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2:30 p.m., May 23
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station operator Southern California Edison announced today that more damaged tubes in its steam generators have been discovered, this time at the plant’s Unit 2 reactor, which the company has been moving toward reactivating, as recently as last week with the apparent blessing of Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko.
The Unit 3 reactor was put into emergency shutdown after several tubes burst in late January, leaking radioactive water. Unit 2, however, was already shut down for routine maintenance at the time.
“All of the generators are exhibiting the same kind of wear, though the wear in unit 3 is more excessive than in Unit 2,” says Commission spokesman Victor Dricks of the latest discoveries.
Friends of the Earth, a nuclear watchdog group, says the new findings back up its push for a more extensive investigation into the generators, which were redesigned without Commission oversight.
“Southern California Edison continues to try to downplay the issue, even as they finally admit the truth - there is no difference between reactors 2 and 3 and they have the same problems,” said Shaun Burnie, a nuclear expert with Friends of the Earth.
With reactivating either of the San Onofre units off the table for the immediate future, power officials are looking ahead to the summer. Peak demand during coming hot days may put customers at risk of blackouts, particularly in San Diego, described as an “isolated cul-de-sac” in a 14 state power grid.
Plant operator AES Southland is scrambling to re-activate two 1960s-era natural gas plants in Huntington Beach that had recently begun the decommissioning process. It’s hoped that they will be back online within a month, though even in combination with three other regional plants in Otay Mesa, Carlsbad, and near Escondido and several smaller “peaker” plants some experts have expressed concern over the ability to meet summer’s peak demands.