San Onofre Nuke Plant Officials Say They Did Nothing Wrong--OH REALLY?

Categories: Environment

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In a conference call with reporters this morning, Edison International President and Chief Executive Officer Theodore Craver, Jr. essentially blamed bad luck on the company's historic decision today to shutter its controversial, problem-plagued San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, or SONGS.

"I assume you've seen our announcement that we've no longer decided to seek restart of Unit 2 and Unit 3 of SONGS," Craven told reporters. He then cited "continuing uncertainty around future of the plant, particularly how long the approval process might continue to be" as the main reason for not reopening the plant. "The other part of the reason is when we originally proposed to restart Unit 2....last October," he added, "there was a clear cost advantage to continue to operate the plant, but over time that economic advantage diminishes."

But when asked what the company did wrong, Craver struggled to answer.

Craver acknowledged that this question was something that Edison and others would be pondering for some time. Then without naming the company, he essentially blamed Mistubishi Heavy Industries for building replacement steam generators that failed to perform as expected. "The steam generators did not perform the way they were specified," Craver said. "I'm sure we can find lots of things where if we could roll the clock back we could do things differently, but that's kind of the nub of it."

However, when asked in a follow up question whether Edison could have avoided shutting down the plant in January 2012 if it had undergone a lengthier license review process--the kind recently demanded by a now-moot lawsuit filed by Friends of the Earth--Craver insisted that such a review wouldn't have uncovered the technical problems which led to the plant being shut down.

"The general sense we have is this was such a unique phenomenon, I'm not convinced a more thorough approval process would have uncovered the technical engineering issue," he said. "That's obviously the question we've asked ourselves and others will ask, but the best sense of it is the technical nature of that would not have really been identified in a lengthier process, because really the technical issue is a first of a kind technical circumstance."

Although San Onofre's nuke plant is now officially gone forever, it's actually not going anywhere soon. Although Unit 3's fuel rods have already been placed in cooling ponds onsite, it will take a few months to remove the radioactive rods from the Unit 2 reactor, Craver said. The second part of the process of decommissioning the plant will be to place those rods in dry casket storage onsite for decades and perhaps longer. Currently the U.S. has no permanent storage location for nuclear waste.

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