|San Onofre nuclear power plant - ecowatch.org|
Last month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a Request for Additional Information to Southern California Edison, the plant's majority owner, for its review of the company’s restart idea, asking the utility to provide evidence that reactor Unit 2 can be operated safely.
And this morning, the California Public Utilities Commission conference marks the opening of a proceeding that will determine whether San Onofre’s operator will be allowed to pass on to its customers the costs of the plant's faulty steam generators that led to the leak.
“The PUC meeting could be the beginning of the end for San Onofre,” S. David Freeman, former head of the Los Angles Department of Water and Power, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority, said in a statement. “The issue is not just the hundreds of millions of dollars squandered on badly designed equipment or the money Edison has spent trying to reopen the plant. What will be decided is the long-term cost-effectiveness of the plant: Does it still make economic sense to operate it?"
Meanwhile, a three-judge panel of the federal Atomic Safety and Licensing Board of the NRC will consider whether Edison is required to undergo a license amendment process given the state of the damaged steam generators and Edison's unpopular request to operate one its reactors at reduced power.
The environmental group Friends of the Earth instigated this case and will be submitting its first evidence this Friday. This could lead to lengthy hearings and sworn testimony.
Edison's controversial plan to restart one of the reactors and run it at reduced power is strongly opposed by a large and growing coalition of environmental groups and surrounding California cities that believes it could lead to disaster. The plan may also violate terms of the plant’s operating license, potentially triggering formal hearings.
In a story I wrote back in May for The Daily Beast, Bernadette Del Chiaro, director of the Clean Energy Program at Environment California, a citizen-funded environmental-advocacy organization, told me that reopening San Onofre any time soon, even at a reduced output, could be a “recipe for disaster. It’s hard to have anything but extreme concern, since they still don’t really know what’s going on. I’m very concerned with the overall stability of these steam generators.”
Kendra Ulrich of Friends of the Earth recently said in a statement, "This experimental restart plan is yet another example of Edison’s disregard for safety and attempts to sidestep NRC regulations in the interest of making money. Whether the crippled reactor can be safely operated is a crucial question that must be answered to ensure the safety of the 8 million Southern Californians who live within 50 miles of San Onofre.”
San Onofre’s steam generators were replaced as part of a $670 million overhaul in 2009 and 2010. Friends of the Earth contends that Edison irresponsibly installed hundreds more steam tubes than in the original generators in order to gain more power, and profit. But the new defective steam generator design caused the tubes to vibrate against their supports and each other, producing premature tube wear on a massive scale.
Southern Californians are watching all this closely. San Onofre provided San Diego County with as much as 20 percent of its power. But many cities near the nuclear power plant say its reopening could lead to an unthinkable accident.
In San Clemente, the City Council voted in July to send the a letter regarding San Onofre safety, cost and reliability concerns to the California Public Utilities Commission. The council also sent a letter to the NRC expressing concerns about safety at the plant.
In a contentious meeting in Laguna Hills in November, Edison brought out one of its nuclear engineers to try to convince regulators they should restart the plant. But protesters reportedly booed and chanted throughout the meeting.
Even folks in such conservative So-Cal enclaves as Irvine are evidently worried about the plant reopening. The Irvine City Council also voted last spring to send a letter to the NRC expressing concerns about the plant's operation.
Bottom line? It is very possible that nuclear power's days in Southern California are over.