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DANA POINT, Calif., Oct 9 (Reuters) - A plan by Southern California Edison to reopen its crippled San Onofre nuclear power plant, whose outage has increased the chance of power cuts in the region, is not certain to be approved, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.
"It is far from a done deal," NRC regional administrator Elmo Collins said on Tuesday at a meeting held to hear local concerns. "We will take the time we need. We do not experiment with safety."
Residents and anti-nuclear activists at the session said federal officials should conduct a thorough investigation before agreeing to any reopening. A capacity crowd of 1,600 included construction workers and electricians who work at the plant.
SCE, a unit of power company Edison International , last week submitted a plan to regulators to restart the 1,070-megawatt Unit 2 at San Onofre nuclear station, saying it will run the unit at 70 percent of capacity for five months before shutting it to inspect wear on damaged tubes.
"We demand a full, transparent adjudicatory hearing and license amendment process, including an evidentiary hearing and sworn testimony and cross-examination," said Grace van Thrillo, a local resident who testified before the panel. "We cannot be experiment waiting for more radiation leaks."
Critics said SCE's plan was an experiment that could endanger 8 million people living nearby, citing the lack of repair work planned to address vibration that led tubes to rub against each other and against support structures inside the generators.
"The decision to keep an ageing nuclear power plant limping along despite major problems is like a problem many of us face when we have an old car," said Donald Mosier, a pathologist at The Scripps Research Institute. "This car is ready for the junkyard."
Both San Onofre nuclear units have been shut since January following a small radioactive steam leak at one unit that pointed to a problem with accelerated degradation of tubes in the units' brand new steam generators.
San Onofre is the biggest power plant in Southern California. Its closure forced the state grid operator to take steps to bolster the power grid during the summer when customers use air conditioning to escape the heat.
"As a concerned citizen, when are we going to get our power back?" asked Richard McPherson, former U.S. representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency and resident of nearby Laguna Nigel.
"The delays are hurting the economy in California. We need to get this power plant back on-line as quickly as we can. It is a technical issue. We know how to solve technical issues."
Ken Schultz, a recently retired nuclear engineer, said the radiation impact of living near the plant "would be like spending one day a year in Denver or taking one airplane flight. I do not see these as serious safety issues".
California banned construction of new nuclear power plants in the 1970s, when governor Jerry Brown joined "no-nukes" activists in opposing construction of Diablo Canyon nuclear station on the Central Coast. Seismic safety worries played a prominent part in the campaign.
But the plant went ahead and nuclear power today generates about 15 percent of California's electricity.
The license for San Onofre expires in 2022.
(Reporting By Nichola Groom ands Eric Kelsey; Edited by Ronald Grover)