San Onofre Nuclear Power Station

Southern California Edison has just announced that they will not continue trying to reopen their San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and instead decommission them.

This is news as of 6/7/2013. We left the earlier news reports from 4/1/2013 headlining the utilities efforts to reopen the plant to show you how quickly energy issues can change. It illustrates that in as little as two months a decision can be made that removes two gigawatts of clean nuclear power from the nation’s power grid. What will replace this energy? Probably some type of fossil fuel plant, as they are quickest to build. There are over 100 other reactors in the United State and many are showing their age and their owners will soon have to decide whether to upgrade or close them. Is anyone planning for their replacement? To us it means that the market for clean nuclear energy is growing monthly.

We have included a copy of Southern California Edison’s press release and a new Wikipedia entry.

From a Southern California Edison New Release

Southern California Edison Announces Plans to Retire San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

Company Will Continue its Work with State Agencies on Electric Grid Reliability
ROSEMEAD, Calif.  (June 7, 2013)

Southern California Edison (SCE) has decided to permanently retire Units 2 and 3 of its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). “SONGS has served this region for over 40 years,” said Ted Craver, Chairman and CEO of Edison International, parent company of SCE, “but we have concluded that the continuing uncertainty about when or if SONGS 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.” 

Both SONGS units have been shut down safely since January 2012.  Unit 2 was taken out of service January 9, 2012, for a planned routine outage. Unit 3 was safely taken offline January 31, 2012, after station operators detected a small leak in a tube inside a steam generator manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI).  Two steam generators manufactured by MHI were installed in Unit 2 in 2009 and two more were installed in Unit 3 in 2010, one of which developed the leak. 

In connection with the decision, SCE estimates that it will record a charge in the second quarter of between $450 million and $650 million before taxes ($300 million – $425 million after tax), in accordance with accounting requirements. 

After months of analysis and tests, SCE submitted a restart plan to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in October 2012.  SCE proposed to safely restart Unit 2 at a reduced power level (70%) for an initial period of approximately five months.  That plan was based on work done by engineering groups from three independent firms with expertise in steam generator design and manufacturing.  The NRC has been reviewing SCE’s plans for restart of Unit 2 for the last eight months, during which several public meetings have been held.

A recent ruling by an adjudicatory arm of the NRC, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, creates further uncertainty regarding when a final decision might be made on restarting Unit 2.  Additional administrative processes and appeals could result in delay of more than a year. During this period, the costs of maintaining SONGS in a state of readiness to restart and the costs to replace the power SONGS previously provided would continue.  Moreover, it is uneconomic for SCE and its customers to bear the long-term repair costs for returning SONGS to full power operation without restart of Unit 2.

SCE has concluded that efforts are better focused on planning for the replacement generation and transmission resources which will be required for grid reliability.  “Looking ahead,” said Ron Litzinger, SCE’s President, “we think that our decision to retire the units will eliminate uncertainty and facilitate orderly planning for California’s energy future.” Litzinger noted that the company has worked with the California Independent System Operator, the California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission in planning for Southern California’s energy needs and will continue to do so.

“The company is already well into a summer reliability program and has completed numerous transmission upgrades in addition to those completed last year,” Litzinger said. “Thanks to consumer conservation, energy efficiency programs and a moderate summer, the region was able to get through last summer without electricity shortages.  We hope for the same positive result again this year,” Litzinger added, “although generation outages, soaring temperatures or wildfires impacting transmission lines would test the system.

In connection with the retirement of Units 2 and 3, San Onofre anticipates reducing staff over the next year from approximately 1,500 to approximately 400 employees, subject to applicable regulatory approvals.  The majority of such reductions are expected to occur in 2013.  “This situation is very unfortunate,” said Pete Dietrich, SCE’s Chief Nuclear Officer, noting that “this is an extraordinary team of men and women.  We will treat them fairly.” SCE will work to ensure a fair process for this transition, and will work with the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) and the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers (IBEW) on transition plans for the employees they represent.

SCE also recognizes its continuing safety responsibilities as it moves toward decommissioning of the units.  SCE’s top priority will be to ensure a safe, orderly, and compliant retirement of these units.  Full retirement of the units prior to decommissioning will take some years in accordance with customary practices.  Actual decommissioning will take many years until completion.  Such activities will remain subject to the continued oversight of the NRC.

SCE intends to pursue recovery of damages from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the supplier of the replacement steam generators, as well as recovery of amounts under applicable insurance policies.

San Onofre is jointly owned by SCE (78.21 percent), San Diego Gas & Electric (20 percent) and the city of Riverside (1.79 percent).

