San Onofre's Problems Deepen

Thursday, April 12, 2012
By Alison St John

Hopes that problems at San Onofre’s Unit 2 reactor might be less serious than those at Unit 3 are now fading. California’s energy agencies are gearing up efforts to get substitute power from decommissioned power plants.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said when he visited San Onofre there was a chance Unit 2 could be restarted before Unit 3, since it’s steam generator tubes might be wearing prematurely for different reasons.

“They need to demonstrate to us that Unit 2 is not experiencing the same kind of degradation,” Jaczko said, “ so it is possible that they could move forward for a different path for restart - but a lot of that will depend on what the causes are.”

But now Southern California Edison says they’ve found more tube wear in Unit 2, similar though less serious than in Unit 3. The tubes in both steam generators were replaced in the past two years, with a design unique to San Onofre.

Meanwhile, California’s Independent Systems Operator says it has informed AES, the operator of a gas powered plant at Huntingdon Beach, that it wants two decommissioned units there back on line by mid May.

Eric Pendergraft, President of AES, said the company is looking at plugging holes put into the boilers of the two units when they were decommissioned last year. The units were sold to a subsidiary of Edison and taken off line to allow Edison to build another power plant elsewhere, but Pendergraft said the units are legally operable till 2020.

He believes AES will be able to bring the units back on line by May, depending on certain regulatory conditions. He says the California Energy Commission is visiting the plant today.

Meanwhile nuclear watchdog, Friends of the Earth, released a second study today, laying the blame for the problems at San Onofre on design changes made recently when tubes in the steam generators were replaced. The report, by Arnie Gundersen and Fairewinds Associates, says the cause of the premature wear of the steam generator tubes is the same for both units, and is due to making those changes with insufficient review.