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Summer Gas for Power Up as California Nuke Stays Shut

Quelling previous optimism for at least a partial return of its idled nuclear generating plant this summer, Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) officials Thursday said the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (Songs), which has been shut down since January for repairs of flawed tubing, will not resume operations this summer. As a result, more natural gas-fired generation from old coastal plants and other measures will take up the slack.

Both Units 2 and 3 have been down since late January, one originally on a planned basis and the other on an emergency basis (see Daily GPI, May 9). Nearly 20% of SCE's power supplies come from the 2,200 MW Songs plant when both units are fully operational. SCE on Thursday reiterated that state energy officials and the Edison International utility have made contingency plans for tapping more gas-fired generation and conservation measures this summer.

In January Unit 3 was shut down on a precautionary basis when a small leak in one of the unit's steam generator tubes was discovered. Two days later damaged tubing was discovered at Unit 2, which was in the midst of planned maintenance that had started early in January. To date SCE has reported 1,317 tubes in the two working reactor units have been removed, representing a little more than 3% of all of the plant's tubing.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ordered Songs to stay offline until SCE can identify the exact cause of the wear and how to fix it. Both units had finished a multi-year, $670 million steam generator replacement in recent years. Nevertheless one of the options now being considered is total replacement again of the generators, Edison International CEO Ted Craver said as reported Friday in the Los Angeles Times.

Craver indicated that the earliest that SCE could submit a plan for restarting Songs would be the end of July, and following that the federal commission would need at least a month to review the plan.

"Songs provides significant reliability support to the grid," a SCE spokesperson said. "This includes the ability to support grid voltage, import power from distant regions outside of the state and stabilize grid frequency. Summer is the most important time for operation of at least one unit at Songs."

In addition to bringing back into service two mothballed gas-fired generating units in Huntington Beach, about 30 miles north along the Pacific Coast, the SCE spokesperson said the utility, Sempra Energy's San Diego Gas and Electric Co. and the California Independent System Operator are engaged in "additional contingency planning for service this summer," including accelerating the completion of a new transmission loop in Orange County to help ensure the ability to hold proper voltage in the south Orange County area.

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