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L.A. councilmen want hearings before San Onofre nuke plant reopens

December 13, 2012 |  5:56 pm

Los Angeles may become the latest city to wade into the debate over the fate of the San Onofre nuclear plant on Friday.

The City Council will consider a resolution calling for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep the troubled plant out of commission unless its operator, Southern California Edison, goes through a license amendment process including a courtroom-like public hearing process where groups opposed to restarting the plant could introduce evidence.

San Onofre, on the northern coast of San Diego County, has been out of service since Jan. 31, when a tube carrying radioactive water sprang a leak and released a small amount of radioactive steam, prompting the plant's shutdown.

The leak led to the discovery that many other steam generator tubes -- which had all been replaced less than two years earlier -- were wearing out more quickly than expected.

Edison has proposed restarting one of the plant's two reactor units and operating it at 70% capacity for five months in hopes that running at reduced power will alleviate the conditions that caused the tubes to vibrate excessively, leading to unusual wear. The damage in the second reactor unit was more extensive, and Edison has not proposed to restart it.

The NRC will ultimately have to sign off on the restart proposal, although the agency has said that decision is still months away. Regulators met with Edison officials in Laguna Hills in Orange County on Nov. 30 and will meet again in Maryland on Tuesday to discuss the technical aspects of the plan. Restart opponents led by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, have pushed for the NRC to require the more involved license amendment process.

The Los Angeles resolution, introduced by Councilman Paul Koretz and co-signed by Councilman Bill Rosendahl, echoed that argument.

"Any other process than a license amendment with an evidentiary hearing is insufficient for public
safety; in fact, NRC allowed an alternative, less transparent, more perfunctory review process during the application of the very steam generators which FAILED at San Onofre," the resolution said.

Advocates have charged that Edison sidestepped a full license amendment process for design changes when it replaced the steam generators, an allegation that the company disputes. NRC officials are reviewing whether the changes required a license amendment.

San Onofre once produced power for about 20% of Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric customers, but it does not generally supply power to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. And apart from the Port of Los Angeles, most of the city is also outside a 50-mile radiation "danger zone" around the plant. (During the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the NRC recommended that Americans within 50 miles of the plant evacuate due to a radiation leak triggered by an earthquake and tsunami).

Andy Shrader, environment deputy to Koretz, said the city would still be affected by a disaster at San Onofre.

"If the port has to evacuate, as we saw from the shutdown" caused by the recent port labor strike, he said, "that impacts not just the city but the whole country, and the economic impacts would be devastating."

A number of other cities, mostly in Orange County, have already passed similar resolutions.

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-- Abby Sewell at Los Angeles City Hall

 

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