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An environmental watchdog group has penned a letter critical of several key points of the plan issued by Southern California Edison, operators of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, to resume power generation activities at one of the plant’s two troubled nuclear reactors.

David Lochbaum, writing for the Union of Concerned Scientists, calls on the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to codify several points prior to continuing any restart.

He notes, for example, that there was a considerable difference in the wear patterns and overall damage to the two new steam generators at Unit 2, which did not actually fail and release radiation as Unit 3 did, but was found to have suffered abnormal wear in the short time it was operational. “Until the reason for this marked difference between the wear degradation for the Unit 2 replacement steam generators is understood, the operational assessment performed for future operation is suspect,” says Lochbaum.

Further, though Edison promises to run the generator at only 70 percent power for 150 days, but there is no formal agreement in place to allow for such operation or penalty should Edison decide to exceed the agreed-upon power generation cap. “The NRC has licensed San Onofre Unit 2 to operate at 100% power. What would legally prevent the owner from restarting Unit 2 and increasing its output to the NRC-licensed limit?” Lochbaum asks.

His letter further questions the science behind the selection of the 70 percent operational level and the arbitrary 150 day test period, saying that there was no justification given at all for the five-month period of operation in Edison’s 80+ page restart plan, nor was there any official Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirement in place that would force the power company to stop operations and re-inspect if the plant were to operate safely for the time period given.

The Commission has said it will spend several months considering the case for resuming operations at San Onofre, and other groups are expected to weigh in during that time. Meanwhile, the California Independent System Operator continues to plan for a 2013 summer without electricity flowing from the twin domes along San Diego’s northern coastline.

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