*See next page for an update on new developments in this story.
Original Post, April 9, 4:56 p.m.: For months, Southern California Edison has been desperately trying to find ways to restart the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The troubled nuke plant has been shut down for more than a year, ever since strange vibrations were found to be causing damage to cooling tubes that help the reactor from overheating. So it's no surprise that the company has formally requested permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Agency to bring the plant back online as early as June of this year.
The company claims that by operating the facility at only 70 percent of capacity, no danger would be posed to public safety. But environmental groups challenge that claim, saying that SCE still has no solution to the problems that led to the plant being shut down in the first place.
"The San Onofre nuclear plant is the largest source of baseload generation and voltage support in the region and is a critical asset in meeting California's clean energy needs," the company states in a press release. "According to testimony filed by SCE for its General Rate Case and as part of a report prepared in 2010 by IHS Global Insight, operating the nuclear plant directly generates economic activity worth on average $2.2 billion per year. The impact grows to $3.3 billion per year if secondary economic effects are considered, which include the supply chain purchases of businesses supported by the nuclear plant and spending by those employed by the plant.'
But Friends of the Earth spokeswoman Kendra Ulrich blasted SCE's efforts to get the NRC to sign off on restarting the San Onofre plant as "rubber stamp" request. "Its request is a red herring to divert attention from major unresolved safety issues and circumvent meaningful public participation," she argued. "It would be an outrage and a betrayal of the public's trust if the NRC were to concede to Edison's demands."
Update, April 17, 12:30 p.m.: The NRC is giving preliminary approval to SCE's request to restart its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at 70 percent capacity later this summer by opening public comments on the matter. Environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOTE) immediately blasted the news as evidence that the NRC was simply going to "rubber stamp" the plant's reopening.
"If the preliminary ruling stands, the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, a division of the NRC, can grant a license amendment before a formal public hearing of the evidence that the reactors are dangerously damaged," the group argued in an April 16 press release.
Kendra Ulrich, a nuclear campaigner with FOTE, also argued that running the plant at reduced power doesn't mean that the company has solved the problems--excessive wear on cooling tubes--that shut the plant down in the first place. "The problems that have kept San Onofre shut down for more than 15 months remain unresolved and unrepaired, and the damage will continue if the reactor is allowed to restart," she said. "Edison's own experts disagree with one another as to the cause of the damage, but agree that the reactor's steam tubes will be in danger of bursting in a matter of months. And the Nuclear Reactor Regulator says this poses no hazard?"