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San Onofre decommission will cost $4.4 billion

California Edison announced on Friday, June 11th, 2013, that it would permanently close the San Onofre nuclear plant. Mae Ryan/KPCC

The estimated cost to decommission the inactive San Onofre nuclear power plant south of San Clemente will be $4.4 billion, according to plans submitted on Tuesday by the majority owner of the facility.

A spokeswoman for Southern California Edison (SCE) said previous estimates for the decommissioning process had been around $3.9 billion.

“The difference with this estimate is that it’s a much more detailed estimate,” Brown said.

Brown said that SCE has a trust fund for decommissioning the plant that has a value of $4.1 billion – an amount that is believed to be sufficient for the 20-year project. If so, the company said customers would not be charged for any of the associated costs. Any remaining funds would be returned to customers after decommissioning.

Brown said the company believes major dismantlement will begin in early 2016.

A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that the federal agency is examining the proposal. The commission will then hold public meetings to present it to residents who live in the area of the power plant.

“We plan to have a public meeting out near the plant sometime probably in late October or early November, at which we would present the decommissioning process and also get more public input about the plan,” said David McIntyre, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

In addition to updating the cost estimates, the proposal also includes plans for how the used nuclear fuel will be managed. The plant’s owner intends to put all fuel into dry storage containers by the end of 2019. 

“Southern California Edison will continue to manage the used nuclear fuel until the Department of Energy removes it from site,“ Brown said.

As for when the Department of Energy would remove it from the site remains in question, because no location exists that can accept the hazardous material.

“The proposed repository for the fuel at Yucca Mountain currently is incomplete and does not have sufficient funding, so it’s unclear whether or when the Department of Energy will proceed with this requirement to accept the used fuel from the nation’s nuclear power plants,” Brown said.

A local community organization has expressed concern that long-term storage plans at the may be insufficient, citing worries that storage containers may eventually crack.

“They have no method to inspect the cracks, no method to repair the cracks and nothing in their methods to move from one container to the other,” said Donna Gilmore, founder of San Onofre Safety.

The $4.4 billion estimate for decommissioning is separate from a $4.7 billion proposed settlement agreement among plant owners and consumer advocate groups on how to pay for replacement power needed because of the shutdown. That settlement required that customers pay for $3.3 billion of the amount.

Earlier this month, state energy regulators proposed an amended version of the settlement, saying the original needed to be fairer to ratepayers. California Public Utilities Commission spokesman Christopher Chow said settling parties have until the end of today to submit amendments that incorporate requested changes.

Brown said that SCE has already submitted its amendments.

“The initial settlement proposal from the California Public Utilities Commission was reasonable and carefully balanced all the relevant interests, but we believe the public interest would be best served by expeditious approval of the amended settlement so our customers can begin reaping the benefits,” Brown said.