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Days after Senator Barbara Boxer called for a full federal investigation of the troubled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station on San Diego’s northern coastline, it appears that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is set to act, pushing back an already-delayed decision on whether to allow plant operator Southern California Edison to proceed with a plan to restart one of the nuclear reactors under reduced power on a test basis.

The issue prompting the call from Boxer and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) was the leak of an internal memo suggesting that Edison and defective steam generator manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries were aware of design flaws before the generators were even installed. Four such generators have found to be heavily damaged in the span of less than two years’ operation, and the plant has been in a state of emergency shutdown since January 2012, when one of the generators failed and a small amount of radiation was released.

“The NRC confirmed that an expansive investigation is underway into the completeness and accuracy of information that Southern California Edison provided to the NRC related to the replacement of the steam generators. The NRC has also confirmed that it is reviewing the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' Report to determine whether Southern California Edison fully complied with its legal obligations,” offered Boxer in a release over the weekend.

For its part, Edison quickly refuted the claims of Boxer and Markey, calling them “simply not accurate . . . [Edison] would never, and did not, install steam generators that it believed would not perform safely.”

Meanwhile, officials from the state’s electric grid are preparing for what they believe could likely be a second straight summer without the availability of power generated at San Onofre. California’s Independent System Operator is also planning for a future without San Onofre, in the event that the plant never comes back online, or does so only to be shuttered again when its operation licensed expire in less than 10 years.

“The situation without San Onofre will remain fragile, but we should be able to get through that,” ISO president Steve Berberich told Reuters.

A decision on Edison’s restart proposal, originally expected in March, has now been pushed back to late April or May, and the new investigation could further delay any final answers on the plant’s immediate future.

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Comments

monaghan Feb. 11, 2013 @ 1:26 p.m.

Is this good thing, or is it a form of temporizing, delaying, putting off a decision that should have been made yesterday? San Onofre's been closed for one year already.

The new investigation "could further delay" any final answers on San Onofre's future? Could this be a dodge enabled by Senator Boxer and Congressman Markey? Decisions "pushed back" to late April or May sometimes become stealth actions taken in the summertime when all the watchdogs are on vacation. I am not reassured.

San Onofre is no less safe for anyone living within range of the installation -- online or off. Authorities should act decisively, shut it down, and then figure out what to do with spent radioactive materials at the site.

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Dave Rice Feb. 11, 2013 @ 7:06 p.m.

Well, the NRC had already delayed a restart decision until April or May - this pushes it out even further. And my suspicion is that the deeper into summer the state goes, provided there's no major power shortage that strains the grid, the more public opinion turns against restart.

So far as waste storage, there's no plan for what to do with those, nor does it seem like anyone's pursuing one with what could be called a sense of urgency. New next-generation nuclear plants fueled by waste from the old ones could be a partial answer, but given the current political climate good luck getting any new reactors built.

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