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Power Technology

Decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Plant May Take Decades 266

Posted by samzenpus
from the long-game dept.
gkndivebum writes "Southern California Edison has elected to decommission the San Onofre nuclear plant after a failed effort to upgrade the steam generation system. 'Nuclear economics' is the reason stated for the proposed decommissioning. Other utilities operating nuclear power plants in the US likely face similar decisions when it comes to weighing the costs of upgrading older facilities. Allowing the reactors to remain in 'safe storage' for a period of up to 60 years will allow for radioactive decay and lower radiation exposure for the workers performing the demolition."
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Decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Plant May Take Decades

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  • This is crap (Score:4, Informative)

    by erroneus (253617) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @07:21PM (#43956183) Homepage

    I have knowledge of this matter and I know it's crap. This is about negotiating with a supplier and throwing a tantrum. They have decided to cut off their nose to spite their face.

    (If this sounds like a lot of opinion, it is...but I do have some knowledge on this matter. Once things are final, I'll be happy to share exactly what I know.)

    For the moment, until things change, nuclear power is the only source that provides enough to keep things going without buring stuff and putting it into the air and everywhere. Already nuclear power has saved countless lives as they have safely displaced the amount of coal and gas to burn. Without nuclear power, the net carbon footprint of hybrid cars would be less than barely a net improvement over pure gasoline. Wind, solar, geothermal and others are not able to make it happen.

    Anti-nuke people haven't been paying attention. But just about any way you look at it, nuclear wins. Sure it requires a great deal of care to handle it safely, but we've been doing nuclear in the US for a very long time with a pretty excellent record.

    It disappoints me that greedy business interests are behaving this way. Until we have something better than nuclear, we need to keep nuclear going. (Shut them all down once we've got something better. It's not like I'm in love with the tech, but it's just so much better than burning stuff.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nospam007 (722110) *

      "For the moment, until things change, nuclear power is the only source that provides enough to keep things going without buring stuff and putting it into the air and everywhere....Anti-nuke people haven't been paying attention. "

      We were paying attention to Germany who shut down their reactors but nonetheless had enough solar and wind to export power to nuclear France when their reactors couldn't run because there wasn't enough cooling water in summer or frozen in winter. The also had their first day last ye

      • Re:This is crap (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @07:47PM (#43956365)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_Germany

        In 2012 The German electricity sector increased its coal usage by 4.9 percent over its coal consumption value of 2011.[43] This increase in coal usage was largely due to a power gap in Germany created after the nation shutdown 8 of its 17 nuclear power plants.[44] The shortfall in electricity supply from these 8 power plants, is primarily being filled by building more lignite coal burning power plants.

        Yeah, real good job Germany, thanks for the CO2 increase...dicks.

      • Re:This is crap (Score:4, Interesting)

        by thegarbz (1787294) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @07:52PM (#43956409)

        We were paying attention to Germany who shut down their reactors but nonetheless had enough solar and wind to export ...

        hahahaha. Yes they exported something. It definitely wasn't solar and wind though.

        Solar makes up a pathetic 3% of Germany's power in the summer months. Wind is struggling to crack 8% and that's in a country where you can see a wind farm from every other hill. I'm not sure where you're getting your data from but you may want to do this thing called research.

        By the way your wonderful Germany who are abandoning nuclear power opened 2 coal power stations last year, and are planning to open 6 new ones by the end of this year. Yes that's right, your so presumed green country with green power to spare just built 6GW of coal fired glory and plan to open another 12 power plants by 2020. What a shining example of your argument. Germany hasn't even started making serious efforts to shut down nuclear yet but have already increased their coal consumption by 5% [bloomberg.com].

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          German physicist here. This is not quite true:

          When Nuclear plants were shut down (drop in 2010-2011), this was mostly compensated for by renewables (and less total production). Also the further decrease in Nuclear power in 2012 was less than the increase of renewables. Yes, also coal increased in 2012, which is mostly attributed to the low cost of emission certificates. Natural gas dropped at the same time, so this is a shift because of changes in cost for different non-renewable energy carries.

