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Southern California Edison, operator of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station on San Diego County’s northern coast, has come forward with the long-awaited plan to resume power generation activities at the plant.

Edison’s plan is to restart the Unit 2 reactor, which was out of commission for scheduled maintenance when a tube burst at one of the twin Unit 3 reactor’s steam generators and released small amounts of radiation, forcing both reactors into a state of emergency shutdown. Unit 2, which did not suffer such a failure, though abnormal tube wear was discovered at hundreds of points, would run at only 70 percent capacity under the theory that the reduced load would lessen the vibration thought to be the culprit behind premature tube wear and eventual failure.

If all goes well for five months, the reactor would once again shut down for re-inspection to examine the generator tubing and determine whether the reduced load had successfully stopped the excess vibration. Unit 3 would remain shut down pending further examination.

This is not an experiment,” says Pete Dietrich, Edison’s chief nuclear officer, pointing to independent analysis and repeated inspections of the thousands of tubes that comprise the four generators at the two reactors. “We have taken this seriously.”

Nuclear critics, who have advocated for measures ranging from further study to a permanent shutdown of the facility, disagree.

“They don't know how to fix the reactor, so they're just going to slow it down and see what happens,” charges Donna Gilmore of San Onofre Safety, who claims that to resume power generation would “allow Edison to make Southern California a nuclear experiment.”

Regardless of whether or not the decision is made to restart Unit 2 (Unit 3 will definitely remain shuttered at least through next summer), a final ruling will not come quickly. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chair Allison Macfarlane says the federal agency will spend months reviewing any plans for future operation at the plant before blessing Edison’s petition.

Photo by awnisALAN via wikipedia.org

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