Like the rest of the year, August 2012 has been a tumultuous rollercoaster for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The utility announced that Unit 3 was no closer to restart and that they would be removing the nuclear fuel from the reactor, announced the layoffs of a third of the staff, and began hanging their hats on the hope that the Unit 2 reactor would be allowed to restart at reduced power. That hope now is even less likely, after the California Public Utilities Commission announced that it will hold hearings this fall into whether rate payers should go on paying for the plant, even when it isn’t generating any power.
None of this is good for local residents, upon whom Southern California Edison is hoping to pin the price tag for repairs and restart, nor for the local communities and schools, and will no doubt extend to the long-term resident workers, who may be forced to find new jobs and relocate.
Local business owners report that the mood of workers is growing more and more pessimistic as the reactors remain shut-down, and many workers are wondering if they will ever be restarted. Edison has yet to publically release a projected inspection and repair plain, or provide any cost estimate for the repairs. In a press release Edison only admitted, “we see the reality that Unit 3 will not be operating for some time…. It is too soon and would be inappropriate to speculate as to what is needed for repair for Unit 3.”
After downplaying the severity of the damage, it was found out through the Freedom of Information Act that over 3,400 steam generator tubes in the new steam generators at San Onofre have undergone some sort of damage —about 1,800 in Unit 3 and 1,600 in Unit 2. The ratepayers have already been forced to pay over $670 million to replace the steam generators, and it is likely that repairs required to bring both units back to operable status would push that price-tag well over a billion dollars.
The economics of the situation alone may prove to be almost as difficult of a problem to overcome as the failing tubes in the steam generators. Southern California Edison has financial incentives to get the plant operating, but it so far has been unable to first convince federal regulators that it’s safe to do so. Adding more pressure on the utility, if one or both of the reactors remains shut-down until November, the CPUC may determine to rollback rates, which may be essentially a “death penalty” for the power plant.
“One, there’s the issue of can they do it, can the units be repaired? And if they can, then there’s a question of whether it’s cost effective,” said Mark Pocta, program manager for the California Public Utilities Commission’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates.
Decommissioning funds still up in the air
In the early 1990s, the Unit 1 reactor was also subject to a cost-benefit analysis prior to being decommissioned. After determining it would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars to reopen, the PUC determined that ratepayers would not be liable, rather Edison shareholders. The decommissioning of Unit 1 is still not complete, and will still require funds from the owners, even the core is still on-site. A statement released in 2011 estimated it would take about $3.7 billion to decommission all three units at San Onofre.
Truman Burns of the CPUC’S Division of Ratepayer Advocates said the fund which ratepayers have been paying into for 30 years is only examined publicly every three years and he cannot say exactly how much is in it now.
“It would be nice to say the current balance is ‘x'” he said, “ but they don’t do that.“
What about the spent fuel?
Burns said the decommissioning fund does not cover one significant aspect of decommissioning a plant — dealing with spent nuclear fuel.
“That is a completely separate problem, “ he said. “The utilities pay a tenth of a cent per kilowatt hour fee to the Department of Energy which is supposed to take on the spent nuclear fuel.”
Source: San Clemente Times
Source: LA Times
Source: RT News