Earlier this week, we reported on our blog about a steam generator tube leak in unit 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in California (see here and here). The key facts are that:
1) the public and plant workers were never in danger;
2) the plant responded exactly how it was supposed to—sensitive monitoring instruments alerted workers to the problem & they were able to quickly shut down the plant and isolate the component within four hours of detection. Southern California Edison, the plant’s owner, also immediately notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the nation’s nuclear energy regulator, of the issue; and
3) pinhole-sized leaks in steam generator tubes are not an uncommon occurrence while a new steam generator is still being broken in. (SONGS just last year finished installing new steam generators at the site.)
As soon as the event occurred, some groups immediately called for the plant to close.
For instance, in the San Clemente Times:
But Gary Headrick of San Clemente Green said the latest incident is another reason SONGS should close.And San Onofre Safety had this to say:
"Let's move away from this outdated dangerous technology and replace it with safe and sustainable options that will lead us to a brighter future," he said in a statement.
San Onofre Unit 2 and 3 are both down today (1/31/2012) and yet we still have plenty of power without this nuclear plant running. Unit 2 is shut down for maintenance and Unit 3 is shut down after a possible leak.Although I know groups like these will take advantage of any opportunity to push their anti-nuclear energy agenda, this last quote is especially bothersome to me because it glosses over the intricacies involved with supplying electricity to the power grid and paints a picture that Californians can simply “live without” electricity from SONGS. What some may not realize is that the electricity has to come from somewhere else when a nuclear plant is shut down and it’s usually not from where they think.
Tell me again why we are risking our lives, the environment and the future of California for energy we obviously can live without?
When a nuclear plant is shut down, either for routine purposes or during an outage like in SONGS’ case this week, fossil fuel plants in the area will start up to offset the power that is no longer being generated by the nuclear plant. The local electricity grid operator will work with the fossil fuel plant to ensure that there is enough electricity to meet the demand in the area to avoid brownouts or blackouts. Given that it is winter and southern California typically does not have cold temperatures at this time of year, electricity demand in the area is low, which allows for other plants on standby to easily fill the gap in the lost electricity supply from SONGS. If this happened during the peak of summer when electricity demand is highest, then SONGS’ shutdown could affect the grid. Throughout the year (and even more so during peak times), SONGS provides the grid with stability in a congested region with its large, continuous baseload power.
Southern California Edison’s Gil Alexander explains this week’s shutdown on the grid:
The plant's only other reactor already had been deactivated for a scheduled refueling and technology upgrade, he said. But the utility has ample reserve electricity, which it buys from independent power producers, to continue meeting customer demands while the two reactors are off line, the company said.The short-term solution of purchasing power from a nearby utility comes in handy during an unexpected or planned outage, but it is not a long-term option because the costs are higher than what SONGS can produce.
"We don't expect any impact on our customers tomorrow," Alexander told Reuters.
While it may be easy for some to quickly dismiss the economic and environmental benefits that SONGS provides to the southern California area, I hope that others will take the opportunity to learn more about why SONGS is essential to the region.