CA Plans for a Nukeless Summer

Monday, March 26, 2012 @ 05:03 PM gHale

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy” are words to an famous aria, but in reality this summer in Southern California may be anything but easy if San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station remains out of service.

Right now California energy officials are working to stave off the potential for summer power shortages. San Onofre shut down Jan. 31 when a tube that carries hot, radioactive water in one of the plant’s newly installed steam generators in the Unit 3 reactor sprang a leak. The mishap released a small amount of radioactive steam.

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The reactor went offline and Southern California Edison, the plant’s operator, began pressure-testing 129 tubes that showed excessive wear, while the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission dispatched a team to investigate the issue. Since then, eight tubes have failed pressure stress tests. Meanwhile, in Unit 2, the plant’s other working reactor, which had been shut down for routine maintenance since early January, they found excessive wear and tear on 192 more tubes.

The company is planning for the possibility the plant could be offline through the summer, said Jennifer Manfre, a spokeswoman with Edison.

If that happens, it will be the first time that one of California’s two nuclear plants shut down for an extended period during the summer months when demand peaks, said Stephanie McCorkle, a spokeswoman with California Independent System Operator (ISO), which operates the state’s wholesale power grid.

So far, with energy demand low due to mild weather, the plant’s shutdown has had no impact on service.

In a report presented to the ISO board, staffers said in a major heat wave or transmission line outage during the peak season, South Orange County and the San Diego and Los Angeles areas could face energy shortages without the 2,200 megawatts of power generated by San Onofre.

To prevent that, officials plan to produce more energy from other sources and convince customers to scale back on demand.

“If, in fact, we do nothing, there could be some potential issues down there,” said ISO Chief Executive Stephen Berberich. “We don’t intend to do nothing.”

ISO staffers said they could mitigate the danger of outages by bringing back two retired generating units at a natural gas power plant in Huntington Beach, as well as stepping up transmission upgrades and calling for voluntary conservation through “flex alerts” and other measures.

Manfre said Edison is working with ISO and San Diego Gas & Electric, which owns a 20% share in the plant, to plan for the summer. Among other measures, she said the company is accelerating a transmission project that will serve parts of South Orange County, and is in discussions with the California Public Utilities Commission to implement a rate savings incentive program for customers who reduce their usage.

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