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Regulators deny group's request for San Onofre nuclear plant license review

Evening sets on the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County, south of San Clemente, California. The owners of the plant announced in June 2013 that the plant would be retired. Southern California Edison said Friday it would create an advisory panel as part of the decommissioning process.
David McNew/Getty Images
The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has denied an independent group's request for a hearing on the operating license for the San Onofre power plant in northern San Diego County.

Federal regulators have denied a group’s request for a judicial-style hearing on San Onofre’s operating license.

Hail Mary pass, David vs. Goliath…You can take your pick of analogies.

Observers always regarded the request from the San Diego-based watchdog, Citizens Oversight, as a long shot, and on Friday a Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel officially denied it.

The panel ruled that Citizens Oversight failed to meet the legal threshold for holding an evidentiary hearing.

The group had argued that under the new operating license, plant inspections wouldn’t have as many teeth.

"The changes proposed further obfuscates the operating license and puts more trust in the operators of the plant instead of requiring regulatory agency and public review," said Raymond Lutz, head of Citizens Oversight, in a submission to the NRC. "After the egregious mistakes by Edison in the recent steam generator replacement project, we need to put a stop to further reliance on the good intentions of the operator and maintain our options to provide needed oversight to these dangerous plants."

At a hearing earlier this month, lawyers for the NRC and the plant’s operator, Southern California Edison, argued that the group had missed the deadline to file paperwork and had no standing to demand a hearing because Lutz lives more than 50 miles from San Onofre.

RELATED: Citizen activist makes his case about San Onofre to Nuclear Regulatory Commission

This is by no means the end of the road for those who don’t want to see the plant turned back on. Another NRC panel is considering a request from the group Friends of the Earth; it argues that Edison should have to apply for a new operating license.

Separately, the NRC is also considering Edison’s proposal to restart San Onofre at reduced power. The agency has indicated that it could issue a decision as soon as March.

San Onofre has been closed since January after officials discovered a small leak of radioactive steam.

Friends of the Earth and Citizens Oversight want a license review, because unlike the re-start review, the license review requires a judicial-style hearing with testimony under oath.