SAN ONOFRE (CNS) - The troubled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station will remain offline until the troubles with the plant are fully diagnosed and corrected, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered this week in a letter to Southern California Edison.
Unit 3 of the plant south of San Clemente has been shut down since Jan. 31, when station operators detected a leak in one of its steam generator tubes. Its two steam generators are undergoing extensive testing and inspections in order to fully assess their condition and the cause of the leak.
Unit 2 was taken down for planned maintenance Jan. 9.
Southern California Edison, which operates the facility, has said previously the plant would not return to operation until tests confirm it is safe.
An inspection team from the NRC has been at the plant overseeing the repair and inspection work.
Edison officials said today they were committed to working with the NRC to meet all requirements for restarting the plant.
"We welcome the NRC's letter, which is a formal step in the process of restarting Units 2 and 3," Edison President Ron Litzinger said. "Our number one priority is, and always has been, the health and safety of the public and our employees. The utility will only bring the units on line when we and the NRC are satisfied that it is safe to do so."
Edison has committed in writing to the NRC that it "will proceed deliberately and conservatively to implement these steps, always bearing in mind that safety is our first priority," according to the utility.
Meanwhile, the Friends of the Earth organization hired Fairewinds Associates, a firm that specializes in nuclear engineering and safety analysis, to review the San Onofre plant. The Fairewinds report accuses Edison of a lack of transparency about the problems and blames the utility for making modifications that led to the leaks.
"An investigation conducted by Fairewinds Associates has identified that a series of major modifications to the internal design of replacement steam generators in both San Onofre Units 2 and 3 are likely the cause of excessive wear, leaks and pressure test failures in the team generator tubes," the report reads.
The report goes on to say: "Despite Edison's rush to make an early restart of at least Unit 2 if not Unit 3, and the apparent relaxed approach of the NRC as to their role in the timing of any start up by Edison, Fairewinds Associates recommends that both San Onofre Unit 2 and Unit 3 remain shut down until the `root causes' of the nuclear power plant's rapid tube failures are understood and repaired, reliability is assured, and radioactive releases are prevented."
Edison spokeswoman Jennifer Manfre said the utility has "provided open and transparent information to the NRC."
Edison "has been communicating from the beginning that we're not returning 2 and 3 to service until we're satisfied it's safe to do so," Manfre said. "That's a testament right there to we're not putting a timeline on it. There's no deadline for safety."
The utility has "done quite a bit to educate people on what is happening," Manfre said.
In case the power plant cannot be fully operational for the summer, Edison is also considering "contingency plans" such as buying power from another source and encouraging more conservation among its customers, Manfre said.
"Right now it is March so we have some time to come up with some contingency plans," she said.