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Anti-nuclear groups welcome San Onofre nuke plant summer shutdown

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has been offline since a radioactive steam leak in January 2012. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer wants the Justice Department to investigate if California utility executives deceived federal regulators about an equipment swap at the San Onofre nuclear power plant that eventually led to the radiation leak. (Photo: A cyclist rides past the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant on April 6, 2012.)
Grant Slater/KPCC
A cyclist rides past the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant on April 6, 2012.

Southern California Edison (SCE) said Thursday the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station will be offline through the summer.

The plant has been closed since Jan. 31, when a leak from steam generator tubes released radioactive steam into the atmosphere.

SCE said Unit 2 will be offline through August and Unit 3 may be offline even longer. The company said it will send a restart plan to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) by the end of July for Unit 2, and said plans for Unit 3 will take longer.

Federal officials must approve the plans before either of the units at the nuclear plant can be restarted.

Edison said a series of regularly scheduled inspections and equipment testing will continue as planned over the next couple of months at the nuclear facility. The utility said that, as a result of some of these tests, steam will be visible.

San Onofre normally supplies about 2,200 megawatts of power and makes up 19 percent of the power provided to Edison customers.

The summer closure plays into the hands of anti-nuclear groups that want the plant closed permanently. They say the region can get by without the power from the plant.

“We certainly hope this serves as a demonstration that California is really ready to move beyond the era of nuclear power, particularly when that nuclear power is being provided by not just one, but a pair of aging plants that are sited in hazardous locations,” said Bill Walker with Friends of the Earth.

“There’s simply no reason to continue this dangerous experiment with nuclear power when there are sources of sustainable, renewable, clean sources of power that have become available since these plants have opened," Walker said.

Edison officials said the plant is needed to provide reliable support to California’s power grid and when there are extreme weather conditions or emergencies. Without it, they say summer heat could mean outages, especially in southern Orange County.

With contingency plans in place, Edison said the region, including Edison customers, should be able to get through the summer without power shortages — unless extreme weather conditions or other situations increase power demand.

Part of the backup plan includes restarting two gas-fired generating units in Huntington Beach. Edison is also offering incentives for customers to conserve power.

Friends of the Earth issued reports which said damage at the nuclear plant was caused by design changes that were not properly reviewed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Southern California Edison and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission refuted that claim.

“Nuclear power is expensive to build, expensive to operate and, once you get it operating, it’s unreliable,” said Walker. “Even if you didn’t have the concern about having an aging nuclear reactor built on a fault line in a region of 8 million people, it doesn’t make economic sense to continue propping up these plants with public subsidies. There are many more economical and reliable forms of energy available now, and it’s time for us to embrace that and move into the future.”

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission team that investigated problems with the San Onofre plant’s steam generator tube wear issues plans to present its report to Edison officials in a public meeting Monday, June 18 at 6 p.m. at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center.

The NRC said the inspection team will present the results of their activities into the causes of the abnormal tube wear.

Summer Readiness 060712

This story has been updated.