(Image above: San Onofre, awnisALAN, courtesy Wikipedia Commons)
After 16 months of fighting, Southern California Edison has announced it plans to permanently retire Units 2 and 3 of its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).
“SONGS has served this region for over 40 years,” said Ted Craver, Chairman and CEO of Edison International, parent company of SCE, “but we have concluded that the continuing uncertainty about when or if SONGS might return to service was not good for our customers, our investors, or the need to plan for our region’s long-term electricity needs.”
There has been an ongoing controversy over the cause of the tube deterioration that led to the facility’s shutdown – and how much Southern California Edison knew about this – since the facility shut down in January 2012.
A report from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, who supplied the defective Steam Generators, indicates they were hampered by a contract that specifically stipulated the replacement generators had to be “like for like,” so as to not trigger a license amendment. This need dictated a number of crucial design decisions and, ultimately, the malfunction.
US Senator Barbara Boxer, Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said she was relieved by the news,“This nuclear plant had a defective redesign and could no longer operate as intended. Modifications to the San Onofre nuclear plant were unsafe and posed a danger to the eight million people living within 50 miles of the plant.”
“We applaud the leadership of Sen. Boxer as well as all the local elected officials who stood up for public health and environmental safety,” Michelle Kinman of Environment California said in a press relase. “Now it is critical that California officials work to replace San Onofre with clean energy options including conservation, efficiency and renewable power.”
“This is very good news for the people of Southern California. We have long said that these reactors are too dangerous to operate and now Edison has agreed. The people of California now have the opportunity to move away from the failed promise of dirty and dangerous nuclear power and replace it with the safe and clean energy provided by the sun and the wind,” added Erich Pica, whose environmental organization, “Friends of the Earth,” actively opposed a proposed restart of this facility.
“This is a real victory for South California and everyone working against Nuclear power worldwide,” said Carol Jahnkow, a member of the environmental co-alition that was in the forefront of the legal battle. “This really demonstrates that people power can win.”
Last month the U.S. Atomic Safety Licensing Board ruled today that San Onofre could not be restarted before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds a formal license amendment proceeding with full public participation.
In the press release announcing their decision, SCE’s President Ron Litzinger said, “Looking ahead, we think that our decision to retire the units will eliminate uncertainty and facilitate orderly planning for California’s energy future.”
He noted that SCE “has worked with the California Independent System Operator, the California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission in planning for Southern California’s energy needs and will continue to do so.”
“The company is already well into a summer reliability program and has completed numerous transmission upgrades in addition to those completed last year. Thanks to consumer conservation, energy efficiency programs and a moderate summer, the region was able to get through last summer without electricity shortages. We hope for the same positive result again this year, although generation outages, soaring temperatures or wildfires impacting transmission lines would test the system.”
SCE now faces the unpleasant prospect of laying off 1,100 of their employees from SONGS.
“This situation is very unfortunate,” said Pete Dietrich, SCE’s Chief Nuclear Officer, noting that “this is an extraordinary team of men and women. We will treat them fairly.” SCE will work to ensure a fair process for this transition, and will work with the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) and the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers (IBEW) on transition plans for the employees they represent.
This announcement closely follows that of two other aged US nuclear facilities being shut down. In February, Duke Energy discovered a crack in the reactor of Crystal River power station in Florida. In May, Kewaunee nuclear plant, in Wisconsin, fell victim to rising operational costs.
Environment California stresses that steps must be taken to safely decommission San Onofre, so that it doesn’t remain a threat to local communities in years to come, and the nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon, in northern California, should also be shut down.
“Given the age of our nuclear power plants, their proximity to active fault lines, and their threat to our ocean environment, California should move beyond nuclear power once and for all by retiring Diablo Canyon as soon as possible,” concluded Kinman.