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Southern California Edison has moved forward with a plan first reported last week to take more than 1,300 tubes in the steam generators at San Onofre Nuclear Generating station offline. A total of 510 tubes at the Unit 2 reactor and 807 at Unit 3 have been plugged and removed from service. The total accounts for about 3.4 percent of more than 39,000 tubes that comprise the plant’s four generators, two at each reactor.

Despite the fix, no plan has yet been presented to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to restart operations at the facility, despite an earlier report that Edison could request permission to resume operations by mid-May and have the plant back online at reduced capacity as early as June. Southern California Edison’s corporate parent quickly backed off that statement, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission chief Gregory Jaczko called the move “clearly premature.”

Meanwhile, the previously mothballed AES Huntington Beach natural gas power plant went back online over the weekend, and will provide 440 megawatts of power, or enough to power about 280,000 homes, through the summer in an effort to mitigate the power loss from San Onofre remaining idled. The Huntington Beach plant, however, is scheduled to go offline for good in October, when a new facility in the City of Industry is scheduled to open.

In other San Onofre news, the California Public Utilities Commission has approved $64 million in seismic studies to determine potential impacts from earthquake faults surrounding the plant. The studies are being done as part of a drive to extend the operating licenses for the reactors beyond their current expiration dates in 2022, an issue we first reported on in 2010. Nuclear critics say the studies are needed even if the plant’s licenses are not extended, as large amounts of radioactive nuclear waste are stored on the site of San Onofre with no plans to move the material in the immediate future.

Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric customers will ultimately shoulder the cost of the studies. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography will participate in the studies of previously unaddressed offshore faults.

Similar studies have been approved for Diablo Canyon, the state’s other active nuclear plant. But unlike at Diablo Canyon, the Los Angeles Times reports that a peer review panel overseeing the studies will not report to the Public Utilities Commission, but instead to the Commission’s energy division director.

According to the Times, Administrative Law Judge Robert Barnett said the review process at Diablo Canyon had proved “cumbersome,” hence his recommendation for changes. Watchdog groups such as the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility bristled at the change, saying the group would have less independence and public access to the proceedings would suffer.

“After [Southern California Edison's] acceptance of defective steam generators, the Commission seems willing to accept SCE's seismic study scope and funding without a single seismic expert on staff,” says Alliance director Rochelle Becker. “At Diablo the Commission has the advantage of shared oversight of the California Coastal Commission, California Energy Commission, California Geological Survey and California Seismic Commission AND the Public Utilities Commission. Yet the CPUC's sister agencies play only an advisory role in the SONGS seismic review with ultimate authority resting in the hands of the Energy Division of the Commission.”

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