Scientist says no reason to shut down San Onofre nuke plant

Scientist says no reason to shut down San Onofre nuke plant


San Onofre electricity station, wikimediaCan the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, whose decommissioning was announced last June, be salvaged? Cal-Tech trained geochemist and nuclear waste expert James Conca in says it can. 

Conca makes a case that Southern California electric ratepayers should not need to pick up the $830 million net cost of permanently closing the power plant because there is no sound reason for decommissioning it.

But it will be difficult bringing back to life a plant whose remaining two reactors were shut down in January 2012 and never restarted.

U-T San Diego reported on Dec. 25 that the the plant’s majority owner, Southern California Edison, in 2013 was “cited by nuclear safety regulators for failing to properly check the design of faulty replacement steam generators that disabled the plant.” The Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined that “design control measures were not established to provide for verifying and checking the adequacy of certain designs.”

However, the NRC did not issue any fines or penalties. And these actions don’t reduce the impact on Edison’s electricity ratepayers who are being told they have to pick up the tab for decommissioning the plant.

Simple solution 

But Conca says there is a simple alternative:

“[A]ll we had to do was decrease one reactor’s output by 20 percent to solve the problem, which would have dropped total output of SONGS (San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) by only 8 percent.”

Conca states the scientific reason that San Onofre was decommissioned had to do with a manufacturing feature of its steam tubes that resulted in vibrations that caused a perfect harmonic pitch at 100 percent steam flow.  A few hundred of the steam tubes out of 10,000 vibrated enough to cause contact and one tube failing.

There was no radiation or other safety issue, despite reports to the contrary by the media and rumors on the blogosphere, he said. The San Onofre malfunction was not anything like Fukushima, the 2011 nuclear disaster following a 9.0 Richter earthquake in Japan.

Re-Starting San Onofre would avoid costs, improve environment

Of the $4.1 billion total cost to decommission San Onofre Units 2 and 3, Edison’s share is $3 billion. Of that $4.1 billion total cost, $3.27 billion has already been collected in a decommissioning fund paid through customers’ electricity bills. That leaves about $830 million in decommissioning costs that still need to be paid by customers.  Edison owns about 78 percent of the plant, San Diego Gas and Electric 20 percent, and the City of Riverside Utilities Department 2 percent.

Fortunately for Californians, the 18 million extra tons of carbon dioxide emitted from gas-fired power plants providing replacement power for the loss of San Onofre come mainly from out-of-state providers.  So while total air pollution has increased in the United States from San Onofre being shut down, in Southern California the amount of air pollution is about the same.  Nonetheless, 1,500 local jobs and $50 million spent in the local economy have been lost to Southern California each year (see here and here).

The average production cost for nuclear power in 2012 was 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour, not including transmission, distribution and other costs. This was about one-third the cost of a gas-fired power plant, one-fourth of the cost of wind energy, and 1/17th the cost of centralized solar energy.  And nuclear power is clean power.

So far, at least, low natural gas prices have bailed out Southern California from having to face electricity rate shock, as happened during the 2000-01 electricity crisis.

Anti-science culture 

Conca blames an “anti-science culture” and political activism for not considering the re-start of the San Onofre Power Plant:

“But such a simple and obvious solution as running at the correct output was not acceptable.  In fact, nuclear scientists and engineers were shouted down so fast and so loud by politicos, you’d have thought it was the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. … It’s shameful that reasonable scientific and engineering fixes are no longer desired for addressing scientific problems. … It’s as though once the U.S. became the undisputed leader of the world, we suddenly had the luxury of being stupid.  But it’s dangerous to assume we are immune to the long-term effects of dismissing the scientific and technological foundations that got us here in favor of fairy tales and ideologies.” 


Going along with the San Onofre shutdown have been Gov. Jerry Brown and CPUC President Michael Peevey.

Peevey is a former president of SCE and its parent company, Edison International. He said, “The company’s decision, given the uncertainty it faces with the inaction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the large economic impact of the non-operation of the two units, is understandable.”

Conca concluded, “The scientific community has lots of solutions to lots of our problems.  We just aren’t allowed to discuss them very much if they offend one group or another, so the whole country suffers.”

Whether the regulators and politicians will listen to Conca and re-start San Onofre has yet to be decided.