          Electricity

          • Re:This is crap (Score:4, Interesting)

            by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:55PM (#43957599)
            What's hilarious is that as they push for solar, they are also pushing for bans (well, high taxes, 80%ish level) for solar panels imported from China. If China is selling at a loss, then buy them all, and resell them. The problem is that China is not selling at a loss, and the German (and US) makers can't compete. If they are really dumping, don't double the price with taxes, buy them all and put them on every house. Grid-tie them all together, and the home coverage would nearly fill the power needs. Having grown up in the US south, power needs spike as sun efficiency spikes, giving a nice correlation between need and supply.
            • by fritsd (924429)
              I suspect it's mostly commissioner Karel de Gucht's pet boycot. He's Belgian, but I suspect he's a bit of a US shill or maybe just anti-EU.
          • by scsirob (246572)

            Dutch citizen here (hello neighbor). Although many in my country also have dreams about solar and wind being the ultimate solution, it is so obvious that it won't even scratch the surface of our energy demand with this that new coal plants are being built here too. If it were up to me, I'd rather have a modern nuclear plant. Rather, I'd love for us to build 10 of them. 9 at the German border so we can export energy to Germany on a calm, cloudy day..

        • by haruchai (17472)

          IIRC, every one of those coal plants are intended to replace one that is end-of-life or soon to be. And the new plants will be significantly cleaner and more efficient.
          I really wish that Germany hadn't decided to dump nukes and I'm guessing they may change their mind before all the remaining ones are shut.

          One of the problems with phasing out coal is that there's been a subsidy on it since the 70s but that is slated to end by 2018. The major coal producers have stated that they'll shut their mines by then.

          Bu

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I have knowledge of this matter and I know it's crap. This is about negotiating with a supplier and throwing a tantrum. They have decided to cut off their nose to spite their face.

      We invented this technology and now, due to anti-nuclear regulations, we no longer have the people, resources, factories, or technical capability, to create nuclear pressure vessels or many of the components needed to build a reactor. Unless of course it's for the military. A single supplier, in another country, can "throw a tantrum" as you say, and deprive one of our major metropolitan areas with electricity.

      And yet it's the fault of the electric company in your view, and the supplier in another's view. We

      • Re:This is crap (Score:4, Informative)

        by erroneus (253617) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @08:53PM (#43956821) Homepage

        The supplier is not throwing the tantrum. Take my word on that for now.

        The government, the NRC, is doing the right thing in all of this. As I have been exposed to this industry and have been learning what's what and what goes on, I have learned a great respect for at least THIS government agency. Every NRC person has also had direct experience in nuclear technologies. And the thing about people who know and understand the tech, know what can happen when things go wrong and NO amount of bribery or being told to look the other way will cause them to compromise what they know very well is a potentially global disaster event.

        I could go on and on about this. But I do know there are forces opposed to the NRC... to its very existence. It was preciselu the lack of an effective "NRC" in Russia that allowed Chernobyl to happen and even though their regulators weren't quite what the NRC is, the people who caused the disaster had to shop their idea for drill/demonstration around quite a bit before they could find someone stupid enough to take the risks they did.

        For the moment, please understand that you don't understand quite what's going on over there. From what I know, the suppliers are acting properly and appropriately. I've already said too much. But I have to say it's a common problem where business cares more about their bottom line than about other, larger issues. I'm not saying that other parties are not at fault -- the reports are public and I invite you to read through them for further insight. There's plenty of blame to spread around. But this thing about shutting down two plants which are otherwise capable of being repaired and restored to a good, safe and reliable operation? Based on everything I know, it's not merely "nuclear economics." There's a lot more.

        Personally, I believe as the next steps proceed, they might well be forced to change their idea about shutting those down. And the article makes it pretty clear that the "shutting down and packing up" is a far cry from destroying the things and clearing the land.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          The supplier is not throwing the tantrum. Take my word on that for now.

          I didn't say you were saying that. I said other people were saying that. I did not say that myself.

          But I do know there are forces opposed to the NRC... to its very existence.

          Yes. They're called capitalists, and left to their own devices, we'd all be swimming in our own sewage and slaves to mega corporations in some dystopic alternate reality. It's okay, you can call them out on it, I won't say anything.

          For the moment, please understand that you don't understand quite what's going on over there.

          I don't think it's really necessary for me to have intimate knowledge of the situation. Party A is pointing the finger at Party B. Party B is pointing the finger at Party A. And all

        • Re:This is crap (Score:4, Interesting)

          by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday June 10, 2013 @01:06AM (#43958223) Journal

          As I have been exposed to this industry and have been learning what's what and what goes on, I have learned a great respect for at least THIS government agency.

          The NRC hasn't denied an operating permit in 30 years.

