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Showdown at San Onofre

January 8, 2013

Tell CPUC ‘No nukes! Shut down San Onofre permanently!’ Tuesday, Jan. 8, hearing 10 a.m., rally noon, 505 Van Ness Ave. at McAllister, San Francisco

by Harvey Wasserman

Two stricken California reactors may soon redefine a global movement aimed at eradicating nuclear power.

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station by Nuclear Regulatory Commission
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, on the beach between San Diego and Los Angeles, lies within 50 miles of 8.5 million people. – Photo: Nuclear Regulatory Commission
They sit in a seismic zone vulnerable to tsunamis. Faulty steam generators have forced them shut for nearly a year.

A powerful “No Nukes” movement wants them to stay that way. If they win, the shutdown of America’s 104 licensed reactors will seriously accelerate.

The story of San Onofre Units 2 and 3 is one of atomic idiocy. Perched on an ocean cliff between Los Angeles and San Diego, the reactors’ owners cut unconscionable corners in replacing their multi-million-dollar steam generators. According to Russell Hoffman, one of California’s leading experts on San Onofre, inferior metals and major design failures turned what was meant to be an upgrade into an utter fiasco.

Installed by Mitsubishi, the generators simply did not work. When they were shut nearly a year ago, tubes were leaking, banging together and, overall, rendering further operations impossible.

Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric have unofficially thrown in the towel on Unit 3. But they’re lobbying hard to get at least Unit 2 back up and running. Their technical problems are so serious that they’ve asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to let them run Unit 2 at 70 percent capacity. In essence, they want to “see what happens” without daring to take the reactor to full power.

The NRC has expressed serious doubts. On Dec. 26 it demanded answers to more than 30 questions about the plant’s technical realities. There have been assertions that unless San Onofre can be shown as operable at full power, its license should be negated.

San Onofre’s owners are desperate to get at least Unit 2 back on line so they can gouge the ratepayers for their failed expenditures. If the California Public Utilities Commission refuses the request, there’s no way San Onofre can reopen.

So nuclear opponents can now fight restart both at the federal level and with the state PUC. The state regulators have opened an in-depth investigation into what’s happened at San Onofre, and the picture is not expected to be pretty.

Economic analyses show the reactors to be uneconomical anyway. “Experts” warned California would suffer blackouts and brownouts without them, but nothing of the sort has happened. The only real reason San Onofre’s owners want to get it back up is to charge the ratepayers for their failed repairs.

San Onofre’s owners are desperate to get at least Unit 2 back on line so they can gouge the ratepayers for their failed expenditures. If the California Public Utilities Commission refuses the request, there’s no way San Onofre can reopen.

The fiasco at San Onfre is being replayed at rust bucket reactors throughout the U.S. Progress Energy poked some major new holes into the containment at the Crystal River reactor it was allegedly fixing. Nebraska’s Ft. Calhoun has been flooded. An earthquake hit Virginia’s reactors with seismic forces that exceeded design specifications.

In Wisconsin, Kewaunee’s owners will shut it for economic reasons. A new study shows Vermont Yankee, under intense attack from a grassroots citizens’ upheaval, has major economic benefits to gain from shutting down. Elsewhere around the U.S., technical and economic pressures have the industry on the brink.

Meanwhile, the conversion to green power in Germany is booming. When 8 reactors were shut and the conversion to wind, solar and biomass became official policy, “experts” predicated energy shortages and soaring prices. But the opposite has happened as supply has boomed and prices have dropped.

Surfer at San Onofre State Beach in shadow of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station by Orange County Register
San Onofre State Beach, popular with surfers, lies in the shadow of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. – Photo: Orange County Register
The same things will happen in California and elsewhere as these radioactive jalopies begin to shut. The effectiveness of citizen activism in California is now vastly multiplied as these two decrepit reactors become increasingly obsolete, inoperable and economically insupportable.

As Kewaunee shuts, as Crystal River heads toward salvage, as No Nukes citizen action escalates, and as renewables and efficiency soar in performance and plummet in price, a green-powered era is dawning.

But as Fukushima Unit 4’s spent fuel pool teeters 100 feet in the air, we are reminded that the danger from the failed nuclear power experiment is far from over.

The two reactors at San Onfre linger on atop major earthquake fault lines, just steps away from an ocean that could wash over them as sure as it did at Fukushima.

The California No Nukes movement may indeed be on the brink of a major victory. But we had better get these reactors buried before disaster strikes yet again.

Harvey Wasserman is author of “Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth” and will speak Wednesday evening in Santa Monica (contact: ilenepr@sbcglobal.net) for the shut-down of San Onofre. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/solartopia.

Californians demand CPUC shut down San Onofre permanently

Californians seeking to forestall nuclear catastrophe on our coast will gather at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Tuesday, Jan. 8, for the first hearing in the San Onofre Investigation. Women’s Energy Matters, the Coalition to Decommission San Onofre, No Nukes Action and others are calling for CPUC to choke off funds for continued operation of Edison’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and require shareholders to pay for Edison’s new steam generators, which it recklessly redesigned to produce more power.

WEM, an intervenor in the proceeding, is calling for the commission, Edison and SEMPRA to consider this an opportunity to advance a genuinely clean energy agenda, utilizing energy efficiency, local solar, other renewables and storage technologies. CPUC’s own figures show the state has a large power glut – 50 percent more than we need, even with both San Onofre and Diablo Canyon shut down. This should ease the transition. The grid operator can continue to do without San Onofre as it has done for 11 months already – using only minimal additional resources.

Anti-nuke rally near San Onofre 1st anniversary Fukushima 031112 by Michael Goulding, Orange County Register
Hundreds rallied outside San Onofre on March 11, 2012, the first anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. – Photo: Michael Goulding, Orange County Register
San Onofre’s two monster reactors have been shut down since Jan. 31, 2012, after one of four nearly new steam generators sprang a leak and sent radiation into the immediate neighborhood, which includes the famous surfing beach “Trestles,” Camp Pendleton, Highway 5 and former President Nixon’s western White House at San Clemente.

The commission promises to investigate the causes of the outage and the costs of the plant, starting with the steam generator replacement and projecting into the future, including further repairs or replacement efforts. CPUC must weigh the need for Edison to revise its business plan against the possibility of disruption to California’s economy, its electrical system, and the lives and livelihood of 8.5 million people who reside within a 50-mile radius of the reactors between Los Angeles and San Diego. Possible losses include the busiest port in the nation, a large part of the country’s food supplies, and some of its priciest real estate – which could fall within “exclusion zones” like the ones around Fukushima and Chernobyl if something went wrong in a restart of San Onofre.

Unlike in Japan where the prevailing winds blew most of Fukushima-Daiichi radiation out to sea, the ocean breezes in Orange County tend to blow inland, where they would trap radioactive smog in LA’s notoriously dirty air.

Edison has been silent about the future of the reactor that leaked radiation but is pressing the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to let it restart the other one at 70 percent power for five months and then shut it down for an inspection. Independent nuclear experts warn that this is foolhardy, since both reactors have experienced far more degradation in their new steam generators than any other nuclear plant, and there’s no evidence that running it at lower power would solve the vibrations that caused the original damage.

Contact Barbara George, executive director of Women’s Energy Matters, at (510) 915-6215 or bgwem@igc.org.

 

One thought on “Showdown at San Onofre

  1. Paul

    Mr Wasserman, good morning. It is unclear on how the utility would be able/unable to charge for costs of operations and capitol expenses resulting at San Onofre. Are you saying there is a PUC law that excludes failed investments (like the failed upgrade described here) from the rates payed by customers?__TIA for any clarification you can provide.

    Reply

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