Southern California breaking news and trends

San Onofre problems prompt possibility of policy change

San Onofre Nuclear Plant

Grant Slater/KPCC

The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant is seen on April 6, 2012.

A rule allowing nuclear plant operators to replace certain equipment without prior approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is being reconsidered.

Speaking in North Carolina on Wednesday, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said the tubing trouble at San Onofre suggests the rules under which the generators were installed may need to be modified, the Associated Press reported.

The twin reactors, offline for months, will need federal approval to restart.  Plant operator Southern California Edison hoped to reopen in time for summer's peak energy use, however no projected timeline has been released.

Earlier this week, NRC Chairman Jaczko announced he will be stepping down from his post.

After nearly eight years on the Commission, I am announcing my resignation as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, effective upon the confirmation of my successor. My responsibility and commitment to safety will continue to be my paramount priority after I leave the Commission and until my successor is confirmed. 

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Fairewinds report blasts safety claims at San Onofre nuclear plant

Grant Slater/KPCC

The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant is seen on April 6, 2012.

San Onofre is twisting in the breeze of the new Fairewinds safety report released by activist group Friends of the Earth.

The study raises serious doubts about safety at the Southern California nuclear facility, and says running at reduced power will not solve the tubing trouble that has plagued the plant.

Southern California Edison recently disclosed a tentative plan to run the twin reactors at an unspecified lower power, at least for several months. 

Engineers believed reduced power would ease the vibration causing the unusual deterioration of tubes inside the steam generators.

The Fairewinds report, however, says running at reduced power may actually make the damage worse and increase the possibility of cascading safety failures. 

The report also expands a previous allegation that Edison misled federal regulators about modifications to the generators. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) disputes that claim.

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San Onofre trouble prompts visit by NRC Chairman Jaczko

David McNew/Getty Images

With both of San Onofre's reactors powered down, the troubled nuclear power plant by the sea is about to get a visit from the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it was announced on Wednesday.

The visit by NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko emphasizes the concern over safety and equipment that began in January with a radioactive steam leak.

Since then, the commission determined that tubes carrying hot, pressurized, radioactive water inside the steam generators were deteriorating at a dangerous and unusual rate at least in part because they are rubbing against each other.

Amid reports that the nuclear plant misled federal regulators about equipment changes, the plant was barred last week from restarting operations until the situation is understood and resolved.

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San Onofre nuclear plant not allowed to reopen pending fixes, say feds

David McNew/Getty Images

Citing critical concerns about equipment failure, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has barred SoCal Edison from restarting the San Onofre nuclear plant at this time, the L.A. Times reports.

Trouble at San Onofre has been ongoing since January's radioactive steam leak, and the commission has been trying to determine why tubes carrying hot, pressurized, radioactive water inside the steam generators are deteriorating at a dangerous and unusual rate

On Tuesday, the cause of the tube trouble was addressed in a letter federal regulators sent to Edison.

Officials said the wear in both Unit 2 and Unit 3 was caused by vibrating tubes rubbing against each other. Additionally in Unit 3, the tubes were rubbing against support structures, according to the NRC. It was still unclear why it was happening.

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San Onofre reactors down indefinitely, power shortages possible this summer

David McNew/Getty Images

Like the forthcoming tans of a rapidly approaching summer, hopes are fading that the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station will be functional by the time peak summer usage rears its sweaty head.

With San Onofre's nuclear reactors offline indefinitely -- Unit 3 was shut down following January's radioactive leak and Unit 2 is offline for maintenance -- local agencies are scrambling to strategize a way of handling the upcoming summer demand to avoid shortages or blackouts.

Preliminary plans were discussed Thursday at a meeting to address the power supply issue.

State regulators may need to bring in electric generators via barges, or un-retire closed power plants to make up for lost electricity. Officials at the California Independent System Operator meeting said an extended heatwave or surge in usage may still cause outages.

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