About Southern California Edison

An Edison International (NYSE:EIX) company, Southern California Edison is one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, serving a population of nearly 14 million via 4.9 million customer accounts in a 50,000-square-mile service area within Central, Coastal and Southern California.

From Wikipedia

Plant closure

On June 7, 2013, Southern California Edison announced it would “permanently retire” Unit 2 and Unit 3, ending their attempt to restart the plant at a reduced capacity. The utility said it would cut the SONGS workforce from about 1,500 to some 400 employees, with most reductions “expected to occur in 2013.”  The company also said it would “pursue recovery of damages from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the supplier of the replacement steam generators.”  The chief executive of Edison International explained that the current licenses expire in 2022, and with post-Fukushima requirements, which include re-evaluating earthquake vulnerability, it was uncertain renewal would be economic, so it made little sense making costly and politically difficult repairs now that would not make a return on investment before 2022.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein signaled approval of the decision to permanently close the plant, stating “I firmly believe this is the right thing to do for the more than 7 million Californians who live within 50 miles of San Onofre.”  However, Representative Darrell Issa, whose voting district includes the nuclear station, was more downbeat, saying “our communities now face the loss of employment for more than a thousand highly skilled workers and an essential local source of low-cost, clean energy.” Issa also pledged to work to improve the prospects for nuclear power nationwide.  In contrast,  Director Kathryn Phillips applauded the move, saying in a statement that “We hope, especially, that the utilities will take this opportunity to help get more locally generated renewable energy, such as rooftop solar, into their portfolios.”

We posted the following report two months earlier.


Plan Submitted To Feds In Effort To Reopen Plant
Before Summer Heat

By MICHAEL R. BLOOD 04/01/13 03:10 PM ET EDT –  HuffPost LosAngeles

San Onofre Draft

The operator of the shuttered San Onfore nuclear power plant submitted a draft plan to federal regulators Monday that could help pave the way to restart one of the twin reactors by summer.


LOS ANGELES — The operator of the shuttered San Onfore nuclear power plant submitted a draft plan to federal regulators Monday that could help pave the way to restart one of the twin reactors by summer.

The seaside plant between Los Angeles and San Diego has been shut down since January 2012, after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusual damage to hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water.

Southern California Edison wants to change the plant’s federal operating rules to permit the Unit 2 reactor to run at no more than 70 percent power, which company engineers and consultants believe will limit unusual tube wear.

Edison submitted a tentative request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, technically known as a license amendment, that if approved would cap Unit 2’s capacity at 70 percent, down from the now-required 100 percent.

“We are considering the proposed voluntary amendment as the best path to get Unit 2 safely up and running before the hottest months of the year hit our region,” SCE President Ron Litzinger said in a statement.

Critics of the nuclear power industry say the plant is unsafe to operate at any power level and should be shut down permanently and dismantled.

Kendra Ulrich, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth, said in a statement the company was attempting to sidestep more thorough safety reviews that would require public hearings.

According to Edison documents, members of the public can request a hearing on the license amendment, but if NRC staff finds there is no significant hazard, the hearing can be held after the amendment is approved.

“This is not a footnote in a license as Edison claims, but a severely damaged reactor that is unsafe to operate,” Ulrich said.

The problems at San Onofre focus on its steam generators, which were installed in a $670 million overhaul in 2009 and 2010.

Last year, federal regulators blamed heavy tube wear in the generators on a botched computer analysis that they said badly misjudged how water and steam would flow in the reactors, along with manufacturing problems.

Edison has been trying since October to convince the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it’s safe to run Unit 2 at no more than 70 percent power.

In earlier filings, Edison argued that its 70 percent target for Unit 2 was, in effect, full power. It later submitted another analysis showing the reactor could run at 100 percent power, but the research found the risk of a tube break could reach unacceptable levels after 11 months.

Edison said a final proposal could be submitted as soon as Wednesday, after company officials meet with the NRC staff in Maryland.

If approved, the license change could essentially eliminate the debate over the full power threshold.

Before a restart could take place, the company would also have to meet a series of steps the NRC outlined last year.

The future of the heavily damaged Unit 3 reactor, where the radiation leak occurred after a tube break last year, is not clear. Edison has said that because of manufacturing differences, Unit 2’s generators did not suffer the extent of deep tube wear witnessed in its sister plant.

Decaying generator tubes helped push San Onofre’s Unit 1 reactor into retirement in 1992, even though it was designed to run until 2004.

San Onofre is owned by SCE, San Diego Gas & Electric and the city of Riverside.


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