FOE wins at ASLB; San Onofre case treated as license amendment

The NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) has agreed with a Friends of the Earth (FOE) petition last year that restart proceedings for San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS) Unit 2 should be treated as a license amendment case.

As a result, FOE has the right to a public hearing before NRC could approve restart of the unit at 70% power. The May 13 ruling is a blow to Edison International (NYSE: EIX) subsidiary Southern California Edison (SCE) and its hopes to get the unit operating this summer.

The licensing board said that restart of Unit 2 would grant SCE authority to operate without the ability to comply with all applicable technical specifications and allow SCE to operate beyond the scope of its existing license.

SCE is seeking to restart the reactor although it says it cannot run normally at 100% power and this limitation should trigger a license amendment, ASLB said in its ruling.

“If, pursuant to the CAL process, the NRC Staff were to authorize SCE to operate Unit 2 at a power limit not to exceed 70%, this condition would result in a deviation from the technical specification requirement that tube integrity be maintained over the ‘full range of normal operation conditions’ up to 100%,” ASLB said.

It should be noted that the utility moved to “voluntarily” submit a license amendment request prior to the recent ASLB decision. SCE is hoping for expedited consideration of the Unit 2 restart, saying the facts have been before NRC for months already.

Friends of the Earth filed case in 2012

The Friends of the Earth had filed a petition in November 2012 challenging aspects of a confirmatory action letter (CAL) issued by NRC to Southern California Edison.

The ASLB has been asked to decide whether the action letter constituted a de facto license amendment request that would be subject to a hearing under the Atomic Energy Act. The licensing board agreed that it is a license amendment proceeding and is subject to a hearing.

San Onofre is located near San Clemente, Calif. Units 2 and 3 are pressurized water nuclear reactors (PWRs) with two steam generators per unit.

In September 2009, SCE shut down Unit 2 for a scheduled refueling outage and the replacement of its steam generators to resolve corrosion and other degradation issues in the original steam generators, which had been in service for nearly 30 years. The steam generator replacement was completed at Unit 2 in spring 2010.

A similar steam generator replacement project and refueling outage commenced at Unit 3 in October 2010. Unit 3 returned to full power in March 2011.

The replacement steam generators for Units 2 and 3, which were manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), differ in design from the original steam generators.

Trouble was detected in January 2012 when SCE shut down Unit 2 for a scheduled refueling outage and steam generator inspection. On Jan. 31, 2012, while Unit 2 was still shut down, Unit 3 operators received secondary plant system radiation alarms, diagnosed a steam generator tube leak of approximately 82 gallons per day, and shut down Unit 3 as required by plant procedures, ASLB said.

SCE inspections discovered extensive tube-to-tube wear at Unit 3. The problem was less significant in Unit 2.

On March 23, 2012, SCE submitted to the NRC Staff a “Steam Generator Return-to-Service Action Plan.” Within days NRC staff issued a written CAL that confirmed the actions SCE would take prior to restarting either unit.

In June 2012, Friends of the Earth submitted a hearing request to NRC saying that the CAL process should be treated like a license amendment proceeding.

Meanwhile, consistent with its commitment in the CAL, on Oct. 3, 2012, SCE submitted a CAL response to the NRC Staff entitled “Unit 2 Return to Service Report.” In that report, SCE said it would limit Unit 2 to 70% power prior to a mid-cycle inspection outage.

Oral arguments on the FOE case were held at NRC’s Rockville, Md., headquarters on March 22 of this year. During oral argument, SCE announced that it was “considering filing a voluntary license amendment request.”

SCE’s most recent assessment after operating for less than two years, says that tube integrity for the Unit 2 steam generators can be guaranteed only for another 11 months of operation at 100% power.

This lack of ability to run normally at 100% should trigger a license agreement, ASLB said.

The ASLB case was heard by Chairman Roy Hawkens and fellow administrative judges Anthony Baratta and Gary Arnold.

Docket Nos. 50-361-CAL, 50-362-CAL ASLBP No. 13-924-01-CAL-BD01.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at