Nuclear plant in U.S. Southern California undergoing safety check amid rising concern

13:51, March 17, 2011      

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Amid rising concern about nuclear safety following the massive earthquake that triggered a nuclear-power crisis in Japan, a nuclear plant in Southern California is undergoing an urgent safety check, authorities said on Wednesday.

The City Council in San Clemente where the plant is situated has asked operators of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station to provide safety assurances, officials said.

Japan's unfolding nuclear-power crisis has prompted some residents in San Clemente to submit requests to the City Council, calling for suspension of San Onofre's operating license beyond 2022, or even to shut it down now, city officials said.

Mayor Lori Donchak restated an earlier call for the creation of a leadership council of elected officials and utility representatives to address nuclear questions on an ongoing basis.

Southern California Edison (SCE), which operates the San Onofre nuclear plant, is required to report to the city in 60 to 90 days on lessons that San Onofre has learned from the Japanese crisis, according to The Orange County Register, a local newspaper.

In a bid to ease concern, Pete Dietrich, SCE's chief nuclear officer at San Onofre, said San Onofre is designed to withstand the level of force unleashed by Friday's earthquake in Japan, which means that the plant can handle a 0.67 ground-acceleration earthquake, the equivalent of a 7.0-magnitude quake on the Cristianitos fault five miles (eight kilometers) offshore.

The 84-acre (34-hectare) generating station in the northern corner of San Diego County, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Los Angeles, was built 42 years ago.

Residents in Southern California have voiced concern that the nuclear plant would become a hazard if a quake bigger than 7.0 magnitude hit the area.

But SCE's spokesman Gil Alexander said the nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan won't happen here.

A 25-foot-high "tsunami wall" of reinforced concrete was erected between the plant and the adjacent ocean, a height based on scientists' best estimates of the potential threat, Alexander said earlier.

The geological fault most likely to directly threaten the San Onofre nuclear plant lies about five miles (eight kilometers) offshore, according to Alexander.

In addition to diesel generators, the plant has a battery system and a gravity-driven emergency cooling system, Alexander said.

"We will comb through the details of their emergency very carefully and whatever lessons can and should be applied here will be noted," he said. "That process will unfold very vigorously."

The San Onofre nuclear plant had three operating domes when built, but Unit 1 was retired in 1992. Spent fuel rods are stored there.

Annual energy output at the plant is the equivalent of that produced by 20 million to 25 million barrels of oil, SCE officials say. The plant generates 2,200 megawatts of electricity, about 20 percent of Southern California's usage, or enough to power 1.4 million homes.

Source: Xinhua

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