of both reactors found an unusual amount of wear in many of the thousands of steam tubes in the plant's generating systems.  SCE has been conducting tests on the two units at San Onofre.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) and other anti-nuclear activists say the plant is unsafe, is costing ratepayers millions of dollars and should be shutdown permanently. 

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is conducting an investigation into whether ratepayers – customers of SCE – should foot the bill for repairs and costs related to the nine-month shutdown. Edison said recently those costs are $317 million. The CPUC said the investigation could take more than one year to complete. 

SONGS has been in complete shutdown mode since a radioactive steam leak from one of its two reactor units on January 31, 2012. Inspections found unusual wear on steam generator tubes in both units.

SCE has submitted a plan to the NRC to restart one of the damaged reactor units at limited power for a short time period. There is no plan to restart the other damaged unit.

The NRC has said the approval process will continue into 2013, meaning the nuclear plant will not be restarted anytime soon.