Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison, operator of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), announced in a press release this morning that the two remaining reactors at the plant are to be retired.
SONGS has not produced electricity since January 2012, when high vibration damaged tubes in steam generators acquired from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, leading to a leak of radioactive water.
Read more about the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on the generator tube degradation here.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in 2012 had requested further NRC oversight and license review, and recently went so far as to state that Southern California Edison had misled the NRC to avoid that process.
Edison had previously raised the possibility of retiring the plant if it failed to get one reactor running later this year, and had faced a significant re-licensing battle with the NRC. Citing “continuing uncertainty about when or if SONGS might return to service was not good for our customers, our investors, or the need to plan for our region’s long-term electricity needs.” Edison International Chairman and CEO Ted Craver assessed the “practical limit to how much we can absorb of that risk.”
To say nothing of the other risks plaguing SONGS and surrounding communities:
The danger of a Fukushima-like disaster with a nuclear power plant on an earthquake fault. The US Geological Survey, in one of history’s greatest understatements, describes the unfortunate marriage of nuclear generators and earthquakes as follows:
An earthquake releases energy that radiates from the fault and causes ground movement. As the ground moves, objects such as nuclear power plant structures on or in the ground also move….The intensity of an earthquake can be characterized by both the frequency of the shaking and by the acceleration of the ground at the plant. These characteristics describe how the energy released from the earthquake impacts the plant’s buildings as well as the systems and components that are housed and supported by those buildings…Earthquake characteristics provide information used in designing existing nuclear plants. …The licensing bases for existing nuclear power plants considered historical data at each site. This data is used to determine design basis loads from the area’s maximum credible earthquake, with an additional margin included.
Note that the USGS freely acknowledges that it cannot accurately predict the size of earthquakes. (See 2012 interview of USGS Siesmologist on ABC.) Not to worry, the NRC, defines safety margins and requires “certain modifications of identified seismic vulnerabilities.” Ya think??
The population density, the convergence of environmental and logistical constraints, and the absence of adequate public safety and evacuation plans. The NRC requires two emergency planning zones (10 miles and 50 miles for risk of inhalation and ingestion of contaminated materials respectively). Not only are prevailing winds at San Onofre westward (inland) for 9 months of the year, but the 2010 U.S. census showed population within 10 miles of the plant was approaching 100,000 with 8.5 million within 50 miles.
The excellent “San Onofre Safety” blog outlines the emergency planning deficit well: http://sanonofresafety.org/emergency-planning/
This 50 mile map shows the location of the San Onofre nuclear power plant near San Clemente. After the March 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan, Americans in Japan were told by the U.S. government to evacuate 50 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. However, in the U.S., the NRC only requires a 10 mile evacuation zone.
Still unanswered: who will pay the $165M tab for having kept SONGS open and running tests for the past year and a half? Edison customers have footed the bill thus far, and that issue is currently being debated and decided by the California Public Utilities Commission.
The SONGS closure itself if fraught with issues of costs, unemployment, and storage/disposal of the existing toxic spent material. SCE’s $2.7 billion decommissioning fund will cover part of the cost; however, California ratepayers, insurance companies, Edison shareholders and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries may ultimately all share this burden.
But in the scheme of things, the collective sigh of relief being heard throughout southern California based on news of the SONGS closure is a lot stronger that those prevailing winds!