Jeannette DeWyze 8:30 a.m., Feb. 17
Though shutdown is permanent, San Onofre woes continue
Now that the shutdown of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has been permanent for nearly a week, the realities of what the plant’s closure means in the long run, long overshadowed by the three-way battle between plant operator Southern California Edison, state and federal regulators, and environmental watchdogs, is coming into focus.
First off, it means shifting more of the burden for the state’s energy production onto natural gas power, at least in the short run. While cleaner than coal power other regions rely on, burning natural gas emits significantly more greenhouse gases than running a nuclear reactor, which produces piles of radioactive waste but relatively little air pollution.
San Diego Gas & Electric has already announced plans to revive its proposal to build a 300-megawatt gas plant in Otay Mesa, which were previously shot down in March, citing “a different set of circumstances.”
The announcement met immediate opposition from environmental activists, who claim a “saturation” of alternatives exist, even in the absence of San Onofre.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the same day that Edison announced the closure of San Onofre, the California Independent Systems Operator, which controls the state’s power grid, announced that a new record had been set for solar generation in the state.
While 2,071 megawatts of power were being fed into the grid via solar power at 1 p.m. on Friday (almost equivalent to the capacity of San Onofre’s two remaining reactors), that was still only equivalent to about five percent of the state’s total power demand.
“Ultimately over the longer term, we can probably offset the emissions you’re now gonna get because of San Onofre being down,” said Independent Systems Operator head Steve Berberich, adding the caveat that “in the short and mid-term, clearly you’re moving in the wrong direction from a greenhouse gas perspective.”
There’s also the lingering issue of whether or not Edison acted properly in rushing to install new steam generators built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries without a proper license amendment. ABC affiliate Channel 10 News last night released a report claiming that inside sources say safety concerns were overlooked in the utility’s quest for quick profits. The statements made by interviewed experts mirror those of the activist community made over a year ago regarding significant changes that were made in the design of the ultimately faulty generators as compared to the originals, though Edison insisted the new generators were essentially identical to the old.
Finally, the matter of nuclear waste remains. Tons of the radioactive material remains on site at Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant in northern California, whose reactor was shut down in 1983. A similar fate seems likely to await San Onofre. A recent KPBS report suggests it could be months until spent fuel is removed from the reactors, and it will have to sit in open cooling pools for at least five years before it’s safe to be moved to dry storage casks, where it will likely remain indefinitely, as the United States still has no long-term plan for the storage or disposal of radioactive waste generated by nuclear power plants.