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San Onofre - Decommissioning A Nuclear Power Plant

March 26, 2014 1:56 p.m.


David Victor, UC San Diego Professor, Energy expert, member-Community Engagement Panel

Ray Lutz, National Coordinator, Citizens Oversight Inc.

Related Story: San Onofre - Decommissioning A Nuclear Power Plant


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story and Midday Edition the closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant has opened up a number of new questions, among them are what the process of decommissioning will entail and will ratepayers ever see any kind of refund? Our meeting last night and another look tomorrow are taking the steps towards answering those questions, as I was the first meeting of an eighteen member deconditioning advisory The owners of the will come together to talk about handling repairs. During the talk about these are David Victor, a UC San Diego professor and also brave bats, national coordinator for the citizens advocacy group and I spoke with him earlier today in his that interview:

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for coming in, not even the panel that you haven't is the community engagement panel on decommissioning and is formed by, what is it supposed to do?

DAVID VICTOR: Is a conduit for SDG&E and the candidates will be affected by the decommissioning process and the ideas to help organize information from the committees will help steer decommissioning and all including some important issues that will be included on the cost of this and to help to misunderstand what is going on with the plan.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is at least part of the panel's mission to express the opinions of some end up on Edison?

DAVID VICTOR: The panel is not to express opinions on Southern California Edison, it's eighteen experts on the panel, independent volunteers and our opinions are our own opinions and opinions of the community.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Last night was the first meeting of the panel, was it constructive?

DAVID VICTOR: I think it was constructive, we had a huge turnout from the committee itself we had a detailed briefing on the timeline for the decommissioning process and the key migratory cases that are going to happen in the next few months in the panel is very focused on this and we weaken contributing to those findings and we had more than an hour of comments from the committee and people from all kinds of backgrounds, from the greater 50 mile area around the plant expressing their views and I thought it was constructive and people recognize this process very quickly and they also recognize that is going to be a long-term process and we know the focus on making network as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Was your impression of the first to commissioning meeting?

RAY LUTZ: At that was very impressive, I was wondering if it was going to be very good at all, given that all of the members were hand-picked by Edison, and we looked at a commission and send in a free and we had formally requested such a oversight panel like this and is argued that it would be a bit more independent and people would be outside of the severe of selection by Edison and also would have a more than oversight or reviewing role than this one currently has but I'm hoping that after the last meeting I was very impressed with the individuals there and the leading by David Victor, I think that we can massage this into place so that we can get what we need out of it as a community trying to get oversight over the $3.6 billion to commissioning project.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: At last night's meeting, website or any information to indicated either by the panel or when the speakers or guests from Southern California Edison about what is going on in terms of starting the process of decommissioning?

DAVID VICTOR: Yes there was a very deep detailed explanation by an officer at Southern California Edison I think by now the slides will pop up on the website so people can see that legacy the detailed regulatory filings that are coming up, I think there's been a lot of information but there's also a lot of uncertainty in there are important in permission about how to get the few I've these pools and how rapidly the entirety commissioning process can unfold and what it will cost and so on, I think there will be a little bit more clarity coming up the next few months of these filings are put together.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is my understanding in reading these reports about last night's meeting and the main concern of many speakers was the safety of storing radioactive waste at Santa now free, what were some of the concerns? The me ask you both about the speakers and having that waste stay on-site.

DAVID VICTOR: I would say most speakers commented on Matt and every be recognized as we were in a tremendous bind here, the original mission for federal policy in this area was that fuel used in the reactors and stored in pools as it cooled down and maybe put briefly into casks on-site been moved to a permanent storage facility and and or federal law it is illegal to look at the any permanent option other than the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada and the whole industry and everyone who lives around these plants are stuck of the reality that the fuel accumulating in the plants are going to try casks and are important technical questions about those castes and how to protect those in for the the foreseeable future we are going to have to find a safe and protectable site to store this castes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: For people that are posing questions what were the main elements of concern for stored fuel?

RAY LUTZ: I think David summed it up pretty well, there were some additional concerns brought out by the local activist community in regards to the hype of fuel which was introduced into the plants nationwide, sort of at the sleight-of-hand a few years ago. This fuel is twice as dangerous and it is hotter, it takes longer for to cool down and the concern is as they put this into try casks that it will deteriorate more rapidly because it is just an unknown, it's so early in this whole process and we have not done much in terms of having spent fuel in these try casks for an extended period of time and we really have not had any experience with the hybrid of fuel for twenty, forty, sixty years, and they said there will be no problem, they always say this that there will be no problem with the steam errors, there's human error that is unknown there and we don't think it is the fault of anyone. It's just the way that things panned out and they introduced this fuel and we really have answers, and I think it was a mistake really to introduce this hybrid of fuel without forethought to say how do we deal with it, in fact all of the nuclear industry has been kicking the can down the road in regard to spend fuel anyway, we're sitting with about eighty-nine times more radioactivity than was dispersed and Trenoble here that we never signed up for, nobody wanted this waste here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You outline the problem about where to store radioactive waste, this is a national problem not just a problem that we have here, but considering that ñ 70 free ñ is concerned, and the size of this area, is there any urgency to perhaps press through and find a solution to this?

DAVID VICTOR: There is urgency in the problem is the long-term solution is not one that we in Southern California or in California as a whole can implement, read the federal government and the federal government is not being super productive on many patterns in the recent years and gridlock is making it difficult to deal with a whole variety of issues including this one and will have some workshops in the coming months on the hybrid of the fuel and on the cask options and also frankly a focus on what might be done in these communities to have Washington refocus on finding serious solutions for long-term storage of spent fuel.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How long is the decommissioning process expected to take place?

