Not one penny for a premature license renewal feasibility study for San Onofre

by on December 24, 2008 · 0 comments

in Energy, Environment, San Diego

by Rochelle Becker / Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility / December 24, 2008

Yesterday statewide and national media reported that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced it would be increasing oversight at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) upon discovering that an emergency backup battery system had been inoperable for the past four years due to inadequate maintenance.

Last month, California Public Utilities Commission Judge De Angelis agreed that a license renewal study was premature in the Proposed Decision in SCE’s current rate case for San Onofre. The Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility believes that during a time when Californians are losing their homes, their jobs, and the state is unable to balance its budget, unnecessary utility rate increases should not be allowed to burden consumers. Southern California Edison (SCE) has asked for millions of dollars to begin an in-house feasibility study for license renewal at its aging San Onofre reactors–seventeen years before current licenses expire! As it has only taken the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about eighteen months to approve forty-eight license renewal applications, there is no hurry to file this application now.

SCE has yet to cut a 28 by 28 foot hole in each reactor dome and remove their current steam generators—which failed half-way through their design life—and replace them at a cost of nearly $800 million. SCE has had several well-publicized problems involving lapses in their “safety culture” this past year, and has been rebuked by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The CPUC judge’s Proposed Decision stated that:SCE does not need to initiate this study until at least 2012.” The judge is correct. Fifty reactors across the country have been granted license renewals, and to date no applications have been denied. The NRC process does not consider the increasing stockpiles of highly radioactive waste that have been produced and are being stored onsite. Once a utility files an application with the NRC for license renewal, it is virtually impossible for the state to have any meaningful input in the process, even though the costs of a license renewal are borne by the state’s ratepayers.

California is leading the nation in questioning the reliability of aging reactors and both the CEC’s report and the CPUC’s judge’s decision are good news for increasingly burdened ratepayers. A quick look at what has happened in the nuclear industry over the last decade should demonstrate the folly of premature relicensing: a hole discovered in the reactor vessel head at Davis-Besse, the collapse of cooling towers at Vermont Yankee, 8000 MW offline due to a Japanese earthquake in 2007, several transformers fires, inadequate fire protection, and new security enhancements. These are all costly, and ratepayers have been given no choice but to pay up and keep these aging radioactive behemoths in operation.

Enough is enough. The CPUC should support the Proposed Decision denying ratepayer funding for license renewal, and the state should determine if it is in the best interest of ratepayers to continue to rely on increasingly expensive aging reactors. It is time for Californians to determine where their energy dollars will be best spent; and a green, truly sustainable energy program should be our wish for our children this holiday season and throughout their lives.


Rochelle Becker is the Executive Director of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility

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