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California

State energy regulators approve more funding to decommission San Onofre nuclear plant

San Onofre
The San Onofre nuclear power plant was permanently shut down after a radiation leak in 2012.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

California utility regulators awarded owners of the San Onofre nuclear plant hundreds of millions of dollars in new money to pay for ongoing decommissioning of the shuttered power station, rejecting a protest from a San Diego consumer group.

Majority plant owner Southern California Edison late last year asked the California Public Utilities Commission to approve withdrawing $461 million from an existing trust fund to continue deconstructing the closed nuclear plant north of Oceanside.

In 2017, Edison estimated it would need $166 million to perform the same next steps in the decommissioning process. Since then Edison has said delays in the fuel-transfer program moving the waste from wet to dry storage and approval of a permit from the state Coastal Commission contributed to the higher cost estimates.

The Public Watchdogs consumer advocacy group filed a formal protest to the application late last year, asserting that Edison had not properly explained why it needed more money than it had previously estimated.

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Regulators initially placed a hold on the funding, but last week they announced in a letter they would approve the application.

“Since SCE properly explained its 2020 decommissioning forecast costs and their reasonableness will be reviewed in ... [future hearings], Public Watchdogs’ protest does not provide sufficient grounds for rejection,” the commission wrote.

Edison said the decision would allow the company to proceed safely with decommissioning the former plant.

“The CPUC’s approval is consistent with the process for obtaining trust fund disbursements to pay for decommissioning costs,” Edison said in a statement.

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Public Watchdogs executive director Charles Langley criticized regulators for not holding more frequent hearings over how the multibillion-dollar decommissioning fund is being spent.

“The hearings are supposed to occur once every three years,” he said by email. “The last hearing was held four years ago in 2016.”

California electricity customers paid more than $4 billion into the decommissioning trust fund over the last several decades to pay for the eventual dismantling of the plant.

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, owned by Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, was closed permanently after a small radiation leak in 2012.

McDonald writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune


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