San Onofre Nuclear Plant Closes After Months of Inactivity

Southern California Edison announced on June 7 that it will be permanently closing the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant. The nuclear power plant has been up and running for over four decades, but has not been generating any energy since January 2012.

The plant’s first unit started operating in 1968 and has since added two more units. Shortly before the plant shut down in early 2012, the plant underwent some renovations, in which Mitsubishi Heavy Industries replaced the generators’ equipment. Soon after, damage was found in one of the pipes and discovered to be leaking small amounts of radioactive steam. Although the leak was minimal, it was found to be very harmful to residents of the area and the plant was requested to be immediately shut down by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Since then, the plant has not been generating energy for Southern California residents.

Between the time that the nuclear plant was shut down until Edison International’s official announcement of its permanent closure, the plant spent more than $500 million to compensate for the loss of energy generated by the nuclear plant. According to this same Los Angeles Times article, the plant had stayed closed due to a long, inconclusive battle between Southern California Edison, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who refused to allow the plant to reopen. Heavy opposition from residents and the general public had added additional stress to the issue.

This process, from replacing the motors to maintaining the plant even after it was shut down, had cost Southern California Edison over $2 billion. This, along with the unlikelihood that the plant would be approved to reopen, pushed Edison to announce its official closure. Currently, the replacement power is coming from natural gas, and this will remain as Edison’s long-term plan while the nuclear plant is decommissioned. Although Edison has appropriated $2.7 billion for the plant’s decommissioning, the jobs of over 1,000 employees is in peril.

There is no question that the energy lost from the nuclear generators can be made up—Edison has not had problems providing energy in the last year and a half that the plant has been inactive. But the method with which they replaced the loss of the nuclear generators has led Southern California to take several steps back in becoming greener. The decision to replace nuclear energy with natural gas energy means more damage to the environment.

While the potential exposure of nuclear energy to  humans can be harmful, it can only happen when there is a mistake, a fault in the system. Most of the time, nuclear energy is contained within the plants in which they are generated and emits very little carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Nuclear plants, however, still pollute the environment by contaminating water with heavy metals and salt build ups.

Natural gas, too, pollutes the water systems. A recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency showed that the water surrounding a natural gas plant in Georgia is contaminated with chemicals and other pollutants. This is caused by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” which uses water to separate rocks and minerals to produce natural gas. In addition, however, to water pollution, natural gas also emits huge amounts of carbon dioxide. The combined air and water pollution makes the use-and processing-of natural gas more harmful to the environment.

Since natural gas is Edison’s long-term plan, however, this can mean opportunities for various establishments and businesses to implement more sustainable methods. Simple practices like cutting down the energy used in offices, especially as summer approaches will help decrease the demand and production of natural gas. Opportunities to practice sustainable methods can stretch from the individual to companies. Not only will it be a step towards a more sustainable living, but potentially help minimize the increase in energy that is sure to accompany the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant.