San Onofre Hints at November Restart, then Denies It

Wednesday, August 01, 2012
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, shuttered in January, cost the state $165 million during its first six months of down time. Most of that, $117 million, was to pay for substitute electricity. The rest was for inspections and repair costs.

While a number of people in the state are calling for the power plant to remain permanently closed, others are anxious to get it running as quickly as possible. The problem, which resulted in radioactive steam leaking from the facility, is still being studied and a proposed solution has not yet been suggested.

So when Southern California Edison submitted documents to the California Independent Systems Operator with a November 18 start date for Unit 2 and December 31 for Unit 3 it generated a little heat of its own. The utility also used the dates in a July 23 briefing of the state Public Utilities Commission.

When the dates were publicized, the outcry from critics was instanteous and loud. Some said it could take up to 18 months to replace scores of damaged tubes and mitigate the underlying design problems that caused them to wear out prematurely. Others argued that the generating station should be shut down for good, citing the danger of earthquake, other environmental hazards, the cost and unforeseeable complications like damaged tubes that could have catastrophic consequences for nearby San Diego and Los Angeles.  

Edison  quickly responded that the dates were tentative, basically placeholders in required documents which in no way reflected any established Edison timetable. Eventually, the utility will have to clear any starting dates with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Edison is still grappling with the potential enormity of its problem. The company and its partners, San Diego Gas & Electric and the city of Riverside, replaced generators in Units 2 and 3 a couple years ago and replaced a number of tubes within them. The tubes eventually wear out, but not as quickly as these, and in January one of them broke, releasing radioactive steam.

An investigation turned up scores of prematurely damaged tubes, which provide a cooling system for the generators, and blame was laid on a computer program that failed to properly take into account certain factors, like vibration and friction.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:  

Damaged Cal Nuke Plant Cost: $165 Million So Far (by Michael Blood, Associated Press)

Ailing Cal Nuke Plant Maps Comeback (by Michael Blood, Associated Press)

Onofre Restart Dates? Not Quite, Says Edison (by Pat Brennan, Orange County Register)

Damage at California Nuclear Power Plant Worse than Earlier Reported (by Ken Broder, AllGov)

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