TURN says consumers should not be on the hook for Edison’s mistakes
ROSEMEAD—Southern California Edison has submitted a plan to federal regulators to restart one of the shuttered reactors at its ailing San Onofre nuclear plant, a proposal met with concerns from environmental groups.
Under Edison’s plan – which requires approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – Unit 2 would be put back in operation for five months at reduced power. After that it would be shut down for inspections to ensure it could continue to operate safely.
Unit 3 would remain offline while Edison “continues to study the potential solutions that are unique to that unit,” the utility said.
The NRC has said that there is no timetable to restart the plant, so it could take months for the commission to review the proposal.
Daniel Hirsch, president of Committee to Bridge the Gap, a nonprofit nuclear policy organization focused on issues of nuclear safety, has concerns about the restart of Unit 2.
“Rather than fix the problem they have decided to turn the key again, run it at lower power and keep one’s fingers crossed,” he said.
But SCE President Ron Litzinger said he feels Unit 2 is ready for action.
“Safety is our top priority, and after conducting more than 170,000 inspections to understand and prevent the problem, and confirming the corrective actions we have taken to solve the problem with the top experts from around the world, we have concluded that Unit 2 at San Onofre can be operated safely and within industry norms,” Litzinger said in a statement.
The seaside plant between Los Angeles and San Diego has been idle since January after a tube break in one of four massive steam generators released traces of radiation.
Edison has spent months unraveling what caused excessive tube vibration and friction inside the plant’s nearly new steam generators, then determining how it might be fixed.
A team of federal investigators was dispatched to the site in March after it was discovered that some tubes were so badly corroded they could fail and possibly release radiation.
In June, the investigators announced that a botched computer analysis resulted in design flaws that are largely to blame for unprecedented wear in the tubes.
The steam generators were manufactured by Japan-based Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
“The tubes were much more affected in Unit 3,” Edison spokeswoman Jennifer Manfre said Thursday. “We’re in the process of taking the fuel rods, which contain the radioactive material, out of the containment area because that’s the best way for us to continue our inspection of that unit.”
Manfre said 300 tubes in Unit 3 registered tube-to-tube wear, all in one localized area. The support structures in Unit 3 were also not effective, she said.
Company executives have left open the possibility that the generators in Unit 3 might be scrapped altogether.
Unit 2, by contrast, only had one instance of tube-to-tube wear between two adjacent tubes, Manfre said.
Edison is also facing a state review of costs related to the long-running outage that could leave customers or shareholders with a huge bill for repairs and replacement power – a figure that had reached $165 million at midyear. The company didn’t update those figures Thursday.
“Consumers really need to know at this point who is going to pay for all of this,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy organization that represents customers of California’s utilities.
Spatt said the San Onofre facility should not be figured into the equation when Edison determines its rates.
“What we have said and continue to say is that San Onofre should be taken out of the rate base,” she said. “Customers can’t be left on the hook for a series of missteps that were not the customers’ fault.”
Manfre said Edison will first look to warranties on the equipment and insurance coverage to pick up costs associated with the problems.
“Anything beyond that the PUC (California Public Utilities Commission) has to review,” she said. “They will determine if those costs were reasonably incurred and if they can be passed on to customers or not.”
Hirsch said Edison bypassed a formal licensing process when it installed the new steam generators, which could have triggered an evidentiary hearing, prompting closer scrutiny of the equipment.
When San Onofre was up and running, it produced enough electricity to power 1.4 million homes. In the wake of its closure, two natural gas-fired plants in Huntington Beach were brought back online to help fill in the gap. Edison also has encouraged ratepayers to conserve energy use and participate in its incentive-based programs to use less energy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.