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

More Progress On San Onofre Decision

The process of deciding whether and how to restart the disabled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station continues, with a pair of public hearings on ratepayer involvement scheduled for February 21 in Costa Mesa. The hearings, conducted by the California Public Utilities Commission, are intended to gather public sentiment on whether ratepayers should receive a rebate on the $1.1 billion they've paid to maintain San Onofre while it's been out of service. The nuclear power station along the San Diego County coast near Camp Pendleton has been idled since January 2012, after a leak was found in a steam generator tube in Unit 3.

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Unit 2 of the station had been taken offline a few weeks earlier for scheduled maintenance. (Unit 1 was decommissioned in 1992, with its site now used for spent fuel storage.)

As the CPUC prepares for the ratepayer hearings, Southern California Edison -- the majority owner and lead operator of San Onofre -- announced late last week that it is beginning to provide the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) with additional information the Federal agency requested to determine whether it is indeed safe to restart Unit 2. "We are very confident in our safe restart plan for Unit 2," said Pete Dietrich, SCE's senior vice president and chief nuclear officer. "This technical question and answer process is an important part of safety-based technical solutions in the nuclear industry, and it strengthens our ability to communicate the safety principles and proven industry operating experience that the plan was built on."

SCE is proposing to reopen Unit 2 at 70 percent of its capacity, saying that the consequent reduced vibration should reduce the risk of further steam tube leakage.

Some aren't so sure they can take SCE at its word. Local opponents of a restart at San Onofre held a meeting this weekend to mark the outage's one-year anniversary; at the gathering in San Clemente, activist-actor Ed Begley, Jr. exhorted nuke plant opponents to do their part to make the plant superfluous by conserving energy.

San Onofre's Units 2 and 3, when operating at capacity, provide SCE's 14 million customers with 2,200 megawatts of electrical power. The plants also deliver power to minority owners San Diego Gas & Electric and the City of Riverside's Utility District, which together add another 3.3 million users of San Onofre power. If each of those 17.3 million people cut their 24/7 power use by about 125 watts, they'd reduce as much demand from the grid as San Onofre meets. That's about like replacing three 60-watt incandescent light bulbs with their LED equivalents.

Worth a thought, as we've mentioned here before.

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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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To provide a contrasting scale, 2.2 gigawatts is equivalent to 47 square miles of desert solar power, to use the recently mentioned Rice Solar Energy project as a yardstick.