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Can California get by without San Onofre nuclear plant? [Google+ Hangout]

August 13, 2012 |  1:33 pm

Southern California appears is getting through the long heat wave without energy from the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear power plant.

Times reporter Abby Sewell will discuss San Onofre and the heat wave during a Google + Hangout at 2 p.m. PDT.

Officials had scrambled to put a system in place to provide energy during peak summer months without San Onofre, which typically supplies about 20% of the power for large swaths of Southern California. The plant has been offline for more than six months because of problems with newly replaced steam generators.

PHOTOS: Hot weather continues

the contingency plans had worked but they admitted to being anxious about future heat waves.

"This is just the first significant heat wave," said Stephanie McCorkle, spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator, which manages most of the state's energy grid. "If we have successive heat waves, you're going to have equipment fatigue."

The triple-digit temperatures were expected to keep the region broiling through Sunday, though power officials said they are less concerned about the weekend because demand for electricity will be lower.

The contingency planning has been complicated by the fact that no one is

sure when San Onofre will come back online. Initially, operator Southern California Edison had hoped to have the plant working again by the beginning of summer. But it now appears that the earliest the plant could partially reopen is the end of the year.

Ted Craver, chief executive of Edison's parent company, Edison International, told investors recently it's not clear whether the plant will ever be able to operate at full power without once again replacing the steam generators that malfunctioned.

Edison has spent about $165 million on inspections, repairs and replacement power, but Craver says the company has no estimate of the final costs.

The plant has been shut down since Jan. 31, when one of the plant's steam generator tubes began leaking, releasing a small amount of radioactive steam into the atmosphere.

In total, about 8.7% of the plant's nearly 39,000 steam generator tubes have shown wear, and 1,317 have been plugged to take them out of service, either because of excessive wear or as a precaution. In particular, some of the tubes were showing a highly unusual type of wear caused by rubbing against adjacent tubes.

Craver said reactor Unit 2, where problems appear to be less severe, might be able to come back online at some point at reduced power, but "it is not clear at this time if Unit 3 will be able to restart without extensive additional repairs."


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