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San Onofre seeking license change to operate at partial power

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The operator and majority owner of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station announced Monday that it has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to amend its license to allow it to restart one of its two reactors at 70 percent power.

Southern California Edison's draft license amendment seeks to change a technical section requiring structural integrity of steam generators from "across the full range of normal operating conditions" to compliance at 70 percent power. It also includes a promise that power would not exceed that amount, which equates to 3,438 megawatts thermal.

Another license section, which currently states that the reactors are allowed to operate at 100 percent power, would be changed to 70 percent power, or 2,406.6 megawatts thermal.

Edison requested that the NRC rule on the proposed amendments by May 24. The utility's plan to restart the plant at a lower power had been known previously.

The nuclear power plant on the northern San Diego County coastline has been shut down since January 2012, when a small, non-injury leak occurred in one of the reactors. The other one was undergoing maintenance and was not operating at the time.

An investigation found that vibration caused premature wear in steam generator tubes.

SCE said operating Unit 2 -- the reactor where the leak did not occur -- at a lower power level would allow it to supply electricity to the region during the summer months without causing any potential damage to the tubes.

"Since last fall, SCE has provided the public and the NRC with detailed analyses from global experts that support safe restart of Unit 2," said Ron Litzinger, SCE president. "We are considering the proposed voluntary amendment

as the best path to get Unit 2 safely up and running before the hottest months of the year hit our region."

Edison officials plan to speak with NRC regulators at a meeting this week in Maryland before making the license amendment request official.

SCE wants to operate the reactor at 70 percent for five months, then shut it down so its steam generator tubes can be inspected. The reactor would resume at 70 percent for 18-24 months while officials use the inspection data to determine a safe long-term operating level.

Friends of the Earth, an anti-nuclear group that opposes a restart and wants tighter scrutiny of San Onofre's license, contends Edison is trying to avoid a safety review and public hearing.

"The NRC must stand firm and demand a comprehensive license amendment process that includes all safety issues and the opportunity for a full public hearing," said Kendra Ulrich, nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

Unit 2 is "a severely damaged reactor that is unsafe to operate," she alleged.

Also Monday, leaders of 23 environmental organizations sent a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, urging them to continue their regulatory oversight by requesting a comprehensive license amendment process for San Onofre by the NRC.

San Diego Gas & Electric owns 20 percent of the plant and receives one-fifth of the generated electricity.

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