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CPUC, Dianne Feinstein, DLA Piper, Edison International, Geoffrey Brown, Jeffrey Bleich, Michael Peevey, Munger Tolles & Olson, Peter Arth, Richard Blum -- Regent of the University of California; Husband of California Senator Dianne Fienstein, Richard Tom, Ronald Olson, Sempra Energy, Southern California Edison, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, The Regents of the University of California, The University of California, Berkeley Foundation (UCBF), University of California, Berkeley Foundation

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Wikipedia Profile (TLR Note: Owners Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric/ Sempra — clients of Munger Tolles & Olson and DLA Piper, Respectively )

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) is a nuclear power plant located on the Pacific coast of California, in the northwestern corner of San Diego County, south of San Clemente. The site is surrounded by the San Onofre State Park and sits next to highway Interstate 5. The landmark spherical containment buildings around the reactors are designed to prevent unexpected releases of radiation. The closest tectonic fault line is the Cristianitos fault, which is considered inactive. The plant has been the site of many protests by anti-nuclear groups.

The facility is operated by Southern California Edison. Edison International, parent of SCE, holds 78.2% ownership in the plant; San Diego Gas & Electric Company, 20%; and the City of Riverside Utilities Department, 1.8%. The plant employs over 2000 people. The plant is located in Nuclear Regulatory Commission Region IV.

The plant’s two reactors (Units 2 and 3) have been shut down since January 2012 due to premature wear found on tubes in steam generators, which apparently contributed to the accidental release of a small amount of radioactive steam.



Unit 1, a first generation Westinghouse pressurized water reactor that operated for 25 years, closed permanently in 1992, and has been dismantled and is used as a storage site for spent fuel. It had a spherical containment of concrete and steel with the smallest wall being 6 feet (1.8 m) thick. Units 2 and 3, Combustion Engineering pressurized water reactors, continue generate 1,172 MWe and 1,178 MWe respectively.

2012 shutdown

Unit 2 shut in early January 2012 for refueling and replacement of the reactor vessel head.[5] Both reactors at San Onofre have been shut since January 2012 due to premature wear found on tubes in steam generators installed in 2010 and 2011. Plant officials have pledged not to restart the units until the cause of the tube leak and tube degradation are understood, and the units are expected to be offline during the summer.[5]

In March 2012, former nuclear power executive Arnold Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates, prepared a report that argued that “design modifications in the newly installed steam generators, such as different alloy for the tubes, led to problems at the plant”. In April 2012, in a sign of mounting concern over the shutdown, the top U.S. nuclear official, Gregory Jaczko, toured the facility with Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican.[6] The shutdown in 2012 was not due to an earthquake or tsunami but instead due to poor design of the replacement steam generators that included many design changes and were not reviewed by the Nuclear Regulator Commission.[7]

In May 2012, two retired natural gas electrical generators were brought back online to help replace the lost power generation, however the Huntington Beach Power Station only produces 440Mw of power.[8][9]

As of July 2012, the cost related to the shutdown has reached $165 million, with $117 million of that being the purchasing of power from other sources to replace the output of the plant.[10] As a result, the Chairman of Edison International Ted Carver has stated that there is a possibility that reactor 3 maybe scrapped as “It is not clear at this time whether Unit 3 will be able to restart without extensive additional repairs”.[10]

The station had technical problems prior to those of 2012. For instance, as the July 12, 1982 edition of Time states, “The firm Bechtel was … embarrassed in 1977, when it installed a 420-ton nuclear-reactor vessel backwards” at San Onofre.[11]

Safety culture

According to the NRC, workers at San Onofre are “afraid they will be retaliated against if they bring up safety problems, something that’s against the rules”.[12] As of 2011, there has been progress on the issue, says the NRC, but there is still more work to do. So far, the problems have not threatened the safety of plant workers or the public. San Clemente Green is an environmental group opposed to the continued operation of the San Onofre nuclear plant.[12]

Environmental risk and mitigation

Southern California Edison states the station was “built to withstand a 7.0 magnitude earthquake directly under the plant”.[13] Additionally, there is a 25-foot tsunami wall to protect the plant from a rogue wave that could be potentially generated by the active fault 5 miles offshore.[14]

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s estimate of the risk each year of an earthquake intense enough to cause core damage to the reactor at San Onofre was 1 in 58,824, according to an NRC study published in August 2010.[15][16]

Unlike many pressurized water reactors, but like some other seaside facilities in Southern California, the San Onofre plant uses seawater for cooling, and thus lacks the iconic large cooling towers typically associated with nuclear generating stations. However, changes to water-use regulations may require construction of such cooling towers in the future to avoid further direct use of seawater. Limited available land next to SONGS would likely require towers to be built on the opposite side of Interstate 5.[17]

Anti-nuclear protests

On August 6, 1977, about a thousand anti-nuclear protesters marched outside the nuclear generation station, while units 2 & 3 were under construction.[18]

On June 22, 1980, about 15,000 people attended a protest near San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.[19]

