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DANA POINT, Calif., Oct 9 (Reuters) - A plan by SouthernCalifornia Edison to reopen its crippled San Onofre nuclearpower plant, whose outage has increased the chance of power cutsin the region, is not certain to be approved, the U.S. NuclearRegulatory Commission said.
"It is far from a done deal," NRC regional administratorElmo Collins said on Tuesday at a meeting held to hear localconcerns. "We will take the time we need. We do not experimentwith safety."
Residents and anti-nuclear activists at the session saidfederal officials should conduct a thorough investigation beforeagreeing to any reopening. A capacity crowd of 1,600 includedconstruction 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 the1,070-megawatt Unit 2 at San Onofre nuclear station, saying itwill run the unit at 70 percent of capacity for five monthsbefore shutting it to inspect wear on damaged tubes.
"We demand a full, transparent adjudicatory hearing andlicense amendment process, including an evidentiary hearing andsworn testimony and cross-examination," said Grace van Thrillo,a local resident who testified before the panel. "We cannot beexperiment waiting for more radiation leaks."
Critics said SCE's plan was an experiment that couldendanger 8 million people living nearby, citing the lack ofrepair work planned to address vibration that led tubes to rubagainst each other and against support structures inside thegenerators.
"The decision to keep an ageing nuclear power plant limpingalong despite major problems is like a problem many of us facewhen we have an old car," said Donald Mosier, a pathologist atThe Scripps Research Institute. "This car is ready for thejunkyard."
Both San Onofre nuclear units have been shut since Januaryfollowing a small radioactive steam leak at one unit thatpointed to a problem with accelerated degradation of tubes inthe units' brand new steam generators.
San Onofre is the biggest power plant in SouthernCalifornia. Its closure forced the state grid operator to takesteps to bolster the power grid during the summer when customersuse air conditioning to escape the heat.
"As a concerned citizen, when are we going to get our powerback?" asked Richard McPherson, former U.S. representative atthe International Atomic Energy Agency and resident of nearbyLaguna Nigel.
"The delays are hurting the economy in California. We needto get this power plant back on-line as quickly as we can. It isa technical issue. We know how to solve technical issues."
Ken Schultz, a recently retired nuclear engineer, said theradiation impact of living near the plant "would be likespending 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 plantsin the 1970s, when governor Jerry Brown joined "no-nukes"activists in opposing construction of Diablo Canyon nuclearstation on the Central Coast. Seismic safety worries played aprominent part in the campaign.
But the plant went ahead and nuclear power today generatesabout 15 percent of California's electricity.
The license for San Onofre expires in 2022.
(Reporting By Nichola Groom ands Eric Kelsey; Edited by RonaldGrover)