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Closing of San Onofre Nuclear Plant Draws Praise

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and then there was one: California's last nuke standing at Diablo Canyon | Photo: Nick Kocharhook/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Environmental and citizens' groups and a U.S. Senator are applauding an announcement early Friday that Southern California Edison's San Onofre nuclear power plant will be staying closed permanently. And as the California Energy Commission (CEC) starts work on planning for a future without San Onofre, antinuclear groups are now setting their sights on the state's last remaining nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon.

Both power plants at San Onofre have been closed since a radioactive steam leak was discovered in Unit 3 in January 2012. Friday's announcement by Southern California Edison (SCE) that the utility had decided to decommission the plant followed a May decision by a sub-agency within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that recommended public hearings on a proposed low-power restart of Unit 2 this year.

California's senior Senator Dianne Feinstein lauded SCE for their decision to end the plant's life. "From the day the leaks in the steam generators were first discovered, I have said that all decisions about the future of San Onofre should be guided by safety," Feinstein said in a statement Friday. "After more than a year of investigation and analysis by both Edison and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the company determined that San Onofre should be permanently decommissioned.... 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. There was too much uncertainty in restarting San Onofre at this time, and I commend Southern California Edison for selecting the safest option for Southern California."

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), long an opponent of San Onofre, likewise applauded the decision. NRDC's Legal Director for Western Energy and Climate Projects Kristin Eberhard pointed out that large central station power generation is an increasingly obsolete model for the grid. "SoCal Edison realizes we have better energy options than nuclear and it's futile to pump money into an outdated technology. Instead of putting Band-Aids on a nuclear plant built decades ago, the company decided to better serve its customers and its shareholders by moving forward with a portfolio dominated by energy efficiency and other clean energy solutions."

According to Robert B. Weisenmiller, who chairs the California Energy Commission, the CEC has been planning for the possibility that San Inofre might shay shut down for some time. "The CEC has been working with the Governor's Office, the California ISO, and the California Public Utilities Commission to plan for this contingency so we would be able to maintain reliable power in Southern California while minimizing economic and environmental costs," Weisenmuller said. (According to recent statements from both SCE and the California ISO, getting Southern California through the summer without San Onofre might not be a problem -- assuming the state catches a couple of breaks in the weather department.)

San Onofre's closing means that plant joins the Sacramento Municipal Utility district's Rancho Seco 913-megawatt nuclear reactor in the state's list of former nuclear power plants. That leaves Pacific Gas and Electric's two 1,100-megawatt nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon on the San Luis Obispo County coast, a fact not lost on anti-nuclear advocates. In a statement Friday, Michelle Kinman of the group Environment California made that explicit.

"Shutting down San Onofre is the right thing to do," said Kinman. "Shutting down this nuclear plant will best protect public safety and the environment. Given the age of our nuclear power plants, their proximity to active fault lines, and their threat to our ocean environment, California should move beyond nuclear power once and for all by retiring Diablo Canyon as soon as possible."

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