DAVID VICTOR: And digging 20 YearsWho in there will be more parity on that in the coming months as far as what the cost will be in this will be one of most expensive and largest engineering projects in California for many years and it could happen rapidly or more slowly, I believe right now will be looking at something on the order of a couple of decades and I would say one more thing about that which is right now, a lot of people are focused on spent fuel as they should be and people are worried and because spent fuel is there and is in the community, my guess is that as the decommissioning process starts to unfold people will focus on a lot of other really important issues such as dismantling of reactor buildings and transporting huge amounts of material by rail or some cases by road and other forms of transportation and making sure that is done safely, the noise, dust, the whole lot of other things that can affect the communities. Including job creation. People will focus on that as it becomes more important.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is the next meeting of the panel?

DAVID VICTOR: Sometime in May and I expect in the next week or two will be able to settle on a day and will post this on the website.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to change gears a little bit, SDG&E and Southern California Edison will be working on a refund to repairs. But they already working on how much these countries will owe consumers?

RAY LUTZ: They know there's a number of phases and we've been through three phases, and we've been to one of which was the proposed this is notable back and space phase two is also completed but these three as is been started yet and phase four was kind of thrown away. LOT MISSING …The crux of the question was deferred to the end and the reason for that is because they never really wanted to get into that dirty laundry

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is this settlement going to be going outside the parameters of those guidelines set by the California Public Utilities Commission?

RAY LUTZ: : I think this is standard, I they go through the court like process and then there's the possibility of the settlement and the parties don't all have to agree but the various parties and the coalition and decommission of setting a free is in formal party and proceeding and we can participate in these talks to find out what they want, like what they will give up and what will they give up in terms of the real weight rate reduction, maybe a rebate for repairs and getting some money. It's like any court case settlement, the big picture is we say that we use about 20% of our energy coming from nuclear plants, these nuclear plants are about twice as expensive of any other type of plant in terms of how much it costs to generate 1 Mwh, fifty-seven versus forty-four dollars, if they can get rid of this plant will be saving about half of the 20%, we should get about a 10% rate reduction because it's a big secret, these plants are really financially nonviable. They always have been and the only reason that they are there is is because they are a huge profit moneymaker for the utility because they get to put it in and make money on that and then when they take it out there going to make it money on that as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Regarding the settlement talks taking place tomorrow, I heard that they’re floating a number of about $1 billion in refunds or rebates to consumers. They are talking about a very large number that might be on the table, would you think is the possibility of that?

RAY LUTZ: Honestly I don't know will be on the table from them, I don't think, I know they definitely don't want to go to phase 3, I think they know that they were culpable than they were in charge of this design and it failed, so how much work you need to know to figure that out? Historically these companies want to make their money back and the normal return on investment even for failed projects, I think that is wrong, I think that if you like in regular enterprise you blow it and you don't get your money back and a profit on it you losing your money if you blow it and so it is all upside down, they got it wrecked. Hopefully $1 billion, I don't know what the number is but I would have to do some hand cancellation, will be a big number.

DAVID VICTOR: Memory, and on this is someone who works on this around the world and the kinds of concerns outlined here are very important, at the same time one of the biggest challenges for regulators is to try to strike the right balance and make companies understand that when they make investments in public interest that those investments are credible and the moment that you start whittling that away then people's future investment in your changes and we are right now asking electric companies and other companies make huge investments in new energy services. Nuclear plant powers and trouble in California but all of those are based on expectations that if you do things that are prudent which is what the public utilities commission is reviewing here you'll get that return on investment I think this process will happen as a very important part of that tomorrow and we have to remember that there's a larger part in here that has to do with the relationship with us is customers and beneficiaries who invest in that and wont in the future they don't see reasonable return.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If these companies have put agreed to begin the settlement talks about a refund or rebate to consumers, isn't it, I know that these would not agree with this but is that in a sense at tacit understanding that they have not been prudent in the way that they've spent their money at San Onofre to try to fix these failed generators when they were beyond repair?

DAVID VICTOR: This is a difficult situation and everybody to know everything that we now know as others is challenge of what to do with the plant that is in trouble and do continue to invest in that or do you pull the plug at that point I think the Public Utilities Commission which in the state has an extraordinary reputation----is better with a fair process and is providing good oversight here and I think the hearing that will be held tomorrow in the discussion that will be held tomorrow when investments like this go wrong for whatever reason.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you will be there at the meeting tomorrow, will we be expecting to hear?

RAY LUTZ: I don't think that the CPUC is being fair think it is being raised by utilities and then captured by utilities and I think was everything that they do is in their favor and I disagree with David on this point, it tomorrow I think the scene will be various interveners and parties getting together, Southern California Edison and SDG&E are going to be big opponents are going to be the department and the office of repair advocacy which is sort of a part of the CPUC which is also sparsely part of the state and then they turn which is a big player which is the utility Reform network and also other players, the world business Academy and some other coalitions, we will be there, there was an alliance for nuclear response ability, all of these parties will be sitting down and discussing a reasonable way out for them and I would rather that companies see that it would be better to close these nuclear plant in a dumping it is prudent or reasonable what they did with the steam generator design and I read through it and I am in engineer and I saw the of charging that they did of this. That's why I'm concerned.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Will have to read the headlines on Friday to see if anything came of this first meeting between utilities and some ratepayer advocates, David Victor thank you so much, and Ray Lutz, thank you so much