          The last permit denied was only under heavy pressure.
          When the facts came out, everything ended up in court with General Electric & Contractors being charged under RICO statues.

          It wasn't a traditional court case, in that it was a summary jury trial [wikipedia.org].
          GE & others ended up settling because the Judge agreed that their actions were fraudulent and that they engaged in racketeering.

          The NRC is a very captured regulatory body.

      • by AK Marc (707885)

        No... sorry, they didn't cut their nose off in spite of their face: Our government did.

        Private companies have built them. They must get piles of permits, and still don't get any immunities. So there's not that much blocking private nukes, if only the locals didn't sue. So it's not just the government spiting our face.

    • as if there were any other kind

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      This sort of time scale is fairly normal. The UK takes 80-90 years to decommission its reactors.

  • US Epic fail (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @07:23PM (#43956207)

    Other utilities operating nuclear power plants in the US likely face similar decisions when it comes to weighing the costs of upgrading older facilities.

    Yeah, my country unfortunately has a 60,000% idiot tax. We get massive amounts of food poisoning because people fear irradiated food. We pollute so badly that we've managed to kill large lakes and entire biomes in Africa because we're burning fossil fuel as our primary energy source when we were the ones that first created nuclear power. 4% of my fellow countrymen believe that shape-shifting reptiles are trying to control the government through political manipulation... another 7% "aren't sure". And we're reporting record numbers of people joining the Flat Earth Society, and have one of the lowest rates of acceptance in the theory of evolution of any industrialized country on Earth.

    In short, we're morons. That's why nuclear power is so expensive here, and why we're letting these plants rot... it's stupid, pathetic, moronic fear of technology, science, and progress. And it's killing the planet. Literally. We are literally dying of stupidity.

    • Also you have such a high percentage of religious people compared to other first world nations. The two are linked.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      We get massive amounts of food poisoning because people fear irradiated food.

      I don't fear it, it's just dead. The enzymes in the food are dead. It's crap.

      4% of my fellow countrymen believe that shape-shifting reptiles are trying to control the government through political manipulation... another 7% "aren't sure".

      Well, they do act like we expect killer mutant lizards to act... the government, I mean.

      In short, we're morons. That's why nuclear power is so expensive here, and why we're letting these plants rot...

      Let the plants rot until we find a way to deal with the waste.

      And it's killing the planet. Literally

      Well no. The planet is a ball of stuff. It's not alive. We're killing ourselves, and probably taking most of the complex life forms with us.

      • I don't fear it, it's just dead. The enzymes in the food are dead. It's crap.

        What does this even mean? What enzymes? You realize one of the reasons we cook food is to break down proteins etc so that our bodies can more easily take advantage of their components, right?

    • by hey! (33014)

      It's not fear of nuclear power that makes it uneconomical. It's cheap fossil fuels. Back in the 70s it was the Saudis opening the oil spigot; today it's fracking natural gas and of course coal.

      Which is not to say irrational fear hasn't created nuclear problems -- particularly when it comes to developing long term storage facilities for high level radioactive waste. We also give fossil fuels a break on externalized costs because we're familiar with the and therefore fear them less than we probably ought.

    • by ThePeices (635180)

      I thought you were joking about the Flat Earth membership increase, so I did some research and discovered it to be shockingly true.

      Then I read the Flat Earth FAQ on their website....

      I now exist in a dual state of utter horrified disbelief that people can be so gullible and stupid, and total despair at the state of Humanity

      You are right, were morons. We deserve whatever we reap from our stupidity. The world would be a better place without us.

      I used to have such high hopes for the future of Humans, now I have

    • The funny ones are the people who are afraid to own a microwave oven, but have no problem keeping themselves nice and colorful by tanning in the sun. Which is more likely to give you cancer, using a microwave oven, or sun tanning?
    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      False dichotomy. It isn't "pollution spewing dirty dirty coal | clean and pure nuclear", there are other options. I feel your frustration because it isn't science or engineering that keeps them from expanding more rapidly, its politics and stupidity.

  • by Dereck1701 (1922824) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @07:33PM (#43956277)

    I thought the point of such extensive containment structures was that they would never be destroyed? Just remove the fuel and any equipment that isn't cemented into the structure and leave the rest. I imagine the general thought-lines behind a lot of nuclear plants was to simply to continue to build new reactors as the old ones had to be decommissioned and continue to use the same generators, transmission equipment & facilities with incremental upgrades over the years. But I think I see why they're going the decommissioning route with this one, even if it was economic to build some new reactors this plant is sandwiched between the Pacific and a major highway. The reactor structures themselves are not more than 400' from the ocean, at least on the face of it this place is another Fukushima under the wrong circumstances.

