San Onofre shutdown offers firsthand look at nuclear energy costs vs benefits in California

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Will SONGS go dark before the 2022 license expires?

California utility regulators likely to launch independent investigation into SONGS

California Public Utilities Commission Chairman Michael Peevey said Thursday that the panel has “every intention” of probing into any possible impact on electricity rates for customers of Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, who own all but a small fraction of the plant.

The California Public Utilities Commission merely wants more clarity from federal nuclear regulators before starting its probe, Peevey, added.

This marks yet another milestone in the perception of the need for the nuclear power plant, which was once considered indispensable.

Safety issues have crippled the plant since January, attracted state and federal scrutiny, and even have some officials calling for San Onofre to be decommissioned. When running at full capacity, San Onofre only supplied roughly 19% of the power to Edison customers in Southern California.

The reactors were shutdown after accelerated wear and damage were found in all four of the plant’s steam generators, which were replaced in 2009 and 2010 at a cost of over $650 million.

In the past six months, the utility has determined that the tube wear is being caused by vibration and friction with adjacent tubes and bracing, but neither the federal regulators or utility workers have been able determine why that’s happening or how they will fix it.

The final outcome of who will be stuck with the proverbial bill for the majority $782 million required to order the parts for SCE’s replacement project, and that’s just for the steam generators, not repairs or replacement.

Edison officials have said they will seek to recover the inspection and repair costs under the warranty with manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, but admit that ratepayers could end up with the bill for the costs to buy replacement power.  Ratepayers are also paying $64 million for new seismic studies and there are a myriad of other issues and costs on the horizon.

Edison initially targeted a June restart for at least one of the twin reactors. A tentative plan called for restarting and running the seaside reactors at lower power, at least for several months, but this method was not well received by the majority of public response, and not immediately confirmed by regulators as an acceptable alternative.

Californians happy to not face rolling blackouts

Officials said that with contingency plans in place for this summer, including temporarily bringing two retired gas-fired units in Huntington Beach back on line, Southern California should not see rolling blackouts under most circumstances. But an extreme heat wave or outage at another power plant or on a major transmission line could strain the system.

The next several months are expected to be “considerably warmer than average,” according to Tom Dunklee, a meteorologist with the California Independent System Operator, which oversees much of the state’s energy grid.

“Some of the weaknesses we have in the infrastructure [of Southern California] are laid bare by San Onofre,” said Steve Berberich, chief executive of the Independent System Operator.

Before the January shutdown, officials had planned only for a scenario in which one of the reactors would be off line.   No one had anticipated a complete shutdown of both reactors, and while the shortfall has not caused rampant blackouts yet, ISO officials are now looking farther ahead.

They have even begun to plan for the possibility that SONGS will still be offline next summer, and aim to have a contingency plan in place by the end of the month.  The ISO is also beginning to look at long-range scenarios in which California would generate electricity nuclear free, without any contribution from either San Onofre or the state’s only other nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon on the Central Coast.

The utility industry and the state’s main grid operator are “considering a range of existing and new alternatives for mitigating the impacts of a long-term or permanent shutdown at San Onofre,” said Stephanie McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator.

The decommissioning scare

Edison’s license at San Onofre allows operation through 2022, and the utility would have to submit an application for relicensing by 2017 to ensure no gaps in licensing.  The Irvine City Council urged the NRC to thoroughly review safety conditions at the plant before it is considered for relicensing in 2022.

There have been questions raised about the utilities ability to handle the massive drain of resources and capital which would occur if the nuclear power plant were forced to be decommissioned early.

It remains unclear how long the plant will be out of service or what the ultimate solution will be, but the longer the reactors are not supplying power to the grid, the harder the decision to restart becomes.

Source: UT San Diego

Source: Fox News Channel 5 – San Diego

Source: AJC

Source: The Sacramento Bee

Source: The California Watchdog

Source: Fox News Channel 5 – San Diego

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