NRC Proposes No Safety Threat Finding With San Onofre

Edison International’s request for a license amendment for a proposed restart of its crippled California nuclear reactor doesn’t pose significant safety risks, federal regulators said in a preliminary finding.

Edison’s request to operate its San Onofre reactor at reduced power does not involve an increased risk of an accident or create the possibility of a new or different accident from those previously evaluated for its license, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in an e-mailed document.

Edison asked the commission to make the determination as part of a request to restart its Unit 2 reactor at 70 percent power by June 1 to meet summer power demand, the Rosemead, California-based company said in a statement on April 8. The nuclear plant, located 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of Los Angeles, has been shut since January 2012 after Edison found unusual wear on steam generator tubes.

The NRC may approve Edison’s license amendment before the 60-day waiting period normally required after a notice is published if no hazards are found, the agency said. The public will have 30 days after the finding is published in the federal register to comment on the NRC’s conclusion before the agency makes a final determination. The document will be published next week, said Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the NRC.

Without a finding of a significant hazard, the NRC can issue a license amendment before holding a public hearing, Shaun Burnie, director of nuclear campaigns at Friends of the Earth, said in a telephone interview.

“It’s a get out of jail free card,” Burnie said. Edison didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Challenging Deadline

An approval of the amendment won’t allow the plant to restart, the NRC has said. The agency will make a separate determination of the utility’s restart plan and it may be challenged in meeting Edison’s June deadline, Doug Broaddus, chief of the San Onofre special-projects branch for the NRC, said at an April 3 meeting.

Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, faulted the agency’s preliminary finding.

“The NRC staff proposal, which could pave the way for the restart of the San Onofre nuclear power plant before the investigations of the crippled plant are completed, is dangerous and premature,” Boxer, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said today in a statement.

She also said the plant is in an area that’s at risk of an earthquake and tsunami. Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, joined Boxer in criticizing the agency.

Gas-Fired Plants

Power grid operator California ISO has had to dispatch more emissions-intensive, gas-fired electricity generation in San Onofre’s absence.

NRG Energy Inc.’s gas-fired plants in California have been dispatched two to three times more often in the past year because of the shutdown at San Onofre, John Chillemi, senior vice president and president of West Region for NRG Energy, said during a power conference in San Francisco Feb. 26.

Spot natural gas at Southern California’s City Gate hub climbed 6 cents to $4.26 per million British thermal units today, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Futures based on California carbon allowances for December 2013 delivery climbed 5 cents to $14.40 per metric ton, the highest since March 21, according to data compiled by both Atlanta-based IntercontinentalExchange Inc. and CME Group Inc. in Chicago.

Boxer and Markey yesterday asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to delay a decision on the plant’s restart until an “expansive investigation and safety review” are complete.

In a letter dated yesterday, the lawmakers asked the commission to respond to their request by today.

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