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San Onofre outage costs now more than $300 million [Updated]

November 1, 2012 |  3:49 pm

The darkened San Onofre nuclear power plants stands in the distance as a surfer walks from the water. Credit: Marc Boster / Los Angeles Times

The costs of the outage at the San Onofre nuclear plant continue to soar, but it remains unclear who will ultimately foot the bill.

Edison International, the parent company of plant operator and majority owner Southern California Edison, reported its third quarter earnings Thursday, including new details on the costs of the troubles at the plant.

The company reported that inspection and repair costs relating to the outage totaled $96 million as of Sept. 30, and the costs of replacing its power had risen to $221 million. The costs of both have approximately doubled since Edison's last report, which covered the period through June 30.

The plant has been out of service since Jan. 31, when a steam generator tube sprung a leak, releasing a small amount of radioactive steam and leading to the discovery that tubes in the newly replaced steam generators were wearing out much more quickly than expected.

Edison has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to restart the less heavily damaged Unit 2 and run it at partial power. The NRC will decide whether to allow a restart after a review process that could take months.

Unit 3 has been defueled and Edison's filing said "it is uncertain when or whether a restart plan will be submitted."

Edison chief executive Ted Craver told investors, "It is not clear at this time if the units can be repaired [to run at full power], and it appears complete replacement of the steam generators would take some years."

In response to an investor who asked whether the company ultimately hopes to replace the steam generators, Craver declined to give a definitive answer, saying it was "way too early at this point for speculation" regarding whether the equipment would ultimately be repaired or replaced or whether the units would continue to run at partial power.

Who will pay for the outage costs also remains uncertain. Edison reported it had submitted an initial bill of $45 million to Mitsubishi Heavy Industry, the steam generator manufacturor, for repair costs, and is trying to recover other costs through insurance.

The California Public Utilities Commission has launched an investigation into the potential costs to ratepayers from the extended outage at San Onofre, which could eventually lead to some or all of the plant's costs being removed from customers' rates.

As of the end of September, Edison had collected about $625 million from customers relating to San Onofre in 2012. [Updated Nov. 1 at 5:04 p.m.: Edison spokeswoman Jennifer Manfre said San Onofre-related costs make up about 8.2% of an average residential customer's bill. The annual total of $820 million charged to ratepayers for the plant includes $170 million in nuclear fuel and decommissioning costs and $650 million in operating and maintenance costs, depreciation and return on investment].


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Photo: The darkened San Onofre nuclear power plants stands in the distance as a surfer walks from the water. Credit: Marc Boster / Los Angeles Times