Irvine City Council approves 'letter of concern' about San Onofre nuclear plant

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The Irvine City Council voted Tuesday night to send a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over concerns related to the operation of the San Onofre nuclear plant.

The plant has been shutdown since January because of problems with unusual tube wear in steam generators.

More than 200 people packed the council chambers for a public hearing on the mostly symbolic letter.

The letter does not formally oppose the relicensing of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which one council member suggested, but highlights concerns over the plant’s operation.

But the council wants the NRC to consider the need for permanent off-site storage for spent nuclear fuel to be identified as a condition for relicensing. They say spent fuel rods stored at San Onofre is a concern. The Council also wants the federal agency to to expand the emergency planning zone to 50 miles from the current 10 mile radius.

The five-member city council also requested the NRC prevent the plant from restarting the nuclear plant until the federal regulator can provide assurances the problems with tube wear, which has forced the plant offline, will not happen again during the last ten years of the licensing period.

During the public hearing, people voiced concerns about evacuation plans, earthquake hazards, health effects of nuclear radiation and safety issues. Many came from San Diego and Riverside Counties.

Arnie Gundersen came from Vermont to testify. He’s a former nuclear engineer who says plant operator, Southern California Edison, made design changes which caused the current problems.

“It’s the beginning of a movement nationwide to tell the NRC that business as usual just isn’t good enough anymore," Gundersen said.

Veronica Gutierrez with Southern California Edison says the company isn’t worried about relicensing just yet.

“We really are now focused on the safe operation of that plant and summer reliability. Those are the two things that are paramount right now," she said.

She says the company has moved up completion of a transmission line which can be used to move power to Southern Orange County and San Diego if the facility remains offline.

The council members acknowledged they have no regulatory power to close the plant. But Councilman Larry Agran says he’s worried about public safety should something disastrous happen at the nuclear plant.

“So if we don’t speak up about that and take those responsibilities seriously, we might as well give up on local government," he said.

In the meantime, the San Onofre facility remains shutdown as inspectors continue to look for the causes of unusual tube wear in the plant’s steam generators.

Correction: The original story indicated the Irvine City Council's letter to the NRC opposed relicensing of the San Onofre nuclear plant, which it does not. We regret the error.

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