LOS ANGELES – In a jolt to the nation’s nuclear power industry, Southern California’s San Onofre plant was shut down Friday for good after its owners surrendered in a costly and drawn-out fight over whether it was too damaged to operate safely.
The twin reactors – situated along the Pacific Coast in the densely populated corridor of millions of people between San Diego and Los Angeles – are the largest to shut down permanently in the U.S. in the past 50 years, federal officials said.
Southern California Edison’s decision brings to a sudden end a dispute that began in January 2012, when a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusual damage to hundreds of virtually new tubes that carry radioactive water. The plant hasn’t produced electricity since then.
Edison has already spent more than $500 million on repairs and replacement power and had hoped to restart one reactor this year and run it at reduced power to eliminate the vibrations that had damaged the tubing. But the utility ran into resistance from regulators and was also facing various investigations and mounting political opposition.
Ted Craver, chairman of the utility’s corporate parent, Edison International, said in a statement that the company concluded that “continuing uncertainty about when or if (the plant) 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.”
San Onofre, which opened in 1968, was capable of powering 1.4 million homes. California officials have said they can make it through the hot season without the plant as long as the summer is uneventful, but warned that wildfires or another disruption in supply could cause power shortages.
Environmentalists celebrated outside the front gates of the beachfront plant, and a pack of bicyclists shouted, “Shut it down!” as they went past.
It wasn’t clear how the electricity from the plant would be replaced permanently. The California Public Utilities Commission said it will work with governments to ensure Southern California has enough electricity, which could require increased energy efficiency and conservation, as well as upgrades to equipment.
Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, said San Onofre’s shutdown “underscores the need for an efficient and effective regulatory process that results in timely decisions on the operation of these critical energy resources.”