Santa Monica Votes To Support Nuclear Station Investigation

Monday, 27 Aug 2012, 2:16:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

Though separated by about 80 miles and two counties, Santa Monica and San Onofre have a couple things in common: both are accessible by a major Interstate highway and feature a signature landmark that defines its coastline.

While Santa Monica has the Pier, San Onofre has the Nuclear Generating Station. Earlier this month, the Santa Monica City Council directed City staff to express support of a state investigation of the nuclear facility, which has been shut down since January.

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) was shut down about at the beginning of 2012 when thousands of tubes in the steam generators were prematurely worn, causing those generators to fail and allow the nuclear reactor to leak radioactive steam into the environment.

Upon immediate testing, it was discovered the tubes, which were installed in 2010 and 2011, experienced rapid and unprecedented wear.

About seven months later, Mayor Richard Bloom and Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis requested their colleagues and City staff to “support of a full California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) investigation of the cost and reliability of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and compare it to other energy sources used today and throughout the licensing duration.”

Also requested was a formal hearing by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission “to conduct a licensing amendment process that is transparent and includes public hearings.”

Originally built in 1968, SONGS, which is operated by Southern California Edison and owned in Edison International, the San Diego Gas and Electric Co., and the City of Riverside Utilities Dept., expanded to a three-unit operation by 1984. The original unit was decommissioned Nov. 30, 1992; the second and third units that remained have their respective license agreements set to expire in 2022.

A leak was discovered Jan. 31 in Unit 3. Interestingly enough, at that time Unit 2 was reportedly taken offline due to the worn tubes. Both units house four steam generators; the tubes are responsible for heat transfer from those generators.

Should Edison decide to incur the repair or replacement costs, state law reportedly allows them to formally request the CPUC to deflect those costs by increasing rates on its customers. However, Santa Monica’s request for a CPUC investigation into the generator failures could result in a finding that Edison is financially responsible for the repairs or replacements.

A review of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission released July 18 concluded the wear and failure of the heat transfer tubes may have been the result of faulty “design and configuration.”

According to news reports, Edison indicated that updating the steam generators as it did in 2010 and 2011 would ultimately allow its ratepayers to save money.

Santa Monica was the second city to push for a CPUC investigation. Earlier this month, Laguna Beach, CA, unanimously passed a similar adoption.

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