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  1. The Ted Steele Conceptual Abstraction Unit
    The Ted Steele Conceptual Abstraction Unit 3 January, 2014, 14:55

    LOL— Reduce SONGS power by a few percent and run it anyway because it’s dangerous to run the leaky old dischqarging antique at full power— and this solves the problem?

    LMAO—–It’s dead.

    Never cease to amaze what these clowns come up with…..this argument was defeated internally and externally of SCE months ago….Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Reply this comment
    • eck
      eck 4 January, 2014, 20:23

      You obviously don’t know what the f*** you’re talking about. Stick to somethin’ you actually have some real knowledge about – if there is anything.

      Reply this comment
    • fortibus85
      fortibus85 7 January, 2014, 21:24

      Ted Steele,
      The scientist’s position, if stated accurately, is quite reasonable. It is all a matter of vibration.

      Here is an analogy. You are in your shower and turn it up all the way. The pipes start vibrating. You turn down the volume of water a quarter turn and the vibration stops, water keeps flowing (though at a reduced rate) and there is no safety issue whatsoever with the pipe.

      Reply this comment
      • The Ted Steele Conceptual Abstraction Unit
        The Ted Steele Conceptual Abstraction Unit 8 January, 2014, 15:24

        who wants to live near a nuke that ‘s about to discharge into the atmosphere or water table because some techs made a miscalc about running the broken turbine at 75 or 76%– lol— answer—- not enough people to matter—

        That nuke?

        It’s done.

        Reply this comment
        • Robert Bernal
          Robert Bernal 14 September, 2014, 15:04

          The steam tube in question is not really radioactive, whilst the replacement option IS more fossil fuels at night and even in the day should subsidy for solar be dropped. That means MORE people die AND increased excess CO2 which is also scientifically proven to cause ocean acidification and global warming.

          Reply this comment
          • Mark
            Mark 27 February, 2015, 21:13

            UM no sorry, global warming is a doomsday flood cult myth straight out of any religious script that demands repentance in the form of taxation for the “sinners” burning fossil fuels…it is not scientifically “proven”. Computer models are not “proof” and the scientific method requires a repeatably testable hypothesis not conjecture. We can’t prove mankind’s contribution since we have no control earth to compare to and by all indications of past times in the geologic history when it was warmer…warmer is better, so we really can’t even claim a warming earth would be detrimental. Quit drinking the Al Gore Koolaid please

          • fireofenergy
            fireofenergy 1 March, 2015, 07:19

            Mark. How old is this post? I believe you said that there are NO measured effects of global warming. Actually, there is. The ppm CO2 is accelerating at 37 billion tons just last year alone and has increased by about 2.2 trillion tons in just 200 years. The scientist can’t lie about those measurements. Actually, I didn’t know about the 2.2 TT, I figured from 2.02 ppm in one year which us 37 BT, so easily figured from there.
            Now, they have measured a rise in sea level but you can look that one up. Natural, non man caused results would be far too little to measure in such a short time period as a mere human lifetime. Instead, we would measure seasonal variability (like when Australia gets lots of rain).
            Now, for the most important part. Getting people to realize that they should not fall religiously for an actual and global physics problem – only SCIENCE, and not political rhetoric can transition to nuclear, and even, mass machine automation of that other, less reliable stuff (to make them more reliable) especially batteries with a high ESOI.

  2. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 4 January, 2014, 12:38

    I have no position regarding re-starting San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant. However, it is interesting to note that the Nuclear Regulatory Council provides three options for decommissioning nuclear power plants: DECON – immediate dismantling; SAFSTOR – deferred dismantling; and ENTOMB – encasing nuclear materials on the site. The NRC provides that decommissioning must be complete in 60 years.

    The Dresden Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1 near Morris, Illinois was shut down in October 1978. Decommissioning approved in 1993. Reportedly, Units 2 & 3 are still running and will do so until 2035 and 2036.

    Source: and facts sheets on decommissioning

    So it would be conceivably possible to continue to operate the other unit at San Onofre. However, Sen. Barbara Boxer called for its total shutdown thus foisting an $830 million loss on ratepayers. This begs the question: wouldn’t it be more responsbile to continue to operate at least one of the units at San Onofre to pay down the $830 million decommissioning cost instead of making ratepayers pay for it all at once?

