Saturday, 27 July 2013

San Onofre nuclear power plant to shut down permanently
8 Jun 2013

Southern California Edison (SCE) announced yesterday that they will be decommissioning their two unit nuclear power plant in San Onofre California. San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, or SONGS for short, units 2 and 3 have been shutdown for 17 months after leaks were detected in faulty tubes in their newly replaced steam generators. Until now SCE had been working diligently to repair the two units, but the uncertainty of gaining approval from the NRC to restart the units combined with the cost of keeping the units in a state of readiness for restart has pushed SCE into permanently shutting them down.

Ron Litzinger, SCE's President had this to say, "Looking ahead we think that our decision to retire the units will eliminate uncertainty and facilitate orderly planning for California's energy future".

SONGS has been serving the region for over 40 year, employs some 1500 people, and has power capabilities able to light up roughly 1.4 million homes. With California already in a difficult state as concerns power production for its citizens, this major reduction in baseload capacity may cause difficulties in the future. SCE has already paid some $500 million dollars in buying replacement power over the 17 months the units have been offline, which is then passed on to the rate payer. It is still wholly unclear how replacement power will be provided in the long run, as California's political climate precludes investment in and construction of power sources that make reliable baseload electricity.

The future of SONGS will be decommissioning, where the reactor and auxiliary buildings are placed in a state of non-use and the nuclear material is place in a safe condition. With no national spent nuclear fuel repository and only a few lower grade nuclear waste repositories in operation in the U.VICOSC, it is highly unlikely that any of the radioactive material will ever leave the site. Given California's aforementioned political climate it is also unlikely that the SONGS site could be used as a nuclear waste storage facility for other facilities that produce radioactive waste, like hospitals and universities, in California.

The cost of decommissioning, per federal law, has been collected from the consumers of the electricity slowly over the past 40 years. However, since the lives of the plants are being cut slightly short, these funds might not be enough to fully decommission the facility if decommissioning were to start immediately. Likely SCE will hold off on the process as it waits for the interest of the money it has set aside to accrue enough to make decommissioning feasible.