Ruling on SONGS Could Delay Restart

A panel of experts within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ruled plans that could allow a reactor at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station to run under reduced power amount to a license amendment requiring a potentially lengthy hearing process that could delay the restart planned for this summer.

Recently installed steam generators at both SONGS reactors experienced premature tube wear that has kept the plant idle for more than a year. With peak summer demand just around the corner, Southern California Edison planned to restart unit 2 temporarily at partial power after meeting the inspection and technical requirements outlined in an NRC confirmatory action letter related to the steam generators.

Friends of the Earth sought to stall or halt a restart, and on Tuesday the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board sided with the environmental group, according to an NRC release.  Whether the ruling on the hearing requirement for the confirmatory action letter will actually delay a restart, though, is uncertain. The board's decision can be appealed to NRC commissioners. Further complicating the matter, SCE has pursued a second track to restart the reactors, filing for an amendment to unit 2's license that potentially could allow it to restart before a hearing takes place.

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  • Anonymous

    This is a bizarre situation

    If I choose to drive my car below the speed limit in California, do I need a special permit?

  • Anonymous

    The problem is NOT the speed. The car may be a little sick but sure can limp along at 70% alright. The driver is the problem. You have heard the term "regulatory confidence" or "public confidence" before, right? Both the NRC and the public have no faith whatsoever in Edison to drive this limping handicap at any speed. At least that's the sentiment right now. The public prefers to take the key away from Edison and pay extra to scrap the junk. The NRC would be the wiser to heed this public outcry. Allow SONGS to run would add nothing positive to NRC. However, if they let it run and that results in any problem, the NRC would take all the blame. If I was the NRC this "all risk, no reward" decision is a no brain-er. For the sake of the people at SONGS, where I have worked many years, and still have friends working there, I hope they get to run at least one unit at reduced power. But even I have concern about the leadership. Someone at Edison should be held accountable for a series of one bad decision after another. If they can't figure this out, I wouldn't trust them to run the plant either.

  • Anonymous

    What "panel of experts" made this ruling?  I thought the Commissioners made the rules and the staff made recommendations.

    I would think a CAL (confirmatory action letter) limiting the unit to 70% power and requiring a shutdown and inspection after X months might obviate the need for a license amendment.

  • The "panel of experts" referenced in the introduction is the ASLB. It functions like a quasi-independent judicial body within the NRC that conducts hearings, determines if technical requirements are met in license applications and conducts some of the other arcane decision-making processes within the agency. It is much more powerful than the staff, yet most of the issues it touches on are still subject to approval by the commission itself. In this case, the commissioners kicked the decision on the CAL down to the ASLB for a ruling on whether the federal code did or did not call for a hearing in this one-off situation. (Here is the release: The process is more complicated than this, but the only thing I can think of to compare it to would be a city council referring a dispute in the local land-use code to the city's planning commission for an advisory vote. Ultimately, the council has the authority to do what it wants, but it will usually defer to the expertise of its advisory body. Hope that helps.


    Nuclear Street News Team

  • Anonymous

    I'm sorry is NS siding with FoTE ? The ASLB is not "siding" with, the environmental group . . .

    Quoted > "The ASLB judges determined that the process the utility is going through to restart the reactor is “effectively a license amendment proceeding,” which gives the public a right to an “adjudicated hearing.”

    For those of you who would like to know what the NRC "really" said , read the pdf from the NRC website here >

    This is the last updated statement from the NRC on their PUBLIC page . . . . .. HELLOOOOO

    The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board’s Decision

    in the San Onofre Confirmatory Action Letter Adjudication

    In March 2012, the NRC issued to Southern California Edison Company a Confirmatory Action Letter in which the NRC confirmed its understanding of several actions Edison would take with respect to its steam generators before restarting San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, Units 2 and 3.

    Shortly thereafter, petitioner Friends of the Earth filed a hearing request that challenged aspects of the Confirmatory Action Letter.

    As part of its hearing request, Friends of the Earth had argued that the Confirmatory Action Letter process is a de facto license amendment that would be subject to a hearing opportunity under the Atomic Energy Act (AEA).

    Friends of the Earth also proposed at that time a related contention, arguing that San Onofre should not be allowed to restart without a license amendment and associated adjudicatory hearing.

    Late last year, the Commission referred a portion of Friends of the Earth’s hearing request to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel, directing the Panel to consider whether: (1) the Confirmatory Action Letter constitutes a de facto license amendment that would be subject to a hearing opportunity under the AEA; and, if so, (2) whether Friends of the Earth’s hearing request satisfies the NRC’s standing and contention admissibility requirements.

    On Monday, May 13, a three - judge Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued a decision resolving the issues referred to it by the Commission. In particular, the Board held that the Confirmatory Action Letter process in this case constitutes a

    de facto license amendment proceeding that is subject to a hearing opportunity.

    The Board also dismissed Friends of the Earth’s contention.

    The contention sought a hearing opportunity which the Board found to be appropriate. The Board therefore found Friends of the Earth’s contention to be “moot,” since the Board ’s resolution of the first issue gave Friends of the Earth their requested relief. The NRC is now considering the ramifications of the Board’s newly - issued decision, and the path forward. Appeals of the Board’s decision may be filed with the Commission within 25 days (by June 7, 2013),

    pursuant to the agency’s rules of practice in 10 C.F.R. § 2.341.

    Also under the agency’s rules, the Commission itself may review the decision on its own motion.


  • FOTE sought to force a hearing on the CAL, and the ASLB found that a hearing is called for. At the end of the day, this opens another potential avenue for FOTE to stall the restart. Thank you for your additional analysis, Anonymous. Rest assured NS shares your desire to see those units back in service as soon as possible to fill their critical role in the California power market.


    Nuclear Street News Team