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Power Technology

Decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Plant May Take Decades 266

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:This is crap (Score:5, Informative)

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


    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.

  • 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.

  • Re:US Epic fail (Score:3, Informative)

    by doom ( 14564 ) <doom@kzsu.stanford.edu> on Sunday June 09, 2013 @08:28PM (#43956653) Homepage Journal

    It's nice to see another monument to short-sightedness being dismantled.

    Actually, what's probably short-sighted is dismantling it at all. The right way to decommision a nuclear plant is almost certainly to fill the containment with concrete and lock the gate. Making them rip it all apart and cart it somewhere else after waiting only 60 years is pretty silly: it raises the costs without improving safety much. I think we do this largely for psychological reasons...

    (All this, by the way, makes the inflammatory headline for this story more than a little nutty: it could take *decades* to decommission it-- well yeah, they're allowed to wait 60 years for the hottest of the hot stuff to cool, why not?)

    The atomic era of investing heavily in a technology that burdens human beings with the most poisonous substances on earth for literally thousands of years needs to be put to rest and this is how we do it.

    It sure would be nice if we could put this meme to rest, but I'm not holding my breath. (1) radioactive stuff exists already. (2) we gather it up, concentrate it, and stick in a reactor where we generate power by making it less radioactive. (3) We then have the option of deciding what to do with the residue. We can reprocess it, bury it, whatever-- you don't have this option for the waste from the other major competing power sources out there.

    By the way, heard about global warming? Wouldn't it be interesting if the 70s anti-nuclear activists were forced to admit they made a wrong call and may have helped doom the planet? But like I said, I'm not holding my breath.

  • 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.

  • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:25PM (#43957451)

    Japanese killed because of radiation in Fukushima-Diachi: zero. Total count of Japanese with radiation induced health problems around Fukashima: zero.

  • by WalksOnDirt ( 704461 ) on Monday June 10, 2013 @12:35AM (#43958103)

    Out of interest - anyone know why we've not re-visited thorium?

    Gas is cheap and nuclear is not popular. China is supposed to be working on it, though.

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

    by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Monday June 10, 2013 @05:58AM (#43959283)

    "I thought they originally went with uranium, because you could build nuclear weapons from the waste."

    Oh dear, The Lie That Will Not Die.

    A uranium-fuelled reactor like a PWR works by stacking a lot of uranium fuel pellets in close proximity to each other and moderating (slowing down) the neutrons they emit so they cause fission in nearby uranium atoms, producing heat and yet more neutrons. That's it, steam-engine simple. Sure there are complexities of design and engineering but they're dealt with at the drawing board, not while the reactor is running. In the 1950s and 1960s that what was possible and cost-effective to design and build.

    Breeding plutonium for nuclear weapons was carried out virtually everywhere in the world in specialised reactors, almost all of which never generated a watt of electricity since they were optimised to turn U-238 into Pu-239 without producing much Pu-240 which screws up the functioning of a nuclear weapon. There were a couple of dual-use reactor designs like the British Magnox and the infamous Soviet-era RMBK-4 reactors of Tchernobyl fame which could be tasked with short-exposure fuelling cycles to produce nearly-pure Pu-239 but they were not popular and in most cases they were never actually used to make weapons-grade Pu-239, in part because by the time they came on stream the countries building them had produced as much nuclear weapons material (a few tonnes) as they would ever need from their military reactors. Since then the number of weapons has gone down, not up and the decommissioned weapon cores are stockpiled until they can be burned up in uranium reactors as mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) elements.

    Thorium reactors of the liquid salt type require continuous processing of the fuel to remove assorted highly radioactive byproducts in a chemical plant while the reactor is running. Thorium itself is not fertile, it needs to be transmuted into U-233 which is fissile and can be "burned" in the same way U-235 is in existing reactors. It's the dark secret of the LFTR design that it needs a sparkplug of enriched uranium and even some plutonium to start up from cold to begin the transmutation process and the only place that can come from at the moment is the conventional nuclear reactor industry. In addition any unburnt U-233 they produce can be extracted from the fuel stream and used in nuclear weapons after processing.

    Ah but the US built a thorium reactor in the 1960s! Yes, it was a 5MW thermal experimental prototype which never ran continuously for more than a few weeks at a time. Conventional 1600MWe PWR reactors being built in China, France and Finland (the EPR 1600 design) produce nearly 5 gigawatts of heat, a thousand times as much as the prototype LFTR did and they will run for 18 to 24 months at a time between refuelling operations and produce no weapons-grade plutonium.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!