Sunday, September 16, 2012

Intractable delays at three U.S. nuclear plants

Restarts of reactors at three utilities are still distant gleams in the eyes of their operators

Customers of three nuclear electric utilities will have a long wait for the restart of four U.S. reactors. The sites are Southern California Edison's (SCE) twin 1100 MW units at San Onofre,  the 478 MW Ft. Calhoun plant near Omaha which is owned by OPPD, but operated by Exelon; and the 860 MW Crystal River now owned by Duke via a merger.

Sad melody at SONGS

The latest development at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) is that the two units are winding up on different tracks.  Units 2, which has far less damage to its steam generator than Unit 3, is close to having a restart plan. SCE is said to be preparing one to be submitted to the NRC in October.  For its part, the NRC said the review could take months.

On the other hand, SCE said it has no immediate plans to submit a similar restart plan for Unit 3.  The utility says extensive repairs are needed for the steam generator. In the meantime, SCE is removing fuel from the reactor and laying off over 700 people from the plant. It could be a long time before Unit 3 is back in operation.

California Senate Barbara Boxer used the troubled plants as rhetorical device to brow beat the NRC in a hearing last week. Boxer, who is no friend of the nuclear industry, said she wants absolute assurance of the safety of the plants before they are allowed to operate again.  Newly appointed NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane said in response the review of a restart plan for Unit 2 "would be on the order of months."

The cost of fixing the plant is a key issue among Boxer's constituents.  Keeping the plants shut down, since last January, has cost millions per month for replacement power from fossil fuel plants.  Repair and inspection costs thus far have notched forward of the $50 million mark.

The California Public Utility Commission wants to know whether SCE will ask rate payers to cover the costs of repairs or try to get Mitsubishi, which supplied the now troubled steam generators, to cough up the money.  The one option that doesn't seem to be on the table is wholesale replacement of either steam generator. The units cost over $600 million when installed three years ago.

SCE will likely pursue repairs for the steam generators at both reactors since their licenses run until 2022.

Ft. Calhoun still under water more or less

The Omaha Public Power District, which once said confidently it would restart its only nuclear reactor in September now looks with hope at a December date.  Nothing is certain according to the NRC which wants the utility to complete a long list of actions to clear up safety issues.

The combination of problems resulting from flooding in June 2011 and other safety issues, including an electrical fire outside the reactor building, have kept the plant offline. Last month OPPD announced it has hired Exelon to operate the plant. The move is expected to produce progress in closing safety issues.

OPPD says they would like to heat up the plan in December to test power generating systems that have been offline since April 2011. However, the NRC says it has no timeline for restart of the plant.  Agency spokesperson Lara Uselding said the completion of the list of safety actions still has a long way to go.

Crystal River repairs may be too costly

The estimated costs of between $900 million and $1.3 billion for repair of the damaged containment structure at the Crystal River reactor in Florida may be too high a price to pay.

Record low prices of natural gas, which if they remain there, indicate Duke Energy, which now owns the reactor, may replace it with a gas fired power plant.

The sticking point is whether the reactor's decommissioning fund is robust enough to pay for setting it on that path. The NRC license for the Crystal River plan expires in 2016.

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1 comment:

jim said...

Sad and in some ways how ridiculously incompetent to have instances like this feed the ammo of anti-nukes. Especially Crystal River. Almost a billion to repair a thick concrete shell? What are they building, a Stealth bomber??

James Greenidge
Queens NY