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Congressman hopes San Onofre is back in operation by summer

April 6, 2012 |  3:48 pm

The congressman whose district includes the shuttered San Onofre power plant said Friday that he hopes to see the plant returned to service before the summer months, when energy demand spikes in California.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) accompanied U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko on a tour of the plant Friday. The plant's two reactors have been down for more than two months, the longest outage in the facility’s history, while officials investigate unexpected wear that was discovered on tubes in the plant's newly installed steam generators.

"If it can be done with 100% safety, we'd like to have one or both of those reactors back online" by the summer, Issa said after the tour.

"Our concern is to make sure they maintain the level of safety we've come to expect from [San Onofre] and at the same time that we have reliable, affordable power," Issa said.

The congressman and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who also toured the plant Friday, both expressed confidence in plant operator Southern California Edison.

"I left with the view that this company is going to do everything to keep safety as the No. 1 goal, and that is the overriding goal," Feinstein said in a telephone interview.

She did not express an opinion about whether the plant should be restarted before summer.

The NRC, which has a team of inspectors at the site, has prohibited Edison from relaunching either of the reactors before the cause of the tube wear is understood and addressed.

Issa said he does not want to see the plant return to operation unless the problems are addressed and officials are assured that the same issues will not lead to another shutdown, which could end up costing ratepayers.

Leaders in the energy industry have said that if the plant remains offline through the summer, Southern California could see power outages in the event of a heat wave or other extreme event. They have begun making contingency plans in case the plan remains offline, including conservation measures, transmission upgrades and bringing generating units at a Huntington Beach natural gas plant back into service, but it remains to be seen which of those plans can be put into effect before the summer.

Some local activists, who distrust Edison, have questioned the need for San Onofre to return to operation at all, pointing out that the two-month outage has not caused outages. They say the plant's power can be replaced through other means and expressed concerns that Edison and the NRC might rush the plant back into service before it's safe.

"Why are we living with this crazy risk for energy that we can do without?" said Donna Gilmore, a San Clemente resident who runs a website called San Onofre Safety. "It's like the emperor has no clothes, but he's got a lot of money."

John Geesman, a former member of the California Energy Commission who now serves as legal counsel for the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, said he's not so sure that Southern California can put contingency plans in place before the summer. He called the region's reliance on San Onofre a failure in planning.

"How could we have allowed Southern California to become dependent on one 2,200-megawatt plant?" he said. "Having an entire metropolitan region dependent on a single plant makes no sense at all."


Anti-nuke protesters gather outside shuttered San Onofre

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-- Abby Sewell, reporting from San Onofre

Photo: Activists hold a news conference near the San Onofre nuclear plant to discuss why they think it should be shut down. Credit: Christina House / For The Times