SONGS San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Retiring

Nuclear generating station

Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, it was impressive and somewhat frightening to see the nuclear power plant standing on the shore of the Pacific Ocean.  Southern California Edison announced that the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, or SONGS, will be permanently retired.

“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.”

Both SONGS units have been shut down since January of 2012.  Unit two was taken out of service on January 9th, 2012, for a ‘routine outage.’  Unit three was safely taken offline on January 31, 2012, when a small leak was discovered in a tube inside of the steam generator, manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.  The generator had been installed in 2010.

A plan to restart Unit two was submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in October, 2012.  After months of public and private meetings, and eight months of indecision, SCE made the decision to retire the facility.

Estimates of as much as another year’s delay, the cost of maintaining the facility in a state of preparedness for a restart, and the future cost of repairs which would ultimately be passed on to its customers, prompted the decision by SCE management.

“Looking ahead,” said Ron Litzinger, SCE’s President, “we think that our decision to retire the units will eliminate uncertainty and facilitate orderly planning for California’s energy future.”

Litzinger said that SCE has been working together with California authorities to ensure continued and uninterrupted service to its customers.

“The company is already well into a summer reliability program and has completed numerous transmission upgrades in addition to those completed last year,” Litzinger said. “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,” Litzinger added, “although generation outages, soaring temperatures or wildfires impacting transmission lines would test the system.”

SCE will be forced to reduce its staff at San Onofre from 1,500 to just 400.

“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.

Californians have routinely protested the existence of a nuclear power plant along the previously pristine coast.

On August 6, 1977, about a thousand anti-nuclear protesters marched outside the nuclear generation station, while units 2 & 3 were under construction.

On June 22, 1980, about 15,000 people attended a protest near San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

As recently as March 11, 2012, protests were once again held at the site, marking the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

James Turnage

The Guardian Express

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