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SONGS
The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Photo by Andrea Swayne

By Jim Shilander

Southern California Edison has received preliminary approval for a license amendment to operate San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Unit 2 at 70 percent power for five months, according to a letter to the utility sent out Wednesday by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Region IV.

The finding could potentially allow for a restart of the plant before the summer begins.

Edison formally submitted the amendment earlier this week for consideration, after submitting a draft proposal last week, noting that it was looking to try and get the plant running by the summer when power usage peaked.

The nuclear plant has been idle since January 2012 after tube-to-tube wear in the new steam generators caused a small steam leak in Unit 3. Unit 2 was down for maintenance at the time, but wear was also discovered in the steam generator tubes there, though less significant than in Unit 3.

“The proposed changes do not affect the probability of any accident initiators because there is no adverse effect on plant operations or plant conditions, the letter reads. “Operation at 70 percent rated thermal power does not result in a significant increase in the probability or consequences of a previously evaluated accident. Therefore, the proposed changes do not involve a significant increase in the probability or consequences of an accident previously evaluated.”

The letter also states that the amendment change does not create the possibility of a different type of accident or a significant reduction in a margin of safety.

The NRC’s investigation into the causes of the tube wear, as well as the proposed by Edison to restart Unit 2 at 70 percent power for five months is on track to be completed this spring, with a restart decision coming in May or June.

California Senator Barbara Boxer blasted the finding by the NRC in a news release.

The NRC staff proposal, which could pave the way for the restart of the San Onofre nuclear power plant before the investigations of the crippled plant are completed, is dangerous and premature,” Boxer said. “It makes absolutely no sense to even consider taking any steps to reopen San Onofre until these investigations look at every aspect of reopening the plant given the failure of the tubes that carry radioactive water.”

The public may submit comments on the proposal for 30 days by visiting www.regulations.gov and searching docket NRC-2013-0070.

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