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Uncertainty clouds future of Calif nuke plant

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 26, 2013 at 10:10 pm •  Published: February 26, 2013

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The mounting bill tied to the shuttered San Onofre nuclear power plant in California jumped to more than $400 million through December, as the company that runs it contends with costly repairs and a host of questions about its future, regulatory filings and officials said Tuesday.

The seaside plant between Los Angeles and San Diego was sidelined in January 2012 after a tiny radiation leak led to the discovery of unusual damage to hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water inside its steam generators.

Edison International, the parent of operator Southern California Edison, said replacement power cost reached $300 million through Dec. 31, while repairs and inspections hit $102 million.

The figures come as SCE pushes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to restart one of the twin reactors, Unit 2, and run it at 70 percent power for five months in hopes of ending vibration and friction blamed for tube damage.

Meanwhile, state regulators are determining if ratepayers should be hit with costs tied to the shutdown, the NRC's investigative arm is looking into information Edison provided to the agency on the generators and environmental activists are pressing to have the plant shut down permanently.

"The scope of necessary repairs for the steam generators ... or the length of the units' outages could prove more extensive than is currently estimated," company documents said.

"The cost of such repairs or the substitute market power that must be purchased during the outage could exceed estimates and insurance coverage, or may not be recoverable through regulatory processes or otherwise," Edison added.

Regulatory filings also said SCE's insurance coverage for wildfires that could arise from its operations might not be sufficient.

In a conference call with Wall Street analysts, Edison Chairman Ted Craver said the company hoped the Unit 2 reactor could be online by summer but noted that preparations are being made if that doesn't occur.

"We are convinced it is safe to run the unit," he said.

The NRC Tuesday also released Edison's response to a thorny question on the plant's ability to run safely at full power.

Even though the restart calls for a trial run at reduced power, the NRC staff last year said that operating rules require San Onofre to ensure generator tubes don't break during "the full range of normal operating conditions," including at full power.

That appeared to raise an obstacle to the proposed restart. The NRC said it wanted the company to demonstrate that Unit 2 could meet that threshold, or explain how generator tubes would interact with each other if the plant is operating at maximum capacity.

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