Americans worried by the threat of a nuclear meltdown could soon have two fewer reasons to fret.
A nuclear power plant in Wisconsin will be powered down on Tuesday and the owner of a trouble-plagued plant in California is considering shutting it down for good.
Kewaunee [Power Station] owner Dominion Resources Inc. has announced it will shut the plant on May 7, a move that is expected to result in the loss of hundreds of jobs.
The reactor is closing because the Wisconsin utilities that had purchased its electricity declined to continue buying it, citing the low price of natural gas. Dominion put the power plant up for sale in 2011, but no buyer emerged.
So in a few short weeks, the mission of those who work at Kewaunee will change from generating power to cleaning up the power plant site.
Meanwhile, stubborn maintenance problems at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station between San Diego and Los Angeles might finally achieve what decades of anti-nuclear activism has failed to do: permanently shutter the facility, which operates along the Pacific shoreline in a seismically active region.
San Onofre is one of two nuke plants operating in California. The 2,200-megawatt, double-reactor facility has been powered down since new tubes leaked radioactive water into the sea in January 2012. New troubles continue to emerge and repair costs keep on mounting. (Those would be the costs for real repairs. Not like the jerry-rigged repairs we told you about last week, in which workers at the facility patched together a leaking pipe using plastic, masking tape, and broomsticks.)
The facility’s owner has decided that if it can’t be at least partially fired up this year, then it may never be fired up again. From the AP:
Costs tied to the long-running shutdown of California’s San Onofre nuclear power plant have soared to $553 million, while the majority owner raised the possibility [last month] of retiring the plant if it can’t get one reactor running later this year. …
[Southern California Edison] has asked federal regulators for permission to restart the Unit 2 reactor and run it at reduced power for a five-month test period, in hopes of stopping vibration blamed for tube damage. Without that approval, Chairman Ted Craver told Wall Street analysts in a conference call that a decision on whether to retire one or both reactors might be made this year.
Whenever activists have pushed to shutter the plant in the past, they’ve been told that Californians would run out of electricity and endure blackouts without their biggest single source of power. That hasn’t happened during the facility’s 15-month outage. The recent wind-turbine building spree in the state has helped fill the gap; windy weather led to wind producing more than 4,000 megawatts of electricity at one point last month.
Of course, it isn’t easy to kill a nuclear power plant — they’re like zombies, wreaking havoc even after their vital organs have stopped functioning. The nuclear waste lives on after the generators have been switched off, and that waste must be continuously kept cool to prevent a meltdown. Just look at the never-ending debacle in Fukushima. The shutdown and cleanup at the Kewaunee nuke plant in Wisconsin, which hasn’t even melted down, is expected to cost nearly $1 billion and take until the 2070s to complete.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is doling out financial support to help industry build new nuclear power plants, part of its “all of the above” energy policy.