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A decision by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission on whether to allow Southern California Edison to partially bring its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station back online has been pushed back again, in order to give the Commission more time to review documents recently submitted to the agency. Prior estimates had pegged a decision date as coming in March, then late April, now no action is expected until May or June.

Plant operator Edison submitted a proposal in October to start the plant’s Unit 2 reactor at 70 percent power for a five-month test period to see if vibration damage to newly-installed steam generators could be stemmed under a reduced load, but the Commission wanted a commitment that the reactor could safely be operated under full power, per requirements of the plant’s licensing terms. On March 15 Edison supplied a report predicting that such operation would be safe for a period of at least 11 months.

Gary Headrick, co-founder of the environmental group San Clemente Green with his wife Laurie, isn’t so sure about the utility’s power of prediction.

“Four new steam generators had a design flaw that underestimated the extreme forces in the system by 400% and failed in less than two years instead of forty, says Headrick in a recent mass e-mail. “They also predicted massive blackouts if they went off line, especially during the summer, but the lights are still on more than a year later.”

His group is calling for a full license amendment hearing to weigh the risks and benefits of restart, something nuclear watchdog and environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth have asserted should have been required before the redesigned generators were installed in 2009 and 2010.

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