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Southern California Edison to close San Onofre nuclear plant

11 June 2013

US power utility SCE has announced that it will permanently retire Units 2 and 3 of its San Onofre nuclear generating station in California. The pressurised water reactors, which have been out of service since January 2012 after the discovery of excessive wear in the steam generators, started up in 1982 and 1983 respectively. Unit 1 operated from 1968 to 1992.

Over their lifetimes they have generated a total of 454 TWh of electricity, operating at lifetime load factors of 74.2% and 73.5%, respectively.

SCE blamed uncertainty surrounding the approval for the restart of Unit 2, which could take more than a year. Moreover, it said that it would be uneconomic for SCE and its customers to bear the long-term repair costs for returning the station to full power operation without its restart.

The utility said that in October 2012 it came up with a plan to restart unit 2 at a reduced (70%) power level for an initial period of around five months. That plan has been under review by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for eight months, but there are still some technical questions outstanding.

SCE said that it anticipates reducing staff at the site over the next year from approximately 1,500 to 400. It also said that it intends to pursue recovery of damages from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the supplier of the replacement steam generators, as well as recovery of amounts under applicable insurance policies.

Meanwhile, MidAmerican Energy said it was delaying its decision to build a new power station in Iowa. It blamed the uncertainty on carbon regulation and the lengthy regulatory reviews that need to be completed before small modular reactor (SMR) designs can be built in the United States.

It said that over the "next several years" there could be more certainty on environmental regulations for fossil plants, as well as more clarity on SMR licensability and pricing.

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