San Onofre: California launches investigation of cost issues as nation's aging reactors face 'mothballs'

San Onofre: California launches investigation of cost issues as nation’s aging reactors face ‘mothballs’

Friends of the Earth: Continued operation of San Onofre is not cost effective

IRVINE, Calif. — The California Public Utilities Commission will announce today that it is launching an investigation assessing key economic issues relating to the crippled San Onofre nuclear reactors operated by Southern California Edison. The move, coming just three days after the announcement of the closing of a Wisconsin reactor for economic reasons, raises the question of whether San Onofre will be among the aging and expensive U.S. reactors that face closure because they can no longer compete with cheaper sources of energy.

“It has become increasingly clear that nuclear power is not cost effective,” said Damon Moglen, energy and climate director at Friends of the Earth, which is filing  as a legal intervener in the PUC’s investigation of San Onofre. “We’ll be providing expert testimony to the PUC and we are confident that the investigation will prove that continued operation of San Onofre is not cost effective.”

San Onofre’s twin reactors have been shut down since January after a leak of radioactive steam led to the discovery of severely damaged steam generators. Earlier this month, Edison filed a plan with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to experiment with the restart of one of the reactors despite conducting no additional repairs to the failed steam generators. Friends of the Earth has also intervened legally in that proceeding.  

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that aging and expensive reactors like that at San Onofre face being “mothballed” because of high, non-competitive energy costs. Energy reporter Matthew L. Wald wrote that the announcement by Dominion Energy that it will close its reactor at Kewaunee, Wisconsin, “is not the only trouble sign for the industry” and that the Kewaunee closing could be “a harbinger of more closings.”

Because of the low price of energy from sources like wind power, some reactors are being forced to sell energy for less than their costs of production – in other words, they have to pay instead of being paid. One energy consultant told The Times that even where renewables are not part of the energy supply, the low price of natural gas and the high costs of repair of the aging reactors means “A (nuclear plant) that might have been worth a couple of billion dollars is now basically worthless.”

The decision to close the Kewaunee reactor came after Dominion tried for a year to sell it to another operator. The closure amounts to a bellwether indicating that old nuclear reactors, already recognized as not providing electricity at competitive rates, will be even less economical as they are forced to pay for needed safety upgrades and storage of the expanding mountain of nuclear waste generated by the plants’ continued operation.

The closure of Kewaunee has direct implications for San Onofre. The design errors in the costly new steam generators at both San Onofre reactors have led Edison to propose that it be allowed to experimentally operate only one of the reactors at 70 percent power. Such a proposal, while totally unacceptable from a public safety standpoint, is also indefensible from an economic standpoint given that massive costs will be incurred with only limited power output.

Damon Moglen, 202-222-0708, [email protected]


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