* SCE wants to restart San Onofre in June
* License request opens 30-day public comment period
HOUSTON, April 8 (Reuters) - Southern California Edison, operator of the damaged San Onofre nuclear station in California, submitted a license amendment request late last week to speed regulatory approval to restart one reactor in June, the company said on Monday.
SCE, a subsidiary of Edison International, wants to operate Unit 2 at 70 percent power for five months as a way to prevent additional degradation of thousands of tubes inside the unit’s two steam generators.
Both units at the 2,150-megawatt San Onofre nuclear station, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, have been shut since January 2012 following a small radioactive steam leak at Unit 3 which indicated a serious problem with accelerated degradation of tubes in the units’ brand new steam generators manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
The utility has asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to act on the amendment by the end of May to allow the restart process to begin by June 1. SCE said it wants the unit to be available to bolster grid reliability in Southern California when power demand climbs with warmer weather and increased air conditioning use.
SCE wants to run Unit 2 for five months at a reduced rate of 750 megawatts, then shut it to inspect for further tube wear.
The utility said three independent companies with nuclear expertise have confirmed it is safe to operate Unit 2.
The license amendment seeks approval to continue to operate the unit at reduced output for the remainder of the unit’s 18 to 24-month fuel cycle.
At a public meeting with NRC officials last week, utility officials said Unit 2 would probably shut four or five times during that period.
This differs from SCE’s proposed restart plan which only seeks an initial five-month operating period, according to the NRC.
The agency will evaluate the license amendment request separately from the restart plan. Granting of the license amendment will not guarantee San Onofre 2 can restart, NRC officials said.
The license amendment submission will trigger a 30-day period for public comment.
Anti-nuclear group Friends of the Earth said the license change request from SCE seeks to divert attention from unresolved safety issues at the plant and discrepancies among experts hired by the utility to assess the impact of operating the unit at less than full power.
Operating Unit 2 at a reduced rate “impacts the safety of the entire reactor, so all related safety issues must be considered in a review of the operating license,” Friends of the Earth said in a statement.
Separately, U.S. Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts said he asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to look into Edison’s disclosure of steam generator design problems at San Onofre before the equipment was installed.
In a response letter to Markey, SEC Chairman Elisse Walter said it is up to the company to disclose key information to investors.
SCE operates San Onofre for its owners: SCE (78.21 percent), Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas & Electric (20 percent) and the city of Riverside (1.79 percent).