Just days after Southern California Edison asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to repair and start the Unit 2 reactor, then run it at reduced power, the agency is facing pressure from groups critical of the nuclear power industry to initiate a review that could take months or even years to complete.
The NRC is "denying the public any meaningful voice" in the review to restart the plant, which has been shuttered since January, Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Committee to Bridge the Gap said in a joint statement.
The NRC has promised a transparent, thorough review of the proposal, which focuses on how the utility will fix faulty steam generators installed during a $670 million overhaul.
"We don’t experiment with safety," NRC Regional Administrator Elmo Collins told reporters Monday.
The environmental groups are pushing the federal agency to require Edison to seek an amendment to its operating license to restart the plant, a process that could take up to two years.
In a March letter, federal regulators outlined a series of benchmarks Edison must reach to restart the plant, includ-ing determining the cause of vibration and friction that damaged scores of steam generator tubes, how it would be fixed and then monitored during operation.
Those requirements, however, did not involve amending the plant’s operating license.
"This significant change rises to the level of a license amendment proceeding in which, by law, the public is enti-tled to participate," the groups said.
Collins said Monday it’s an "open question" if the agency will require a license amendment.
Anti-nuclear activists have argued for months that restarting the plant, located between San Diego and Los Ange-les, would invite catastrophe. About 7.4 million Californians live within 50 miles of San Onofre’s twin domes.
Tests found some tubes were so badly corroded that they could fail and possibly release radiation, a stunning find-ing inside the nearly new equipment.
Edison’s proposal calls for operating Unit 2 at up to 70 percent power for five months then shutting it down for inspections.
The future of the heavily damaged Unit 3 reactor is not clear.