U.S. Senator wants reassurance that nuclear power plant is safe prior to restart

U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on Oct. 4 wrote a letter to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Allison MacFarlane requesting the regulator be certain the shut down two-unit, 2,200 MW San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in California is safe before the agency gives Southern California Edison (SCE) permission to restart Unit 2.

“The NRC’s focus must be on fulfilling its safety mission and providing the millions of people who live near San Onofre with the peace of mind that the reactors are safe,” Boxer wrote. “I want to make certain that the NRC fully understands the causes of the unusual tube deterioration , is confident that the plant can be safely restarted given the current condition of the tubes, and has determined that the facility can be safely operated in the future.”

The NRC also on Oct. 4 received a proposed action plan from SCE that includes operating Unit 2 at SONGS at reduced power for five months. SCE must first receive approval from the NRC to operate Unit 2 at 70 percent power for the five-month period, after which it would shut down for an inspection to examine the steam generators again.

The NRC said it expects to spend several months reviewing documents submitted by SCE and performing a thorough and independent assessment prior to making a decision about restart.

In a September Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, MacFarlane told the committee, “We will not let them start up unless we are absolutely convinced that it is safe to operate,”  according to Boxer’s letter to the NRC boss.

Unit 3 was shut down Jan. 31 after a leak in the steam generator led to the discovery of unexpected wear on tubes inside the generator. Unit 2 was offline at the time for planned maintenance, and inspection of that unit revealed the same tube wear. In June, NRC said faulty computer modeling inadequately predicted conditions in the generators and manufacturing issues contributed to excessive wear of the components. Unit 3 remains shut down indefinitely.

Boxer requested that McFarlane respond in writing before Oct. 12.

To read the entire letter, click here.

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