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San Onofre Layoffs: Latest Sign of Nuke Plant’s Demise

by Michael Steinberg Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012 at 5:59 PM

The announcement of the impending layoff of one third of the San Onofre nuclear plant's workforce is yet another indication of the demise of this troublesome nuke.

August 20th’s notice that San Onofre’s owners are laying off 730 workers—one third of the workforce—is yet another indication of a nuclear power plant in severe distress.

Both formerly operating reactors have been shut down since January due to revelations that key components called steam generators had rapidly and largely turned into junk.

In following months promises of restart from the company have repeatedly been pushed back.

On July 31 Huff Post LA reported that this crisis had cost the plant “at least $165 million” at that point. This figure consisted of “$48 million for inspection and maintenance costs” and $117 million “to buy replacement power.”

The Huff Post report also stated, “In a conference call with Wall Street analysts, Edison Chairman Ted Craver left opened the possibility that the Unit 3 reactor might be scrapped.”

Southern California Edison has an 80% ownership share in the San Onofre nukes, with San Diego Gas & Electric holding most of the remaining share.

Despite the crippled status of San Onofre, its owners are still raking in $54 million per month while its reactors provide not one electron of power to its 1.4 million customers in San Diego, Orange and LA counties.

The North County Times reported on August 13, “Ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay the $54 million per month to run the disabled San Onofre plant, the Division of Ratepayers told the utilities regulator in a letter Monday.”

That division of the state Public Utilities Commission “lobbies on behalf of utilities customers,” the newspaper reported.

State law mandates that the PUC can “pull the costs from consumer bills” if generating equipment “is off line for nine months or more,” the paper reported.

But, in his letter to the PUC, James Como, acting director of the Division of Ratepayer Advocates, wrote:

“I write to ask you to remove [San Onofre nuclear plant] from [SC Edison’s] and [SDG&E’s] rate base now, instead of waiting several more months and allowing hundreds of millions of dollars in needless costs to be borne by customers.

“[The law] is not intended to be a free pass for utilities to earn a return on non-functioning hardware for nine months. Nor does the [law] limit the Commissions’ authority to act sooner, and indeed the Commission has a responsibility to act.”

SC Edison did not respond to requests from The North County Times. An SDG&E spokesperson said the utility consumer advocacy division “appears to be jumping the gun.”

Almost lost in all these breaking stories was one from the August 20 Huff Post LA: “San Onofre Power Plant: NRC Slaps Nuclear Plant For Security Lapse.”

According to this report, the NRC said that “the company failed to develop procedures to monitor electronic devices related to security. The NRC withheld most details of the problem.” A San Onofre official said the problem had been corrected

While San Onofre’s owners witness their former big moneymaker becoming more and more of a liability, they also have to face the reality that, even if they did want to get Units 2 and 3 running again, they probably would have to replace all four steam generators.
The last time they did that (only a few years ago), it took over two years and cost $680 million. Steam generators usually last 20 or more years.

But maybe now, just maybe, they’ll finally get real and realize nuclear power just ain’t worth it.

Michael Steinberg is a veteran writer and activist currently based in the Bay Area.

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