CA Nuke Repairs Mount; Restart Unclear

Thursday, August 2, 2012 @ 06:08 PM gHale

The tab to repair the San Onofre nuclear power plant in California is at $165 million and counting.

It could cost $25 million more to get one of the damaged reactors running at reduced power, officials said.

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Financial records released by Edison International — the parent company of operator Southern California Edison — provided a sober assessment of the troubles at the seaside plant, where malfunctioning steam generators damaged scores of tubes that carry radioactive water. The plant has not produced power since January.

Edison International Chairman Ted Craver left open the possibility the heavily damaged generators in the Unit 3 reactor might end up scrapped. It’s also possible the plant will never return to its full output of electricity, unless they replace four generators.

The details came out two days before the state Public Utilities Commission will consider opening a probe of costs related to the long-running shutdown. If either of the reactors remains offline for nine months, Edison could face a separate commission review that would examine if customers should be paying for a plant that doesn’t generate power, officials said.

Southern California Edison has piled up $48 million in inspection and repair costs through June 30 — a bill that is growing steadily. And the utility paid $117 million so far to buy power to replace the electricity the plant, located between San Diego and Los Angeles, would otherwise be producing.

The company has not announced a formal plan to restart either reactor, which must go to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The company estimated it would cost $25 million to begin a restart at the Unit 2 reactor, which likely would run at reduced power in hopes of slowing damage from tube vibration and friction.

Company officials describe the tube-to-tube damage at Unit 2 as less severe. Craver said Unit 2 “could restart months in advance” of its sister reactor.

“It is not clear at this time whether Unit 3 will be able to restart without extensive additional repairs,” Craver added.

SCE told state regulators last week the damaged reactors might restart by the end of the year. The tentative dates — Nov. 18 for the Unit 2 and Dec. 31 for its sister, Unit 3 — are required for planning by the agency that operates the state’s wholesale power system, the California Independent System Operator.

Craver called such dates “rough estimates” and added, “There is no timeline for safety.”

Craver sketched a grim outlook for Unit 3, saying that reducing its power level would not alleviate the problems with tube damage. “All options are on the table,” he said.

The financial figures were included in a report on Edison’s operations between April and June.

The trouble unfolded in January, when the Unit 3 reactor shut down as a precaution after a tube break. Traces of radiation escaped at the time, but officials said there was no danger to workers or neighbors. Unit 2 was offline earlier that month for maintenance, but investigators later found unexpected wear on scores of tubes inside both units.

A three-month federal probe blamed a botched computer analysis for generator design flaws that ultimately resulted in excessive wear to scores of alloy tubes. Edison has been trying to determine how to correct the problem, while environmental activists have depicted the plant as a disaster in the making.

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