    • by nojayuk (567177) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @07:52PM (#43956403)

      The licencing for nuclear reactors in the US, the UK and a few other countries requires that the site be returned to greenfield status after the reactor(s) on site are decommissioned. That means total demolition of the structures including the metre-thick reinforced concrete containment buildings.

      In some cases if the site is to be reused immediately then the reactors are demolished quickly with special handling of the slightly radioactive pressure vessel which has suffered neutron activation. It costs a little bit less to wait a few decades for that radioactivity to decay at which point the demolition can go ahead with no radiation-specific problems. The real problem during demolition in either case with older (1970s vintage) reactors is the presence of asbestos in pipe lagging, tank insulation etc.

  • Nuclear proponents are always running around yelling wind and solar pawer can't compete on a per KW basis. Well, not if you skim off the profits and leave the cleanup to taxpayers!

    Take the total lifetime cost ( including what is usually shifted onto us after the investors skeedaddle with the profits ) and divide that by KW's produced.

    Hogwash! Nuclear power is too expensive to be sustainable.

    • by iggymanz (596061)

      nonsense, it's far cheaper than coal if you count health problems

      • by fritsd (924429)

        Hogwash! Nuclear power is too expensive to be sustainable.

        nonsense, it's far cheaper than coal if you count health problems

        Ergo, coal is ALSO too expensive to be sustainable.

        I concur.

        Solar, wind, hydro and geothermal it is then.. at least unless ITER [wikipedia.org] and DEMO [wikipedia.org] pay off.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Nuclear proponents are always running around yelling wind and solar pawer can't compete on a per KW basis. Well, not if you skim off the profits and leave the cleanup to taxpayers!

      Just a reminder that a decommissioning fund of almost ~$3 billion has already been collected and is sitting there ready to pay for the cleanup. And for 60 years the place will be watched over by a few security guards. $3 billion in the bank plus long term interest earned on $3 billion minus the cost of a few security guards... might cover it.

      The money for this fund is skimmed off the top from operating revenues over the life of every nuclear plant. This arrangement is not imposed on all types of power pl

      • by sjames (1099) on Monday June 10, 2013 @04:03AM (#43958839) Homepage

        I live in Ga and here we're actually building 2 new reactors now. I look forward to them coming online. I like low cost electricity that doesn't kill fish and birds or strip the land of all life.

      • by fritsd (924429)

        $3 billion in the bank plus long term interest earned on $3 billion minus the cost of a few security guards... might cover it.

        You are assuming 60 years of continued economic growth (averaged out).

        What if that paradigm is wrong, if we are at the downslope of a temporary 150 year economic growth fueled by an anomaly of cheap energy (see Peak Oil)?
        In a shrinking economy, those future decommissioning costs will loom larger and larger. See also Jared Diamond's Collapse, and John Michael Greer's Long Descent.

      • by Jeremi (14640)

        Many of those articles and hate-blogs written on computers powered by the plant itself, filled with dreams of paving Nevada (or just Somewhere Else) with windmills and unspecified solar miracle-widgets to generate 2 gigawatts to replace San Onofre.

        According to what I just googled, California currently has just over a gigawatt of installed solar production, and just over half a gigawatt of installed wind power.

        Therefore, to replace the 2 gigawatts that used to come from San Onofre with renewable energy (and ignoring the possibility of increases in renewable efficiency), we'd have to roughly double our current amount of installed renewable infrastructure.

        That won't be cheap, but its certainly doable -- and given the steadily decreasing cost of renewabl

  • by manu0601 (2221348) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:24PM (#43957067)
    There is a growing technical debt with nuclear decommissioning. Debts can turn into bubbles, I wonder if it is the case here. Do we really know how much power is needed to decommission a nuclear power plant? How many years of the plant's production is it worth?
    • by sjames (1099)

      After the 60 years or so waiting, it's really not any different than demolishing any old plant.

    • You have a pretty poor perspective on things here. The reactors produced [iaea.org] 1100 MWe for 28 years with an average capacity factor around 80%. That's ~50 GWe-years or ~1,200,000 megatons TNT (thermal). I'm pretty keeping the lights on in the building for a few decades is a bit less than a million megatons of TNT.

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