San Onofre closed permanently, says plant operator

The ongoing saga over the future of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station along San Diego’s northern coast appears to be drawing to a close, as Edison International, parent company of plant operator Southern California Edison, says this morning that the plant will be shuttered permanently due to federal regulators not complying with the utility’s demand for a quick response to a proposal to restart one of the plant’s two troubled nuclear reactors on an experimental basis.

The plant has been in a state of emergency shutdown since January 2012, when a tube burst at one of the plant’s steam generators and leaked a small amount of radiation into the atmosphere. Further inspection revealed much greater damage than anticipated to the generators, which were just installed in 2009 at a cost to utility customers of at least $670 million.

“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,” said Edison chairman and CEO Ted Craver via a June 7 press release.

Contrary to early doomsday predictions over keeping the plant shuttered for a second consecutive summer during the push to force federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission action (the regulator says it could have taken a year to fully vet the utility’s restart proposal), Edison is now upbeat about the future of the region without nuclear power.

“We think that our decision to retire the units will eliminate uncertainty and facilitate orderly planning for California’s energy future,” said Ron Litzinger, SCE’s president, also in today’s release. “The company is already well into a summer reliability program and has completed numerous transmission upgrades in addition to those completed last year. Thanks to consumer conservation, energy efficiency programs and a moderate summer, the region was able to get through last summer without electricity shortages. We hope for the same positive result again this year.”

While the questions concerning the resumption of operations at San Onofre are settled, the saga over the plant’s future will likely continue for years, if not decades. The decommissioning process will likely take years, and there’s still nowhere to transport nuclear waste that has been piling up at the site for decades, much of it stored in overtaxed open storage pools.

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