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San Onofre nuclear power station restart opposed by environmental group

Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, made its case to federal regulators last week that Southern California Edison should be prohibited from restarting the San Onofre nuclear power plant unless it undergoes a trial-like hearing process. San Onofre (Google Map) has been shut down for almost a year (1, 2, 3) as the result of unusual wear on tubes that are part of steam generators that Southern California Edison replaced in 2010 and 2011 and which resulted in a small leak of radioactive steam last January! The Wednesday meeting between a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission review board and Friends of the Earth is only the latest step in a dispute that has occurred over six months.

LATimes.com says:

An NRC investigation found that the issues arose because computer modeling by manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries failed to accurately predict the flow of steam and water in the generators, leading the tubes to vibrate excessively and rub against support structures and adjacent tubes.

Friends of the Earth alleges that the “root cause” of the issue was design changes ordered by Edison, and that the company should have requested a license amendment for the changes made between the old and new steam generators.

If the NRC petition review board agrees, the group argued, it should take enforcement action by suspending the plant’s license until Edison applies for a license amendment for all the design changes.

Edison applied for and received a license amendment for the replacement steam generators by NOT for the design changes. The new steam generators use a different alloy for the tubing as well as an increased number of tubes and have changes in the support structures. Edison said that the design changes were for performance improvements and are in line with industry standards. LATimes.com continues:

But Arnie Gundersen, a consultant for Friends of the Earth, contended that a more thorough review of the changes by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission might have prevented the defects.

“In the past 10 years, nobody has screwed up a piece of equipment more than the steam generators at San Onofre,” Gundersen told the board.

An NRC investigation found that the issues arose because computer modeling by manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries failed to accurately predict the flow of steam and water in the generators, leading the tubes to vibrate excessively and rub against support structures and adjacent tubes.

A separate but related petition by Friends of the Earth is pending before another NRC board. Meanwhile, the commission is also reviewing Edison’s restart plan for San Onofre and may make a decision on that issue in March.

-Bill at

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