By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
August 21, 2012, 1:06 a.m.

Southern California Edison announced plans to cut nearly one-third of its workforce at the troubled San Onofre nuclear plant, raising new questions about whether the plant will ever return to full operations.

The planned reduction of about 730 employees announced Monday will bring the plant’s staffing down to 1,500. Details of the cuts will be worked out later this year, company officials said.

Edison said in a statement that the company had begun plans to downsize more than two years ago after concluding that San Onofre’s staffing and costs were “significantly higher” than at similar nuclear plants.

In documents filed with the California Public Utilities Commission in 2010, the company outlined a projected reduction of 500 workers by October 2012. No staffing cuts have actually taken place since then, Edison spokeswoman Jennifer Manfre said.

On Jan. 31, a steam generator tube leaked, releasing a small amount of radioactive steam. The leak led to a complete shutdown of the plant and the eventual discovery of excessive wear on hundreds more tubes in the newly replaced steam generators. The outage has now stretched on for more than six months with no clear end in sight.

Manfre acknowledged that the plant’s recent troubles influenced the decision on the number of jobs to be eliminated.

In a statement, Edison said, “The steam generator issues at [the plant] also require that SCE be prudent with its future spending while SCE and regulators review the long-term viability of the nuclear plant.”

Company officials have said that they hope to submit a restart plan for Unit 2 to theU.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissionby the end of the year, but have backed off from making any projections about if or when Unit 3 might return to service.

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