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Associated Press
Gregory Jaczko, right, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, gets a briefing Friday at the San Onofre nuclear plant in southern California.

California nuclear plant idled

Problems with San Onofre’s reactors studied

– The twin reactors at the San Onofre nuclear plant have been sidelined, more than 300 tubes that carry radioactive water will be scrapped because of excessive wear, and investigators are trying to figure out why tubing is rattling inside the plant’s massive steam generators.

How sickly is San Onofre? The chief of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission got a firsthand look Friday, at a time when some officials in nearby communities have been calling for the plant to shut down permanently because of safety concerns.

Following a tour of the troubled San Onofre nuclear plant, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the plant will remain offline indefinitely until the cause of unusual tube wear in the plant’s steam generators is determined.

Gregory Jaczko promised a thorough probe of suspect tubing Friday and said there will have to be a “clear understanding” of the cause of the problem before either of the twin reactors is restarted.

The reactors at the plant located between San Diego and Los Angeles have been shut down for more than two months. Jaczko says there is no timetable to restart the plants but left open the possibility that Unit 2 could be restarted more quickly.

He made his comments after a tour of the plant with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

The visit to the seaside plant, located between San Diego and Los Angeles, comes 10 days after the NRC announced that San Onofre will remain dark until operator Southern California Edison fixes the widespread problem with tubing that carries radioactive water.

The high-profile trip also underscores the concern inside the federal agency tasked with ensuring the safe operation of the nation’s commercial nuclear industry.

SCE has assured its customers that the reactors will not be restarted until that “it is safe to do so,” and no date has been set.

State energy officials have warned of rotating blackouts in the power-hungry region if a heat wave hits while the plants are offline – San Onofre can power 1.4 million homes.

The troubles began to unfold in late January, when the Unit 3 reactor was shut down as a precaution after a tube break in one of the generators. Traces of radiation escaped, but officials said there was no danger to workers or neighbors.

Unit 2 was taken offline earlier that month for routine maintenance and refueling. But investigators later found unusual wear on tubing in both units. The company has said 321 tubes that were heavily damaged will be plugged and taken out of service at the two reactors, well within the margin to allow them to keep operating.

Gradual wear is common, but the rate of degradation at San Onofre has been unsettling to officials since the equipment is relatively new – the generators were installed in 2009 and 2010.