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ISO Makes Contingency Plans In Case San Onofre Still Off Line Next Summer

California’s Independent System Operator, the ISO, is making contingency plans for a scenario where the San Onofre nuclear power plant remains off line next year.

San Onofre has been off line since January when a small radiation leak resulted in the shut down of the reactors.

John Geesman, a former California Energy Commissioner, said the ISO’s move comes in the absence of any definitive statement from Edison or from nuclear regulators about when the plant might come back on line.

“The ISO doesn’t know anything more than has been publicly released,” he said. “They are simply exercising their best professional judgment in planning for alternatives. I think the more you see those alternatives being pursued, the lower the likelihood that there will be a sense of emergency about bringing San Onofre back on line.”

The ISO plans to keep a gas-powered plant in Huntington Beach, providing voltage back up for the electricity system. The plant has been a key part of the strategy to avoid blackouts in Southern California this summer while San Onofre is off line. The Huntington Beach plant cannot continue to generate power next year, because of permitting issues, but it can be converted to help move power through the system.

Geesman said the ISO will consider other sources of power if San Onofre's problems persist.

The ISO’s action came the same week that Allison Macfarlane, head of the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said it would be months before any decision will be made about bringing San Onofre’s Unit 2 back on line. She told a U.S. Senate committee she expected to hear from the plant’s operator, Southern California Edison, in early October. Edison has said Unit 3 is shut down indefinitely, but the company hopes to bring Unit 2 back on line.

The NRC will hold a public meeting in Dana Point on Oct. 9th to answer questions about current issues at the plant.

This story aired on KPBS radio on Friday Oct 14th.

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