Edison to Permanently Shut Down San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant

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The San Onofre nuclear plant will be closing down for good, its operator, Southern California Edison, announced Friday.

The decision comes 16 months after a small radiation leak at the plant, which later spawned allegations that Edison misled regulators about equipment in order to avoid safety regulations.

“SONGS has served this region for over 40 years,” Ted Craver, chairman and CEO of Edison International, stated in a news release. “But we have concluded that the continuing uncertainty about when or if SONGS might return to service was not good for our customers, our investors, or the need to plan for our region’s long-term electricity needs.”

The decision was met with praise by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who has called for a Department of Justice investigation into Edison’s actions at the plant.

“This nuclear plant had a defective redesign and could no longer operate as intended,” said Boxer. “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.”

“After a leak of radiation from the steam generator tubes, I became increasingly alarmed that Southern California Edison had misled regulators by minimizing the scope of the changes made at the nuclear plant to avoid a full safety review and public hearings,” she added.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth, which took a prominent role in accusing Edison of wrongdoing, was also supportive of the move.

“This is very good news for the people of Southern California,” declared Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, in a written statement. “We have long said that these reactors are too dangerous to operate and now Edison has agreed.”

San Onofre’s leak in January 2012 was caused by a design flaw in replacement steam generators, which did not undergo a thorough independent analysis by federal regulators because Edison asserted during the approval process that the new generators wouldn’t create a greater safety risk than the old ones.

Friday’s announcement comes more than a year after nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen issued a series of reports, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, that directly accused Edison of misleading federal regulators about the changes.

“Edison’s decision to cram an additional 377 tubes into the replacement steam generators was the root cause” of the leak, Gundersen wrote in an April 2012 report.

“By misleading the [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission] on the true nature of the replacement, Edison fooled the NRC into giving a rubber stamp and not conducting a thorough NRC review and approval process,” Gundersen wrote.

Following Gundersen’s reports, both Edison and the NRC declined to provide evidence that three key changes to the generators were thoroughly reviewed by the NRC.

Voice of OC then reported on how the NRC asserted it couldn’t find a key 2006 presentation by Edison on the level of federal scrutiny it sought for the generator design changes.

A few days after the May 11, 2012, article on the missing records, Boxer demanded that Edison and the NRC provide her staff with all of their documents related to the generators’ approval.

Edison has disputed allegations that it misled regulators, insisting it was fully open with the NRC.

The utility says it plans to lay off between 400 and 1,500 employees because of the permanent shutdown.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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