DANA POINT, Calif. - Questions about evacuation plans, whether it was a gamble to restart the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station and more technical queries were posed Tuesday evening at a public meeting held by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Dana Point.
Many of those who attended were plant employees, who cheered loudly when overseers stressed the importance of safety and jeered some more skeptical residents.
A panel of experts, residents and government officials served on a panel that fielded the questions.
"Whether you believe it or not, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not promote ... or oppose" nuclear energy, the commission is just concerned with the plant's safety, said Elmo Collins, the commission's regional administrator.
Grace Van Thillo, a San Clemente resident, who was on the panel, said she opposes Edison's plan to restart the generators.
"We demand a full, transparent, adjudicatory hearing," that would function like a court trial and would consider the plan to restart the plant, Thillo said.
Another panelist, Rochelle Becker of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, said Edison should not be allowed to pass on the costs of fixing the plant to rate payers.
"We are the rate payers of California and we are tired of paying for Edison's mistakes," Becker said.
Mission Viejo Councilman Dave Leckness and Laguna Niguel Mayor Paul Glaab, who is also the chairman of the Orange County Transportation Authority, praised Edison.
"We're all concerned with safety, that's pretty obvious, but we should also have confidence in the NRC and Edison," Leckness said. "They have a good track record in our city."
Leckness said he toured the plant last year when he was mayor.
"I've seen the safety up close and I was very impressed," he said.
Collins told reporters Monday that the agency "has several months of work ahead of it before any decision can be made" on reopening the power plant in northern San Diego County, south of San Clemente in Orange County.
"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will not grant approval for the resumption of power operation unless we have confidence that the facility can be operated safely," Collins said.
Southern California Edison, which runs the Northern San Diego County plant and co-owns it with San Diego Gas & Electric and the city of Riverside, submitted a plan to the commission last week, proposing to restart one of its two power generators at 70 percent power for a trial period of five months, followed by more inspections. The plant then would be shut down again for more inspections.
Edison has no immediate plans to restart its other generator, saying it needs further inspection, analysis and testing.
Called Unit 2 and Unit 3, the plant's power generators were deactivated in January. Unit 2 was taken offline Jan. 9 for planned maintenance, while Unit 3 was abruptly shut down Jan. 31 after a leak was detected in one of its steam generator tubes.
A small amount of radioactive gas was released but the leak was not significant enough to endanger workers or the public, according to Edison.
The leak in Unit 3 was caused by tube-to-tube wear due to a phenomenon called "fluid elastic instability," Edison reported months after the plant closure. The utility said a combination of high-steam velocity and low moisture conditions in specific locations of tube bundles and ineffective tube support systems in the same bundle locations causes the phenomenon and subsequent wear, leading to leaks.
Unit 2 was also susceptible to the same vibration-causing environment but to a lesser degree than Unit 3, SCE executives said, noting Unit 2 can be safely restarted at 70 percent power without triggering fluid elastic instability. Some critics contest the assertion, saying the designs of the units are essentially the same.
Edison's restart plan also envisions installing early warning monitors on the unit that can detect extremely small leaks faster and plant employees receiving additional training on how to respond to a leak.
"We have full confidence in our restart plan," said Jennifer Manfre of Edison, who added the utility has no control over how long it will take for the commission to make a decision on reopening the plant.
Tuesday's meeting in Dana Point also included, San Onofre Chief Nuclear Officer Pete Dietrich, Robert Oglesby and Ed Randolph of the California Public Utilities Commission, as well as several area residents and nuclear energy activists.
Twenty percent of the power produced at San Onofre went to SDG&E prior to the plant being shuttered. The impact of the lack of service over the summer was compensated for by the recent opening of the 117-mile Sunrise Powerlink transmission line, which transmits solar and wind energy from Imperial Valley to San Diego.
Officials with SDG&E said the new line provides twice as much energy as the utility previously received from San Onofre.