Saturday, July 18, 2015

Southern California Edison Should Reopen San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant


By Norris McDonald

Norris McDonald at San Onofre in 2005
I first toured San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in 2005.  I was very impressed with the staff, the physical plant and the view at SONGS.  I have toured 12 nuclear plants all over the United States, in France and China.  I was fascinated that the non-nuclear generating part of the plant did not have a building around it.  The view of the Pacific Ocean also made this a uniquely beautiful environment for the operation of this emission free facility.  I was extremely disappointed when Southern California Edison (SCE) decided to close the facility and began the decommissioning process.

Without going through all of the legal, economic, technical and mechanical controversies that led to the closure, let me just say that the $4.7 billion approved to support decommissioning should be reprogrammed to reopening and operating the plant.  I suspect that for this amount of money, SCE could buy 2 brand new steam generators and handle the other expenses related to restarting the plant. I understand that SCE looked at the numbers and if they had to carry employees and other expenses while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) took the time to see if the plant could operate safely at a reduced capacity, that they would lose money hand over fist.  Thus the closure decision.  But California desperately needs this 2,000 megawatts (MW) of emission free electricity.

Although SCE believes that the SONGS Settlement approved by the CPUC was fair and reasonable, there is now significant controversy around this Settlement.  Some of the controversy:

":...An Edison executive met secretly in Warsaw, Poland, with former California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey (former SCE CEO) two years ago to sketch out a framework for resolving the San Onofre case. Peevey stepped down in December amid dual state and federal corruption investigations.  State agents executed a search warrant at Peevey’s La Canada Flintridge home [in January], seizing computers, bank records, handwritten notes and other materials."

I have no idea how the Peevey investigation(s) will turn out.  I do know that it casts a shadow on the Settlement.  Lawmakers are calling for reopening the Settlement.  The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the California State Association of Electrical Workers, who originally signed off on the Settlement, are now calling for revisiting the agreement.  I am sure they would agree with me about reopening the plant.

SCE's fight with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries over the steam generator problems will probably go on for years and make a lot of lawyers very rich.  The investigation and subsequent  legal issues related to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUS) and SCE have placed a huge dark cloud over the Settlement Agreement.

Going forward, I will be trying to convince SCE, the regulatory agencies and other stakeholders. to reopen this plant.  And to reopen it with all deliberate speed.

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