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San Onofre: the cost of nuclear power

Southern Califorrnia Edison (SCE), the operator of the troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant, says that the long-running blackout has cost $317 million and that it is not clear whether the power plant’s steam generators can ever be repaired and operated at full power. Edison International, which is the parent company of SCE,  filed a report with federal regulators that said the cost of repairs through September 30 increased to $96 million, which is TWICE the amount reported at midyear.

Since the San Onofre plant has been out of service since January, the price for replacement power increased to $221 million over that period – up from $117 million at the end of June. SFGate.com reports:

In a conference call with Wall Street analysts, Edison Chairman Ted Craver said SCE was continuing to work with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which built the generators, and other industry experts to determine if the troubled machines that control heat inside the reactors can return to full capacity.

“It’s not clear at this time if the units can be repaired, and it appears complete replacement of the steam generators would take some years,” Craver said.

The problems are focused on damage to alloy tubing that was installed during a $670 million overhaul of four steam generators in 2009. Unit 2 was taken offline for maintenance in January, and the Unit 3 reactor was shut down on January 31 after a tube breakage with release of some radioactivity. Testing later revealed unexpected wear on HUNDREDS of tubes in BOTH units, with some tubes so corroded that they could break and potentially release radiation. A federal probe that lasted three months showed a bad computer analysis for generator tube design flaws that resulted in excessive wear!

According to SFGate.com:

Last month, SCE asked federal regulators for permission to restart the Unit 2 reactor and run it at reduced power. A decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not expected for months.

Edison’s proposal was denounced by environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists who have argued for months that restarting the plant would invite catastrophe. About 7.4 million Californians live within 50 miles of San Onofre, which can power 1.4 million homes. <emphasis mine>

“The key remains their acknowledgment that both units need repair or replacement of their steam generators, but they want to run Unit 2 for a while without those repairs or replacement,” said Daniel Hirsch, a lecturer on nuclear policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who is a critic of the nuclear power industry.

“It certainly isn’t a sign that ‘safety is our No. 1 priority’ if they know the steam generators need repair or replacement and are going to run Unit 2 with the crippled steam generators anyway,” Hirsch said in an email.

Engineers for SCE suspect :-) that running Unit 2 at lower power will stop vibration that resulted in excessive wear to scores of tubes that carry radioactive water. As for the heavily damaged Unit 3, no decision is expected until next summer at the earliest.

The California Public Utilities Commission opened an investigation last week to assess whether ratepayers should pay the costs associated with a plant that has been shut down most of the year.

-Bill at

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