News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

San Onofre Nuclear Plant To Close Permanently

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station | Photo: Timothy Tolle/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Southern California Edison (SCE) will permanently close its ailing San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in San Diego County, the utility announced Friday. The company cited mounting costs and regulatory uncertainty as the main reasons for its decision.

The plant's two remaining units have been offline since January 2012, when radioactive steam was found to be leaking from tubes in Unit 3.

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"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."

SCE had asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to approve a plan to restart Unit 2 at 70 percent capacity, an output that the utility said would "prevent" the vibrations that are thought to have caused the astonishing degree of tube wear in the plant's new steam generators. SCE was hoping to restart Unit 3 this month, but a May decision by the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board on the restart application raised the possibility of a public hearing process that might have delayed any restart by a year or more.

That Atomic Safety and Licensing Board decision pleased antinuclear activists, who claimed that a low-power restart amounted to a restart with impaired cooling and required an operating license amendment.

SCE will be recording costs of between $450 and $650 million in connection with the closing this quarter.

Today's announcement begins the decommissioning process, every step of which will be subject to regulatory approval. SCE says it will attempt to recover damages from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), which built the malfunctioning steam generators.

This won't be the last we hear of the issue: a request by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer to investigate whether SCE misled regulators on the scope of the 2009-2010 steam generator replacements is still in play. But at least SCE won't have to contend with public hearings run by the federal government.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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