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Deconstructing The Future For San Onofre


Deconstructing The Future For San Onofre

Aired 9/26/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Dave Weisman, Outreach Coordinator, Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility


— The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is no longer producing electricity because of critical design flaws in the plant’s steam generators. However, the plant’s iconic reactor containment buildings still loom large beside busy Interstate 5 in northern San Diego County. The malfunctioning generators are the reason Southern California Edison shut the plant down in June.

Aired 9/26/13 on KPBS News.

The owners of the San Onfre Nuclear Generating Station are preparing to walk down the decades-long process of decommissioning two nuclear reactors. Federal regulators are here to help answer questions.

No one welcomed that news more than nuclear power opponents. Ray Lutz is with watchdog group Citizen’s Oversight. A sticker on his car window declares, "We Shutdown San Onofre."

Photo by Erik Anderson

The sticker on the back of Ray Lutz's car, he is with watchdog group Citizen’s Oversight.

“It is shutdown. So all right, like, we won that one,” Lutz said. “But it is not over, our battle is not over, because we have really more time ahead of us."

Possibly up to 60 years more — that’s how much time federal officials give plant operators to decommission a reactor. The plant’s majority owner, Southern California Edison said the utility is developing a shutdown blueprint that should be ready by next summer. Federal regulators allow two years to design the plan. The idea is to dismantle everything.

“(A plan consists of) removing and disposing of the radioactive components and materials, and then longer term we make sure we release the site for what’s known as unrestricted use, which involves reducing any residual radioactivity,” said Maureen Brown of Southern California Edison.

The utility has three courses of action: DECON, which is immediately dismantling the facility; SAFESTOR, which involves letting the plant sit untouched for a period of time until radioactive levels decay and then dismantling; or ENTOMB, which is basically encasing all radioactive components. Option three has never been used.

Edison Vice President Stephen Pickett hinted during an Aug. 13 state Senate hearing that SAFESTOR might make the most sense.

“Now that were focused on decommissioning, our job is to get that done in the manner most cost effective to our customers,” Pickett said. “So we are now engaged in the process of studying whether or not it would be most cost effective to leave the plant in a shutdown condition for some period."

Pickett explained to lawmakers that cost is critical because the process will not be cheap.

“The decommissioning estimate that we’re currently operating to is about $4.2 billion,” Pickett said. “As I said, that assumes many things that may be the most expensive course of action and it's important now to determine if that is the best way to proceed, or not."

The utility has much of the money needed for decommissioning in a ratepayer-financed trust fund, but Citizen Oversight’s Lutz said there is a lot of concern about what that money will be spent on.

Ray Lutz works with the watchdog group Citizen’s Oversight.

“We have several billions of dollars in this trust fund which is managed by a corporate entity,” said Lutz. “And they’ve got this rigged up so there’s very little oversight available for the public to follow the money as it gets spent.”

Lutz is also concerned about the spent fuel rods. When the plant was commissioned decades ago, federal officials promised to have a high-level-radioactive-waste repository. The only proposed facility, Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, has never been approved so fuel rods remain where they were used.

“All of the fuel around the country in the 104 nuclear plants are either in the fuel pools or these dry casks, and most of it is in the fuel pools at this point," Lutz said.

Fuel pools, which is where San Onofre's fuel rods reside, are concrete- and steel-lined tanks that constantly circulate chilled water to keep the fuel from igniting.

Lutz said he wants to make sure the fuel is properly monitored so the public’s safety is never at risk.

That jobs falls on the shoulders of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. NRC Spokesman Victor Dricks said his agency will monitor the transition.

“The NRC will be there to observe some of the activities, and conduct inspections and insure that the site that is left behind, whatever route the licensee chooses to go, will be a safe one,” said Dricks.

Safety aside, the length of the process, the final cost, a permanent fuel-rod solution and determining how much dismantling is enough are questions that will all have to be resolved as the process moves forward. The quick resolution could take 10 to 12 years. However, that process might last decades longer.

