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San Onofre nuclear plant problems could reduce power supply

March 22, 2012 |  6:58 pm

California energy officials are working to stave off the potential for summer power shortages if the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station remains out of service.

San Onofre has been shut down since Jan. 31, when a tube that carries hot, radioactive water in one of the plant’s newly installed steam generators in the Unit 3 reactor sprung a leak. The mishap released a small amount of radioactive steam.

The reactor was taken offline and Southern California Edison, the plant’s operator, began pressure testing 129 tubes that showed excessive wear, while the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission dispatched a team to investigate the issue. Since then, eight tubes have failed pressure stress tests. Meanwhile, in Unit 2, the plant’s other working reactor, which had been shut down for routine maintenance since early January, excessive wear and tear was found on 192 more tubes.

Jennifer Manfre, an Edison spokeswoman, said the company was planning for the possibility that the plant could be offline through the summer.

If that happens, it will be the first time that one of California’s two nuclear plants has been shut down for an extended period during the summer months when demand peaks, said Stephanie McCorkle, a spokeswoman with California Independent System Operator, which operates the state’s wholesale power grid.

So far, with energy demand low due to mild weather, the plant’s shutdown has had no effect on service.

In a report presented to the ISO board Thursday, staff said in the event of a worst-case scenario like a major heat wave or transmission line outage during the peak season, the San Diego and Los Angeles areas could face energy shortages without the 2,200 megawatts of power generated by San Onofre.

To prevent that from happening, officials plan to produce more energy from other sources and persuade customers to scale back on demand.

“If, in fact, we do nothing, there could be some potential issues down there,” said ISO Chief Executive Stephen Berberich. “We don’t intend to do nothing.”


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