    Reply this comment
    • eck
      eck 4 January, 2014, 20:28

      Well, yes. Duh. Being sensible or responsible is of no concern to those such as (the nuclear power expert) Sen. Babs. It’s a “cause” (anti-nuke) thing, “doncha know”?

      Reply this comment
  3. Bill Gore
    Bill Gore 4 January, 2014, 20:35

    Anyone remember “CLEAN, SAFE, TOO CHEAP TO METER”? With the MASSIVE radiation from the GE designed and built Fukushima disaster looming over the California Coast NOW is the time to decommission this time bomb.

    Nuke engineers and hangers-on tend to be an intensely clannish and introverted group, not just because they are uber nerds, but because so many of them started their careers on nuclear submarines. Their religious faith in the technology utterly blinds them to the horrific real-world risks of this mode of power generation. After Chernobyl and Fukushima it is time to put a stake through the heart of this industry before the entire planet is made uninhabitable……

    Reply this comment
  4. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 5 January, 2014, 01:48

    A look at how politics often throws science out the window is the re-election of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany. After the overblown Fukushima tsunami disaster (there was no nuclear fallout), Merkel politically pandered to her environmental voters by advocating a shut down of all her nation’s nuclear plants. There are no substantial tsunami or earthquake threats to nuke plants in Germany. Merkel is a scientist who holds a PhD in chemistry. But she is a better politician than a chemist.

    By declaring she wanted to eliminate nuke plants Merkel minimized Green Party opposition to her 2013 re-election. She won re-election easily. If scientist Merkel threw science out the window to get re-elected what can we expect from U.S. Senator at large from California Barbara Boxer?

    Making overblown scare stories about San Onofre to pander to one’s political base is one thing. To actually shut down San Onofre and suck $830 million from about 4.7 million Southern California households who get no cheap, clean energy in return for it is another thing.

    But most of the cognitive elites who express any opinion about San Onofre on websites, newspapers, and the media are vehemently against any nuclear power.

    In a post-industrial state like California this is no surprise. Californians would actually prefer to have dirtier, costlier power as long as they don’t feel powerless with regard to highly industrialized and mechanized energy they fear. The entire liberal country of France nearly entirely depends on nuclear energy, so California’s irrational opposition to nuclear power isn’t so much political as it is sociological. Californians want to demodernize California and go back to some sort of bucolic existence. Rooftop solar power for example gives people a sense of social power against the natural electric monopolies. Politicians can tap into this alienation and counter-modernization ideology of Califorians for political gain. But that does not make the decision to close a functionable nuclear power plant a scientifically-informed decision.

    Reply this comment
    • Bill Gore
      Bill Gore 5 January, 2014, 10:39

      I just don’t see this as a left/right or green vs. industry issue. It is a life vs. death issue. I mean, what could be dirtier than fuel rods and waste that is dangerous for thousands of years? Yes, politics is messy, and it does get in the way of sensible engineering solutions by pandering to least-common-denominator emotions and fears, as in Yucca Mountain debacle, but engineers need to find real world solutions to these problems that are actually compatible with human life and emotion. Where is France disposing of its high level rad waste? Let me guess: it is either processed into bombs (great-real progress) or it lies in cooling ponds, being foisted off onto the next generation. California has tremendous GEOTHERMAL potential that is being utterly ignored because the old status quo can’t wrap its mind around it. Iceland runs entirely on geothermal, ditto the Geysers north of the Bay area.

      Reply this comment
      • Mark
        Mark 27 February, 2015, 21:08

        it’s totally driven by politics, fear of nukes, scientific illiteracy and the general lack of pragmatism of the political left who think putting up wind mills and solar panels is going to create magic power at 100 times the cost even when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. These kooks demonize any viable power source because they hate humanity and believe the sea levels are going to rise and destroy the world due to our “sins” of using fossil fuels…complete hocus pocus and pseudo science. Turn this plant back on, it is a valuable infrastructure resource!

