San Onofre nuclear power plant to be shut down permanently

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Southern California Edison announced today that it will abandon its push to restart the San Onofre nuclear power station in San Diego County near the Orange County line.

Ted Craver, the chairman and CEO of Edison International, SCE’s parent company, says the 44-year-old plant will permanently shut down because of uncertainty about when federal regulators would allow it to start producing electricity again.

“We have concluded that the 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,” he said in a statement released from the company’s headquarters in Rosemead.

San Onofre has been dark for 16 months following the discovery of leaks in tubes that carry radioactive steam inside the plant’s huge generators. Edison said one of San Onofre’s reactors could be operated safely at 70 percent capacity – but those claims met with deep skepticism from environmentalists and some public officials, including California Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Boxer released a statement this morning saying she’s “greatly relieved” that San Onofre won’t re-open. “This nuclear plant had a defective redesign and could no longer operate as intended,” she said.

In a teleconference with reporters last week, Boxer said the company was not being straight about the changes that were made when Edison installed new generators several years ago.

Boxer uncovered an internal letter from 2004 that she says leads her to believe that Edison deceived the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about design changes to the plant’s steam generators.

The letter from an Edison executive to the maker of the generators, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, refers to the generators as “new” and says the Japanese company has to, quote, “evolve a new design.”

Boxer and the anti-nuclear group Friends of the Earth contend that Edison avoided a lengthy review of the new generators by the NRC by instead calling them “like-for-like” replacements.

So Cal Edison said in a statement that the utility held many joint meetings with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries personnel to address concerns over the replaced steam generators.

Edison said in February that the extended closure of San Onofre had cost the company $400 million.

California has been importing more electricity from other states because of the shutdown. State officials have said they would be able to avoid power disruptions through the high-demand summer months even without the plant.

Environmentalists and community activists who have been clamoring for San Onfre’s permanent closure will be cheered by today’s news.  About 7.4 million Californians live within 50 miles of the nuclear plant.

But the closure is sure to raise new questions about how California can meet clean-energy mandates without the use of nuclear power.