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Despite a recent finding that radiation detectors had been offline for months at the time of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown without officials noticing, and the manufacturer of malfunctioning steam generators reporting it won’t conclude its analysis of the units until August, Southern California Edison is moving forward with a plan to restart operations at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station as early as next month.

Edison wants to operate the units at a level below peak generating capacity, believing that the lower power output would reduce vibrations that are suspected as the root cause of wear to tubes that carry radioactive steam, many of which show signs of premature wear that have caused some to fail following a $670 million overhaul of the plant in 2009.

“We have honed in on the cause of the tube wear and believe that we have a proposal,” said Stephen Pickett, an executive vice president with Edison, in an interview published in U-T San Diego. The company intends to present its plan to resume operations to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by mid-May, with power generating activity to begin as early as June 1.

A Los Angeles Times post reports that a recent quarterly earnings statement from Edison shows the company expects to incur $55-65 million in costs related to inspection and repair of the damaged systems, which they hope to recover from manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries under a warranty. The utility has also spent at least $30 million so far in securing power from other sources to replace San Onofre’s generating capacity, a cost which continues to climb as the plant remains offline and is not covered under Mitsubishi’s equipment warranty.

Nuclear power critics are already moving to condemn Edison’s accelerated time line for resuming operation.

“It's pretty clear on the political side that this is Edison's attempt to strongarm the NRC into giving rapid approval,” said nuclear consultant Shaun Burnie, with the environmental group Friends of the Earth. His group has issued reports alleging that the designers of the failed generators intentionally sidestepped Nuclear Regulatory Commission review, and doesn’t believe operating under partial power is an acceptable solution to the premature wear and failure problem.

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Comments

tomjohnston May 4, 2012 @ 10 a.m.

The article I read indicates that the reactors would run at reduced power, probably 50% to 80%, and would be taken out of service for inspections a few months later and that while "it's possible" the plants will never be able to return to full power, for the immediate future, operating the plant at less than full capacity is the only way to ensure that the issues do not resurface. Because Mitsubishi's warranty does not cover replacement power, some or all of that $30 million for replacement power cost could be passed on to ratepayers. "To the extent that the plant is not operating at full power, replacement power will have to be acquired elsewhere, so those costs will continue to rise," Pickett said. In addition, again according to the artilce I read, Edison has characterized the problem as a "manufacturing defect" but has yet to determine whether the issue was caused by design problems or by the way the equipment was put together. As an aside, according to what I have read, Shaun Burnie of Friends of the Earth holds a degrees in Modern History from Polytechnic of North London and Strategic Studies from Kings College at the University of London. I'm not quite sure how that qualifies him to be an expert on the nuclear industry.

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Visduh May 5, 2012 @ 9:12 p.m.

This "plan" to run at reduced power is about the same as trying to run on a damaged tire at a reduced speed. The difference is that the driver with the damaged tire is going to have to get it replaced, and knows that already. He/she is just driving it slow until he/she can get to a spot to have it replaced. In this scheme there is no plan to drive the power station to a safe place where the switchout can be accomplished. They're making no arrangements to get it fixed. Instead the effort will be to run the plants at a reduced level and watch them closely for an indefinite period. That would be like planning to drive slowly and wear that tire out over another 30 or 40 or 50,000 miles. No rational driver would ever propose a thing like that--and very few irrational ones would attempt it either. But the brilliant nuclear engineers and 'crats at SCE are proposing nothing any better. We all thought they were smart enough to run a nuke plant properly, and now we see that they are clueless. Makes you feel really good about the local energy supply, doesn't it?

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