Friday, June 7, 2013

Southern California Edison to Close San Onofre Nuke Plant, Due to Uncertainty over NRC's Decision

Residents in southern California had better hope it will be cool summer.

From CBS News (6/7/2013):

Calif. utility to retire troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant

LOS ANGELES The troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant on the California coast is closing after an epic 16-month battle over whether the twin reactors could be safely restarted with millions of people living nearby, officials announced Friday.

Operator Southern California Edison said in a statement it will retire the twin reactors because of uncertainty about the future of the plant, which faced a tangle of regulatory hurdles, investigations and mounting political opposition. With the reactors idle, the company has spent more than $500 million on repairs and replacement power.

San Onofre could power 1.4 million homes. California officials have said they would be able to make it through the summer without the plant but warned that wildfires or another disruption in distribution could cause power shortages.

It wasn't clear how electrical production from the plant would be replaced permanently. The California Public Utilities Commission said it will work with governments to ensure Southern California has enough electricity, which will require increased energy efficiency and conservation during peak usage, as well as upgrades to transmission and generation resources.

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.

The plant "has served this region for over 40 years," Ted Craver, chairman of SCE parent Edison International said in a statement. "But we have concluded that the continuing uncertainty about when or if (the plant) might return to service was not good for our customers, our investors or the need to plan for our region's long-term electricity needs."

SCE had been seeking permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to restart the Unit 2 reactor and run it at reduced power, in hopes of stopping vibration that had damaged the tubing.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is aware of Southern California Edison's plans to permanently shut down San Onofre, but we are waiting for formal notification of their decision," Victor Dricks, spokesman for NRC, told KNX1070.

Edison's stock price was up slightly in midday trading.

Friends of the Earth, an advocacy group critical of the nuclear power industry, praised the decision to close it.

"We have long said that these reactors are too dangerous to operate and now Edison has agreed. The people of California now have the opportunity to move away from the failed promise of dirty and dangerous nuclear power and replace it with the safe and clean energy provided by the sun and the wind," the group's president, Erich Pica, said in a statement.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said she's also relieved.

"This nuclear plant had a defective redesign and could no longer operate as intended. Modifications to the San Onofre nuclear plant were unsafe and posed a danger to the eight million people living within 50 miles of the plant," she said in a statement.

"Now that the San Onofre nuclear plant will be permanently shut down, it is essential that this nuclear plant be safely decommissioned and does not become a continuing liability for the community."

The problems center on steam generators that were installed during a $670 million overhaul in 2009 and 2010. After the plant was shut down, tests found some generator tubes were so badly eroded that they could fail and possibly release radiation, a stunning finding inside the nearly new equipment.

The four generators at San Onofre — two per reactor, each with 9,727 alloy tubes — function something like a car radiator, which controls heat in the vehicle's engine. The generator tubes circulate hot, radioactive water from the reactors, which then heats a bath of non-radioactive water surrounding them. That makes steam, which is used to turn turbines to make electricity.

Edison has argued for months that the Unit 2 plant could be safely restarted, but Craver recently raised the possibility of closing the plant because of lingering uncertainty about the future. The company had said little about the future of the heavily damaged Unit 3 reactor.

Questions arose over changes to the replacement generators — they were different than the originals, 23.6 tons heavier and hundreds of additional tubes were added as part of design changes.

San Onofre is owned by SCE, San Diego Gas & Electric and the city of Riverside. The Unit 1 reactor operated from 1968 to 1992, when it was shut down and dismantled.

I don't think SCE has agreed in any way that the reactors are too dangerous to operate, as Friends of the Earth (who invited former prime minister Naoto Kan as guest of honor in the recent anti-nuclear event) alleges. The company simply hates the uncertainty, particularly for the investors, over how the NRC decides. It is a financial decision.

Asahi Shinbun reports that SCE will sue Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for damages, but I don't see any mention of that in the US news. SCE is in no position to sue MHI, who built the steam generator in question. The specs were by SCE, and it was SCE that accepted the final products.

Asahi also says 1100 workers will be laid off.

(UPDATE) Asahi probably didn't read the local news well enough. KPBS reports (6/7/2013):

Ted Craver, Chairman and CEO of Edison International, parent company of SCE, ...said the company is pursuing efforts to get cost recovery from Mitsubishi, the Nuclear Industry Insurance Program and California ratepayers. Shareholders will cover the rest.

For whatever reason or unreason, the Japanese media is all abuzz about Mitsubishi Heavy Industries being sued for damages.

Mr. Craver also says the decommissioning fund for San Onofre is about $2.7 billion, about 90% funded.

$1 billion per reactor...


Anonymous said...

What will happen: just frack a little more gas…
Climate? Who cares?
Toxic chemicals in groundwater? Who cares?
Radioactive elements like radium leached by said chemicals? No problem…
(Regarding conservation, California is the only place on Earth where I saw 200 W incandescent light bulbs, go figure.)

Anonymous said...

If San Onofre is 40 yrs old it is a clunker at the end of its design life anyways. Its operator made a gross mistake in the design of the steam generators, which are bigger than the original ones (more steam = more $$$), and did not even report the design change to NRC.

The operator wanted to keep using those poorly designed untested steam generators on an experimental basis (!) -- whereby the residents nearby the plant would become guinea pigs. The have now given up, for $$$ reasons. In fact, if we took away all subsidies (including liability waivers and taxpayer funded nuclear waste permanent storage) all nuclear plants would close today.

San Onofre, sayonara.


Anonymous said...

If I recall correctly the average per capita energy consumption in the US is twice the consumption of other "developed" nations. Improving conservation on this kind of record should be *very* easy. Less heated open air private pools, less plane flights, less SUVs, less freezing temperature air conditioning could be a starting point.

Never heard of 200W light bulbs... impressive, although that chandelier sporting six 60W small bulbs beats it easily.

Anonymous said...

Why is ExSKF all of a sudden pro nuke? Very odd duck at times. You don't explain your odd contrarian positions very clearly. Who are you working for or just flakey?

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Linking the news of San Onofre closure is pro nuke?

Anonymous said...

Laprimavera, maybe you were mistaken to be pro-nuke because you pointed out the following "error" by FOE - and pointed it out quite correctly:

"I don't think SCE has agreed in any way that the reactors are too dangerous to operate ... It is a financial decision."

I'm sure glad that FOE is doing what it is doing. It is just the more unfortunate that Pica's statement about Edison's supposed agreement the plant is too dangerous is not exactly enhancing his or, generally, the anti-nuclear movement's credibility.

Anonymous said...

Maybe another reason this post looks a little pro nuke is that, at least in my eyes, it seems regretting that 1) shareholders might be footing part of the bill (who else should pay for SCE betting incorrectly on going unpunished for a shoddy steam generator?), 2) that many workers will be laid off (sorry but npps are too dangerous, the more close down the safer I feel) and 3) that 1 billion/reactor will be spent on its decommissIoning (sorry but these costs were known upfront and this plant is close to its design life -- rien ne va plus, npps are the last type of industrial appliance I want to see operated until it kills too many of its workers).

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