By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
January 15, 2013

The chief of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission made her first visit Monday to the troubled San Onofre nuclear plant, offering assurance that the facility will remain closed until its safety is certain but giving few hints about its ultimate fate.

NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane traveled to California for the first time since taking office in July to visit the closed plant and meet with elected officials, environmentalists and plant workers’ union representatives.

The plant has been shut for nearly a year because of unexpected deterioration of tubes in its four giant steam generators, replaced less than two years earlier. Officials learned of the unusual wear after a tube sprang a leak last January, releasing a small amount of radioactive steam.

The NRC is reviewing a restart proposal that plant operator Southern California Edison submitted for one of the plant’s two reactor units. The proposal entails running that unit at 70% capacity for five months in hopes that operating at reduced power will alleviate the conditions that caused the tubes to vibrate excessively and rub against support structures and adjacent tubes.

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