Southern California Edison just announced plans to permanently close the San Onofre nuclear power plant after a 16-month battle over whether or not to restore its twin reactors. Facing political opposition, regulatory challenges, and expensive repairs, the utility announced this Friday that the plant was no longer suitable for operation. The plant served the region for over 4 decades, but problems with its steam generator tubes and radiation leaks forced it to undergo a $670 million redesign. Not being able to ensure the safety of the eight million people living within 50 miles of the plant, Southern California Edison decided to retire and eventually dismantle the facility.
Located between Los Angeles and San Diego, the San Onofre nuclear power plant has not produced any electricity since 2012 after a radiation leak uncovered massive damage to tubes that carry radioactive water. Southern California Edison had been looking to restart the Unit 2 reactor at reduced power with the permission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but instead they decided to shut down both units. It is not yet clear how the electricity from the plant will be replaced, but the California Public Utilities Commission pledged to work with local governments to ensure adequate power during peak hours.
The plant “has served this region for over 40 years,” said Ted Craver of Edison International. “But we have concluded that the continuing uncertainty about when or if (the plant) 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.”
Once Southern California Edison notifies the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it has removed all material from its reactor cores, the decommissioning process will begin. The dismantling of San Onofre comes as a victory for environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists. “We have long said that these reactors are too dangerous to operate and now Edison has agreed. The people of California now have the opportunity to move away from the failed promise of dirty and dangerous nuclear power and replace it with the safe and clean energy provided by the sun and the wind,” said Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica.
It remains to be seen how the news of San Onofre’s fate may affect other nuclear plants in the country. Post-Fukushima, the Nuclear Regulator Commission has undertaken a nationwide review of how the plants could respond to natural disasters. In earthquake-prone California, the tide may be turning for plants located in vulnerable areas.