Southern California Edison may be at odds with federal regulators over what it means to run the San Onofre nuclear plant at full power.
Edison officials met with U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staffers Wednesday to discuss the agency's technical questions on a proposal by Edison to restart one reactor at the shuttered plant and run it at 70% power for five months before taking it back offline for more inspections.
The company argued that running the reactor at reduced power will alleviate the conditions that led to unusual wear on steam generator tubes carrying radioactive water.
The plant has been out of service for more than a year after one of the tubes in the plant's Unit 3 leaked a small amount of radioactive steam.
The NRC has asked Edison to show that Unit 2 -- the unit proposed for restart and which showed less tube damage -- could be run at the full power level allowed under its license without danger of tube rupture.
Activists have contended that if Edison fails to prove there is no risk then it should be required to apply for a license amendment to run at 70% power.
In a response submitted Monday, Edison argued that 70% power is, in fact, "normal steady state full power."
The company said that the "clear purpose" of the technical specification governing tube integrity is "to ensure that the … tubes will retain their integrity over the range of operating conditions to which they will be subjected. In this case, that range is limited to 70% power."
Art Howell, who heads an NRC panel focused on San Onofre, told Edison officials Wednesday that "Your position on the technical specification is different than staff's position that was communicated to you on Jan. 29."
Edison also promised to provide an analysis by March 15 showing that the unit can safely operate at 100% power. Edison Vice President of Engineering Tom Palmisano told the NRC staff, "We think it's appropriately conservative to operate at reduced power" and continue to collect data.
Activists expressed outrage at Edison's response to the NRC request.
"With all due respect, it reads to me like a schoolboy's justification for why they couldn't complete a homework assignment," said Kendra Ulrich, a nuclear campaigner with the environmental group Friends of the Earth, which has been pushing the NRC to require a license amendment.
Ulrich said Edison was "asserting they understand the regulations better than the regulators themselves."
NRC staff have said they will make a decision on Edison's restart proposal no earlier than late April.
In its quarterly earnings report Tuesday, Southern California Edison's parent company, Edison International, disclosed that the plant's outage has cost the company more than $400 million to date for repairs, inspections and replacement power.
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Photo: Children play in the surf and a man fishes with the nuclear power plant looming in the distance. Credit: Allen
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