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NRC chief: No hearing required at ailing Cal nuke

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not decided whether it will hold a public hearing on a plan to restart the troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant in California, the nation's top nuclear regulator said Tuesday.

NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane told reporters in Washington, D.C., that she is aware of strong public interest in California and among some members of Congress for a public hearing, but added that a ruling this week by an NRC licensing panel does not require such a hearing be held.

"There are potential opportunities for public hearings," Macfarlane told reporters after a speech to the nuclear industry. She called the situation at San Onofre complex with "multiple moving parts right now."

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, an independent arm of the agency, sided Monday with environmentalists who have called for detailed public hearings on Southern California Edison's restart proposal.

Macfarlane's statement appears to put her at odds with U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who said in a statement Monday that the board's decision established "a legal framework for a full public hearing before any final decision on the restart of the San Onofre nuclear power plant is made."

The plant between San Diego and Los Angeles hasn't produced electricity since January 2012, after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusual damage to hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water.

Edison wants to run the Unit 2 reactor at no more than 70 percent power for five months, which it projects will stop damage to its steam generator tubing that sidelined San Onofre more than a year ago.

In its ruling, the licensing board called Edison's restart plan an "experiment."

Macfarlane says with or without a public hearing, a decision on the restart plan will not be made until at least late June.

In a brief statement, Southern California Edison said it's evaluating the board's ruling.

The company noted it had separately submitted paperwork to change the seaside plant's operating rules to permit the single reactor to run at reduced power, down from the now-required 100 percent. Parent company Edison International raised the possibility last month of retiring the plant if it can't get one reactor running later this year.