Monday, May 20, 2013

NRC Chief Makes Statement on San Onofre Hearings

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane issued a statement Monday on the decision to hold court-like license amendment hearings on restarting the troubled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

read the statement: NRC Chief Makes Statement on San Onofre Hearings - Top News - San Clemente, CA Patch

Atomic Safety & Licensing Board Issues Decision on San Onofre, Sides with FOE and NRDC

In the ongoing saga of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and its faulty steam generators, on May 13, 2013 an Atomic Safety & Licensing Board panel of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission delivered answers to a set of questions posed by the Commissioners .Those answers side with the arguments made by petitioner Friends of the Earth (FOE), and NRDC, which filed a separate amicus brief in support of FOE, demanding a public contested license amendment proceeding to weigh restart of either unit with impaired primary cooling.
To recap briefly, the San Onofre site installed two steam generators in September 2009 (Unit 2) and October 2010 (Unit 3) to replace the previous generators that operated for nearly thirty years. The generators use thousands of thin metal tubes, containing high-temperature pressurized water that transports heat from the reactor core, to generate the steam that turns the plant’s electricity-producing turbines. As noted by the Board, these tubes “serve critical safety functions” and “are essential for maintaining primary system pressure and coolant inventory.” This also means that they provide a necessary boundary between the radioactive fission products in the coolant and the outside environment.
The new steam generators differed in a number of aspects from those they replaced, but the plant’s operator, Southern California Edison (SCE), convinced the NRC staff that a license amendment was not required because the replacements were a “like-for-like” change. Fast forward to January 2012, when SCE experienced a steam generator tube leak (approximately 82 gallons per day) and subsequently discovered that both steam generators were experiencing unprecedented “tube-to-tube” wear, producing a premature thinning of the tube walls at levels normally expected after decades of operation. As a result, both reactor units were shut down, and in March 2012 SCE submitted a “Steam Generator Return-to-Service Action Plan” to the NRC, describing actions the company committed to take before restarting Units 2 and 3. Later that month, NRC Staff issued a Confirmatory Action Letter (CAL) stating their understanding of the actions SCE was proposing to take prior to restart, which under this plan would require only the approval of NRC staff.
In June of 2012, FOE petitioned the NRC to hold a hearing on NRC Staff’s issuance of the CAL, and a few days later NRDC responded with a brief supporting the petition. FOE asked the Commission to recognize that the CAL process for start-up of Units 2 and 3 constitutes a de facto license amendment. The effect of such a request, if granted, would be that the reactors cannot restart unless Edison first obtains a license amendment pursuant to an adjudicatory public hearing in which FOE and other members of the public may participate. In November, the Commission certified this question to the Board – is the CAL process a de facto license amendment?  The Board heard argument from FOE, Edison, NRC Staff, and received “friend of the court” submissions from NRDC and the Nuclear Energy Institute.
On March 22, 2013, the Board held an oral argument in Rockville, MD, where SCE and FOE presented their cases. In their nearly 40 page decision issued May 13, the Board ruled that for three independent reasons, the CAL process constitutes a de facto license amendment proceeding that is subject to a hearing opportunity under Section 189 (a) of the Atomic Energy Act.
The board further stated that “the parties in interest should be afforded a meaningful opportunity to request a hearing before the NRC Staff takes final action that could result in authorizing SCE to operate in a manner that is beyond the ambit of its existing license.”
To complicate matters further, on April 8, after the oral argument but before the Board’s decision issued, SCE sought to preempt the Board’s ruling by filing a narrow license amendment request establishing a separate—but clearly related—path to restart of Unit 2. What remains to be seen is whether this evolving web of Board rulings, license amendment requests, and ultimately Commission decisions will allow SONGS to restart Unit 2, and whether that action will follow exercise of the public’s right to a hearing that addresses the technical safety and regulatory compliance issues at issue.
See Devra Wang's blog for a look at how California may replace the San Onofre plant without more polluting power plants.
Atomic Safety & Licensing Board Issues Decision on San Onofre, Sides with FOE and NRDC | Jordan Weaver's Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC

No comments:

Post a Comment