Calif. Regulator Begins Formal Investigation of San Onofre Outages

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has opened a formal investigation into the extended outages of Units 2 and 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The investigation will determine whether to remove all costs related to SONGS from the rates of Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) going forward, and whether to refund SONGS-related costs already collected in rates back to Jan. 1, 2012.

The announcement on Oct. 25 came as little surprise given the ongoing difficulties faced by the nuclear plant just north of San Diego. Unit 2 has been shut down since Jan. 9 for a planned refueling and maintenance outage, and SCE operators performed a rapid shutdown of Unit 3 on Jan. 31 after a leak was detected at one of that unit’s steam generator tubes. Earlier this month, SCE outlined measures it had completed to correct issues identified in the steam generator tubes of Units 2 and 3 and had submitted a restart plan for Unit 2 to regulators. But on Oct. 22, SCE announced that it had to repair a small pipe fitting at Unit 2 near the turbine building after routine maintenance found a small hydrogen leak in the pipe. SCE said the leak did not pose a safety risk to workers or the public.Though a minor problem, that event did little to improve the facility’s image.

The CPUC says the investigation will consider “the causes of the outages, the utilities’ responses, the future of the SONGS units, and the resulting effects on the provision of safe and reliable electric service at just and reasonable rates.” Specific issues the commission will look at include:

  • Whether or not rate adjustments should be made; if so, when they should start and the amount.
  • The reasonableness of the actions and expenditures of SCE and SDG&E with respect to SONGS steam generator replacements and subsequent activities.
  • The reasonableness of the actions and expenditures of SCE and SDG&E in securing energy, capacity, and other related services to replace the output of SONGS during the outage.
  • The cost-effectiveness of various options for repairing or replacing one or both units of SONGS going forward.
  • Any additional ratemaking issues associated with the above, including the availability of insurance or warranty coverage for any of the costs related to the SONGS outage.
  • The reasonableness and necessity of each SONGS-related operation and maintenance expense, and capital expenditure made, on and after Jan. 1, 2012, reviewed within the context of the facts and circumstances of the extended outages of Units 2 and 3.

The investigation provides a forum to consider evidence and argument on these issues. Evidence taken in the proceeding will be the basis for findings, conclusions, and CPUC orders.

A pre-hearing conference will be set in the coming weeks to establish the schedule for the proceeding. To view the proposal voted on, download the pdf.

The CPUC investigation isn’t the only microscope that SONGS finds itself under. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced on Tuesday that it was sponsoring a National Academy of Sciences effort to conduct a pilot study of cancer risk in populations around six U.S. nuclear power plant sites, including SONGS, and a nuclear fuel facility. The other reactor sites are:

  • Dresden Nuclear Power Station, Morris, Ill.
  • Millstone Power Station, Waterford, Conn.
  • Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, Forked River, N.J.
  • Haddam Neck (decommissioned), Haddam Neck, Conn.
  • Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant (decommissioned), Charlevoix, Mich.

NRC staff expect the effort will begin within three months and continue at least into 2014. The pilot study is expected to cost approximately $2 million and may be extended, depending on its results.

Sources: POWERnews, CPUC, NRC, SCE

—Gail Reitenbach, PhD, Managing Editor (@POWERmagazine)

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