Momentum Builds to Quiet SONGS


In the wake of a ruling requiring public input before the ailing San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station restarts, a local advocacy group aims to collect 5,000 signatures from residents on a petition seeking the plant’s permanent closure.

San Clemente Green is also asking residents who live in the fallout zone of the nuclear power plant south of San Clemente to make time to attend a public meeting over a proposed license amendment by the plant’s operator, Southern California Edison. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has scheduled the meeting for June; the day and place have yet to be announced.

“It’s the final NRC meeting that’s public in our area before a decision is made on restart.  It’s our last big chance,” said Gary Headrick, San Clemente green organizer, who pressed regulators for public hearings after a radiation leak last year.

The plant, which operated two nuclear reactors that provided electricity to 1.4 million homes, was closed in January of 2012 due to radioactive gas leaking from worn tubes. Last summer, no blackouts occurred when the plant was offline, though the utility stepped up outreach to residents to curb power usage.

Last month, the city of Los Angeles voted to oppose restarting the plant. Laguna Beach and other Orange County cities last year took a softer stand, pressing for stepped up safety measures at the plant, known as SONGS.

In its ruling on Monday, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, an arm of the NRC, sided with environmentalists in ruling that the proposed restart of the Unit 2 generator would require detailed public hearings.

As of Tuesday, though, the regulatory agency had yet to comment on whether it will follow the ruling, said Victor Dricks, a NRC spokesman for the southwestern region.  “It’s too soon to say how the agency will respond regarding the hearing opportunity,” said Dricks.  “We’re studying the decision by the ASLB.”

Berkeley based Friends of the Earth formally challenged the utility’s plan to restart the plant at reduced power, which was outlined in an NRC letter to Edison last March.

Edison said the generating unit could run for at least five months at 70 percent power to determine its viability. Independent studies commissioned by Edison predict more tube failure, said Chris Prelitz, president of Transition Laguna Beach, a local group dedicated to ecologically sustainable lifestyles.  “The experts only diverge on that failure happening within two and a half months or, at the most, one year.  It’s time to take San Onofre down.”

Headrick said the ruling recommending public input is “not a sure deal.” “It would be hard for the NRC to go against what they recommended,” said Headrick. “It would look like they’re favoring the industry if they question that.”

If continued public hearings are called for, Headrick said they could last a year. In the meantime, Edison customers continue to bear the $54 million cost of maintaining a non-producing plant and of buying replacement energy, he said.

The California Public Utilities Commission conducted public hearings in San Francisco this week reviewing the rates, operations and facilities at the San Onofre power plant. Archived videos are at the CPUC’s website.

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