NRC meeting to hear comments on future of San Onofre nuclear power plant

Steam rises between reactors 2 and 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente, CA.
Steam rises between reactors 2 and 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente, CA.
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Here's the issue at hand for Nuclear Regulatory Commission: should Southern California Edison – which operates the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station – make the repairs needed so the power plant can generate electricity again.

The NRC will hold a public meeting in Dana Point Tuesday night to hear public comment on that question and many others.

One of the biggest source of power in Southern California, the nuclear plant has been shut down since January after a small amount of radioactive steam leaked from one of its two reactors. The leak was traced to unusually rapid wear in steam generator tubes that had been replaced over the past two years.

The meeting at the St. Regis Hotel gives South Orange County residents who live near the plant a chance to speak to the NRC panel. It also gives Southern California Edison, the plant operators, the opportunity to present its plan to restart one of the twin reactors in San Diego County.

In a letter last week, Edison outlined a proposal to restart the Unit 2 reactor at 70 percent power for five months, and then shut it down to determine if operation at lower power slows the tube wear problem.

Any restart at San Onofre needs the approval of the NRC, and that won't come tomorrow. The NRC intends only to listen at the meeting.

“Nothing will be decided," said NRC spokeswoman Lara Uselding. "There’s no decision to be made at this time as far as restart. There will be more meetings as we get closer to that point.”

But even setting up a meeting where nothing will be decided has taken some four months. There’s been contentious debate over just about everything, from the meeting format – first a roundtable, then open discussion - to the price of parking - now 5 dollars.

Gene Stone lives in San Clemente, just three and a half miles north of the nuclear power plant. He founded a group called Residents Organized for a Safe Environment; it steadfastly opposes Edison’s plans to restart San Onofre ever again.

Stone worked with the NRC to plan the Tuesday meeting.

“It’s an experiment. They’re asking to experiment with our lives, our safety, our children, our food, our homes and our economy,” said Stone.

Stone said the NRC has vowed to answer every question Tuesday night, meaning the three and a half hours allotted for the meeting might not be sufficient.

“This should maybe be a little bit long but it should be a very interesting meeting," said Stone. "But also it will be somewhat historic to have all sides at the table.”

Stone says the last San Onofre meeting in June was so crowded that the fire marshal showed up.

The NRC promises this time it will have enough space, with room for more than a thousand people.