Stakes Raised in Re-Licensing San Onofre Nuke Plant
The folks who run the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS)--and by "folks" I mean "Southern California Edison," or simply "SCE"--can't be happy with what's happening at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant up the coast near San Luis Obispo. Both plants were built in active earthquake zones and are drawing ever closer to their shut-down dates. Unlike SONGS, which hasn't asked the Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRC) for a 20-year extension on its lease, which expires in 2022, Diablo Canyon has done so, and the feds' response so far isn't exactly heartening.
To wit, as the Orange County Register reports today, the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has ordered Pacific Gas & Electric, which operates Diablo Canyon, to make monthly reports on the progress of seismic surveys that would determine if there are any undiscovered earthquake risks at the site. The Reg says the studies are expected to take another four years and cost $85 million. "The feds won't consider giving the plant and extra 20 years to operate until those studies are done," the article states. "One might think of this as a nuclear Twilight Zone."
In case you're feeling sorry for PG&E for having to spend all that cash on figuring out whether a big earthquake could cause a meltdown, you might be relieved to know that the company is simply going to pass those costs on to ratepayers. "If San Onofre decides to ask for an extension, it will surely cost much more; it expects to spend $64 million on seismic studies alone," the Reg adds.
Assuming the feds sign off on SCE's proposed study, the $64 million price tag will also be passed to ratepayers. It would also be a big waste of money assuming the company decides not to try to renew its operating lease and simply shutters the plant. SCE officials won't say how likely that is.
"SCE has proposed a stepped up seismic study of the region around our plant," spokesman Gil Alexander told the Reg. "The proposal is under regulatory review. We have not yet made a decision about pursuing license renewal."
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