In yet another major setback for the scandal-plagued San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) has ruled that the power plant may not open without a full public review.
In doing so, the panel of federal judges granted a petition filed by the environmental lobbying organization Friends of the Earth, which argued that Southern California Edison (SCE), which operates the plant, had failed to account for damage to steam generator tubes in its latest safety reports to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, (NRC).
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The ASLB's ruling derails SCE's hope of swiftly restarting SONGS this summer and was heralded as a major victory by the plant's opponents, who are calling it a "stunning rebuke."
"This ruling is a complete rejection of Edison's plan to restart its damaged nuclear reactors without public review," Damon Moglen, Friends of the Earth's energy and climate director. "The ASLB has announced that the restart plan is an 'experiment' and calls the tube wear at San Onofre's defective steam generators 'unprecedented,' as we have asserted all along."
Because of rising costs associated with the plant's shuttered status--it hasn't been producing power for more than a year--SCE officials recently acknowledged that if it isn't back online they may simply shut SONGS down for good. While the ASLB's ruling clearly makes that outcome more likely, it's too soon for environmentalists to celebrate. Following a public review, the NRC could still grant a permit allowing the plant to restart, assuming it believes SCE's claim that doing so would pose no danger to the public. SCE says if it does restart SONGS, it will operate the plant at only 70 percent power.