Last month, SCE asked federal regulators for permission to restart the Unit 2 reactor and run it at reduced power. A decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not expected for months.
Edison's proposal was denounced by environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists who have argued for months that restarting the plant would invite catastrophe. About 7.4 million Californians live within 50 miles of San Onofre, which can power 1.4 million homes
“The key remains their acknowledgment that both units need repair or replacement of their steam generators, but they want to run Unit 2 for a while without those repairs or replacement,” said Daniel Hirsch, a lecturer on nuclear policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who is a critic of the nuclear power industry.
“It certainly isn't a sign that `safety is our No. 1 priority' if they know the steam generators need repair or replacement and are going to run Unit 2 with the crippled steam generators anyway,” Hirsch said in an email.
Company engineers suspect that running the unit at lower power will stop vibration that has caused excessive wear to scores of tubes that carry radioactive water.
The outlook for heavily damaged Unit 3 is murky, and no decision on its future is expected until at least next summer.
Last week, the California Public Utilities Commission opened an investigation to determine whether ratepayers should bear costs tied to a plant that has been shut down most of the year.