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Nuclear economics; a fourth American nuclear plant bites the dust

California nuclear plant to shut: a case of unforgiving nuclear economics, Christian Science Monitor, Peter Spotts, 7 June 13 Southern California Edison is shutting the remaining two reactors at San Onofre, citing high repair costs and an NRC ruling that the utility says would delay reactor restarts.

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), a nuclear power plant set into the seaside bluffs in northern San Diego County, is closing after the high cost of repairs and a Nuclear Regulatory Commission board ruling prompted its owner, Southern California Edison, to pull the plug on the 45-year-old facility.The announcement Friday that San Onofre’s two functioning reactors were being shut down brings to four the number of reactors that nuclear utilities have slated for closure since last November. Meanwhile, nuclear utilities have three new reactors on the drawing boards.

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At least for now, “we’re losing them faster than we’re building them,” quips David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer by training who focuses on nuclear-energy issues at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington…..

n early May, the utility Dominion shuttered its single-reactor Kewaunee nuclear plant in Carleton, Wis., a casualty of cheaper sources of electricity and an inability to build additional reactors to take advantage of what the company called economies of scale.

“Nuclear economics is tenuous at best,” Mr. Lochbaum says. “If you do everything right, you can make money at this. But if you stumble, there’s a big price to pay, and not just from a Fukushima-type tragedy.”

Financial setbacks can take their toll as well, he says, whether a setback comes from lost business or from hardware failures or human error that sets the stage for costly repairs……..

What looked to the utility to be a sensible $780 million investment in 2009 and ’10 to extend the lifetime of the two reactors turned into an economic albatross, Lochbaum suggests.

In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Reactor Safety and Licensing Board recently ruled that prior to any reactor restart, groups that have opposed restarting SONGS were entitled to present their case against restart.

Southern California Edison’s announcement noted that the additional delays this process would impose could last more than a year.

Opposition has been fueled by increased NRC scrutiny the plant reportedly has received in recent years over safety concerns. Meanwhile, in April, the ABC News affiliate in San Diego reported that an unnamed nuclear-safety engineer at the plant had come forward to highlight the danger from the defective steam-generator tubes.

Environmental groups that had opposed restart were quick to applaud the decision.

“Shutting down San Onofre is the right thing to do,” said Michelle Kinman, with EnvironmentCalifornia, in a prepared statement. “Shutting down this nuclear plant will best protect public safety and the environment.”

The announcement also drew support from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California.

“I am greatly relieved that the San Onofre nuclear plant will be closed permanently. This nuclear plant had a defective redesign and could no longer operate as intended. Modifications to the San Onofre nuclear plant were unsafe and posed a danger to the eight million people living within 50 miles of the plant,” she said in a statement released Friday.

With SONGS not only down, but now out, California still has enough generating capacity to get it through the summer, according to the California Independent System Operator, a group that runs much of the state’s electrical grid….http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2013/0607/California-nuclear-plant-to-shut-a-case-of-unforgiving-nuclear-economics

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June 8, 2013 - Posted by | business and costs, USA

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