NRC: So. Calif. nuke plant can't restart

April 7, 2012 at 12:46 PM
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SAN ONOFRE, Calif., April 7 (UPI) -- A California nuclear power plant won't restart until officials figure out the cause of equipment problems, the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.

The San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California has been shut down since Jan. 31, when a steam tube in a nuclear reactor began leaking and released a small quantity of radioactive steam, the Los Angeles Times reported. Since then, unexpected wear has been found in more than 300 tubes in the plant's two reactor units.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who toured the plant Friday, spoke with Southern California Edison officials about the unusually rapid wearing of the tubes, which carry radioactive water.

The NRC, which has a team of inspectors at the site, won't let Edison, the operator, restart either of the plant's working reactor units until the cause of tube wear is determined and the issue is addressed.

Tubes in one reactor had been vibrating and rubbing against one another, while tubes in another reactor had been rubbing against support structures but not one another. Officials haven't figured out the cause of excessive vibration.

Jaczko said he hopes at least one reactor is operating again by June.

Energy industry leaders have said a heat wave in Southern California could lead to energy shortages if San Onofre isn't back online.

Some residents and officials have expressed concern about the safety of the plant, and activists rallied on the beach next to the plant Friday.

Referring to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan last year, Patti Davis, a 52-year-old mother of three from San Clemente, said, "We want to prevent San Onofre from being our Fukushima."

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