Environmental group's request for hearing on San Onofre denied
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied an environmental group's petition to force Southern California Edison to go through a courtroom-like public hearing process before deciding whether the troubled San Onofre Nuclear plant can restart.
The commission voted unanimously to deny Friends of the Earth's request for a hearing in a meeting Thursday morning that lasted less than a minute.
The panel referred portions of Friends of the Earth's request to commission staff and the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel and left the door open for the group to file another request for a hearing.
The plant has been shut down for nine months because of faulty replacement steam generators. Edison last month submitted a proposed restart plan for one of the two reactor units to the NRC, but the agency has not made a decision on the request.
Friends of the Earth has blamed what it termed "radical design changes" in the new steam generators for the plant's issues and argued Edison should have gone through a license amendment process for all of the modifications. Edison did obtain license amendments for the steam generator replacement but not relating specifically to all of the design changes.
The group petitioned the NRC to make the company obtain a license amendment before restarting the plant.
The order approved by the commission noted "the NRC staff is already evaluating whether these SCE actions required a license amendment." Edison maintains it followed all legal requirements.
The company voiced its support for the commission decision in a statement, saying that granting Friends of the Earth's request "would violate well-established procedural practices at the commission."
"Specifically, 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," the statement said.
Friends of the Earth struck an optimistic tone in a statement of its own, saying the group was "encouraged by the tone and content" of the NRC order and would pursue the issue through commission staff and the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board as directed "while exploring our other options."
But the group did take another swipe at Edison, saying "Edison's design errors have led to the multi-hundred million-dollar failure of brand new equipment which has in turn endangered the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in Southern California."
-- Abby Sewell
Photo: The darkened San Onofre nuclear power plant looms in the background as a surfer rides a wave. Credit: Associated Press