An NRC informational hearing on the decommissioning process will be held at the Omni LaCosta Hotel in Carlsbad Thursday Sept. 26. Doors open at 6 p.m.

KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane and Peggy Pico contributed to the Midday and Evening Edition segments.

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Avatar for user 'x76'

x76 | September 26, 2013 at 6:39 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

An "informational hearing"? That sounds like they talk, we listen. Fat guys in expensive suits, am I correct? And they want to extract HOW much money from ratepayers to shut down the failed SONGS? And this is being held in La Costa? Do I hear the first few notes of "Speak Softly, Love" from "The Godfather"? Big business, loads of money... put those together and you get...

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Avatar for user 'CaptD'

CaptD | September 26, 2013 at 6:15 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

The NRC said today that they will have another meeting to discuss "high burnup" fuel (which has been used at San Onofre) and the problems it causes:

Much longer periods to "cool down"

Different castes required

Incomplete testing on length of time that the caste will survive!

Expect to hear much more about this issue since it directly affect the cost to decommission San Onofre and who will pay the "extra" amount ratepayers or SCE?

Come to the Oct. 1, 2013 meeting and tell the CPUC what you think!

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Avatar for user 'CaptD'

CaptD | September 26, 2013 at 6:17 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

This is just too FUNNY, first SCE promises that their new in-house designed replacement steam generators will save ratepayers over a Billion dollars and then when they fail, almost as soon as they were installed, SCE now thinks we the ratepayers should foot the bill!.

**HA HA HA**

Get ready SCE, because now the ratepayers are going to demand that the CPUC not only make you and your Shareholders cough up the money but also pay for all the additional expenses that are going to be incurred because of your debacle!

Some estimate that bill to be about $13 Billion, so the next CPUC meeting being held in San Diego (imagine that) to discuss rebates will be very interesting.

Notice that SDG&E, a part owner of San Onofre is laying low after informing their ratepayers that everyone’s bills will be going up, I wonder why, could it be to reimburse the Utility for the damages they will be force to pay for their part of the San Onofre debacle?

Ratepayers are being suckered by the Utilities and the CPUC that is supposed to regulate them for the public good, instead the Utilities have earned record profits while we the ratepayers are paying the highest rates in the USA thanks to the CPUC and remember,we have enough of sunshine to become an solar energy exporter to the states that need it, which would also jump start our economy with many new GREEN jobs.

The Final Solution?

We the ratepayers need to urge the Governor to re-populate the CPUC with impartial commissioners that will demand that the Utilities start treating us fairly, instead of like the Utilities energy slaves!

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Avatar for user 'CaptD'

CaptD | September 27, 2013 at 11:50 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago


When ratepayers learn that their future nuclear decommissioning cleanup can take 6+ DECADES after their plant closes and that it will cost them additional mega billions (and that is if everything goes OK), does anyone seriously think that Solar (of all flavors) is not going to be far less expensive 20 to 60 years in the future?

I predict that all energy generated by nuclear reactors will become so expensive in the future, that they will tend to bankrupt their ratepayers and cause business flight to other geographical areas that have access to far lower cost Solar (of all flavors) energy!

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Avatar for user 'CaptD'

CaptD | October 2, 2013 at 9:29 a.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Update: The CPUC meeting was well attended by the public and the common theme was:

You Broke it, You Pay for it...

SCE and SDG&E need to pay for ALL expenses relating to the early shut down and decommissioning because they caused it to happen...

Now if the CPUC agrees with all the SoCal ratepayers, is yet another question because many Billions are at stake and the Utilities are very powerful politically, so many feel that the FIX is already in, with the CPUC!

NOTE: Most MSM in San Diego aired very little if anything about the CPUC meeting and the effects on SoCal ratepayers bills because of the San Onofre debacle; I wonder why?

How many other 10 Billion Dollars stories are in the news now!

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