        Reply this comment
  5. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 6 January, 2014, 11:06

    Mr. Gore

    You mean like Gov. Jerry Brown’s $283 million “Ghost Plants”?
    Read here:

    Geothermal development is very speculative. Most drilling holes doesn’t find enough capacity to run a power plant. Many geothermal power plants decline in capacity. In 2003, a 30-mile long sewer pipeline called the Geysers Pipeline was completed at a cost of $250 million which dumped treated sewer water from the City of Santa Rosa into the Geysers Geothermal Field in Lake County to revive the declining steampower of the many geothermal plants in that area.

    Where there is potential for clean, cheap power is hydroelectric generation from new dams needed for water storage.

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Reply this comment
  6. Ted Steele, CEO
    Ted Steele, CEO 9 January, 2014, 07:47

    So a “scientist” says the old leaky nuke is safe enough, and the tea baggers believe him, but 97% of the worlds “scientists” say man caused climate change, and the baggers don’t believe them?


    This seems fairly Rush-Like ™

    Reply this comment
  7. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 9 January, 2014, 09:57

    When I went to elementary school I learned that some areas of the world that are now deserts where once tropical jungles and vice versa. La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles was once a place teeming with dinosaurs and rich vegetation. So there is no denying “climate change” even by the so-called climate change “deniers.” But this historical reality is not what climate change modelers are referring to.

    The engineers that built the hydraulic water system in the Southwestern U.S. so that water could be pumped uphill instead of restricted to gravity flow, knew quite well over 100 years ago what climate change is. Climate change is local, not so much global. Some regions experience drought (Texas, California) while others flood (Colorado). To construct modern civilization in the Southwestern U.S., water engineers designed a system to convey water from one region where there is water to another where there isn’t enough water. Once again, there should be no denying this aspect of climate change. Once again this isn’t what climate change modelers are referring to.

    What climate change modelers are referring to is global climate change induced by a greenhouse effect due to industrialization. Their models are not falsifiable and thus are not science per se. But the climate change scientists have discovered the Pacific Decadal Oscillation which is nothing more than the Pacific Ocean temperature changes every 10 years and thus changes the amount of prceipitation California gets.

    Climate change is a term that attempts to take natural weather patterns and attribute it to the activities of humans, especially industrialization. This definition of climate change is not so much scientific as it is sociological. Those countermodernists who want to overthrow industrialization and go back to some bucolic past don’t want nuke plants. This isn’t a politically liberal phenomenon. Liberal France depends on 55 nuclear power plants.

    Climate change is really an ideology used in a regional trade war between Basin States like California with its air basin smog traps and Plains States like Texas that have abundant fossil fuels but no inversion layer smog traps. It is ironic that California wants to remove nuclear power plants that produce clean, cheap energy. Southern California’s only nuke plant now is Palo Verde, which is in Arizona. Post-modern California does not want imported fossil fuel but doesn’t want nuclear power as well. Texas depends on dirty coal as fuel for its Dallas power plants. But Texas doesn’t have the air pollution problems that California has because they have a Plains topography where the solution to pollution is dilution.

    Norway is the 7th highest producer of oil and gas in the world. They now have amassed a trust fund of $1 million for each citizen from saving all the surplus revenues from oil development over the last 50 years. California could also amass such wealth if it wanted to by just exporting most of its fossil fuels like Saudi Arabia. The reasons California has not done so are due with its historical anti-industrial culture going back to when it battled the railroad monopolies. California’s perpetual budget and pension problems are self-caused. It could be like Norway but has chosen to fight “climate change” and thus deny itself the wealth proceeds of industrialization and modernization.

    Reply this comment
    • fireofenergy
      fireofenergy 22 July, 2014, 00:05

      Or they could face the truth and fight excess CO2 (which is proven to be in an excess, now, for more than a million years and proven to actually lower the pH and even warm the oceans) with nuclear generated electricity, nuclear made clean fuels and even modular, factory produced reactors themselves! Nuclear waste is just a political nightmare exaggerated by the non scientific community because it can (and should) be recycled, and therefore, needs to be isolated (in a very much smaller volume) for 300 years (when it is LESS radioactive than the original ore).
      I live in the USA and it is going backwards!

      Reply this comment
  8. fireofenergy
    fireofenergy 21 July, 2014, 23:55

    Thanks for the great article. Whilst solar and wind are questionable, because of their requirement for AT LEAST 70% FF backup, it makes all the sense in the world to develop most of the different and awesome variations of nuclear (and fix whatever problems)!

    Reply this comment

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