On March 11, 2012, activists protested the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station to mark the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Over 200 people rallied in San Onofre State Beach to listen to several speakers, including two Japanese residents who lived through the Fukushima meltdowns and Raymond Lutz. Though local leaders and industry officials say that a disaster like Fukushima is unlikely at San Onofre, the activists point to the plant’s safety record, earthquake risk, location on the coast quite similar to that in Japan, and the fact that as of March 2012, San Onofre’s reactors were “off-line due to leaks and wear and tear to the generator tubes. Speakers at the event said they would like for the generators to remain off”.[20]

Environmental and anti-nuclear activists gathered at Southern California Edison’s Irvine headquarters in May 2012 calling for the San Onofre plant to be decommissioned. They also called for Edison to spend more money implementing energy conservation programs and suggested the formation of a working group to encourage consumers to save energy. The plant’s shutdown has drawn scrutiny from elected officials, including Sen. Barbara Boxer, who asked Edison and the NRC whether design changes in the steam generators were properly reviewed.[21]

In popular culture

In the James W. Huston novel, Fallout, Pakistani Air Force Pilots attempt to bomb San Onofre using stolen California Air National Guard F-16s. In the James Bond novel License Renewed by John Gardner, it was one of six nuclear power stations in the terrorist/blackmail plot “Meltdown” planned by The Laird of Murcaldy, Anton Murik. In the science fiction novel Timescape, by Gregory Benford, the nuclear plants at San Onofre raised the water temperature along the adjacent coast, which stimulated aquatic life.

The generating station was also featured in the 1983 documentary film Koyaanisqatsi and the 1988 comedy film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. It was featured as the first landmark in the San Diego level of the 1998 video game California Speed.

In the 2011 television series The Event, the fuel rods were removed from San Onofre to thwart the aliens’ plan to steal the uranium to build a “transportation array”.

In the role-playing game Shadowrun, San Onofre is destroyed by an earthquake in the year 2028 and sealed similarly to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.[22]

Surrounding population

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission defines two emergency planning zones around nuclear power plants: 1) a plume exposure pathway zone with a radius of 10 miles (16 km), concerned primarily with exposure to, and inhalation of, airborne radioactive contamination, and 2) an ingestion pathway zone of about 50 miles (80 km), concerned primarily with ingestion of food and liquid contaminated by radioactivity.[23] The average prevailing westward wind direction at San Onofre blows inland 9 months of the year.[24]

The 2010 U.S. population within 10 miles (16 km) of San Onofre was 92,687, an increase of 50.0 percent in a decade, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data for The 2010 U.S. population within 50 miles (80 km) was 8,460,508, an increase of 14.9 percent since 2000.[25] Three of the cities within 20 miles of the the facility are San Clamente and Laguna Beach in Orange County and Oceanside in San Diego County.[26][27] San Diego is 45 miles south of the facility, and Los Angeles is 60 miles north of the facility.[28]

See also


  1. ^ “Construction of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station”. Los Angeles Times. 16 June 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  2. ^ Rob Davis (28 July 2012). “The Trouble With the San Onofre Nuclear Plant”. Voice of San Diego. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  3. ^ “San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS)”. Edison International. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  4. ^ Professor Dennis Silverman (12 April 2012). “Cost and Area of Replacing San Onofre Nuclear Energy by Solar Photovoltaics”. Energy Blog. University of California, Irvine. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  5. ^ a b Eileen O’Grady (March 21, 2012). “Grid looking at extended San Onofre nuclear outage”. Reuters.
  6. ^ Alex Dobuzinskis (Apr 7, 2012). “No timetable for restarting California nuclear plant: Jaczko”. Reuters.
  7. ^ Arnie Gundersen MSNE (March 27, 2012). “Steam Generator Failures at San Onofre”. Fairewinds Associates, Burlington, Vermont, USA.
  8. ^ Eric Wolff (11 May 2012). “”. North County Times. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  9. ^ “H.B. Generators”. Huntington Beach Wave. Associated Press: p. 3. May 18, 2012. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
  10. ^ a b Associated Press (31 August 2012). “Bill for damaged San Onofre nuclear power plant in California hits $165 million, and counting”. Washington Post. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  11. ^ “The Master Builders from Bechtel”. Time. July 12, 1982.
  12. ^ a b Onell R. Soto (April 28, 2011). “Anti-nuclear protest planned at NRC meeting”. SignOnSanDiego.
  13. ^ Catherine Saillant (14 March 2011). “San Onofre nuclear plant can withstand up to 7.0 quake, is protected by a 25-foot tsunami wall, Edison says”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  14. ^ Christopher Helman (14 March 2012). “Could San Diego’s Oceanside Nuke Plant Survive A Tsunami?”. Forbes. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  15. ^ Bill Dedman, “What are the odds? US nuke plants ranked by quake risk,”, March 17, 2011 Accessed April 19, 2011.
  16. ^
  17. ^ “State to power plants: stop sucking in seawater”. The Orange County Register.
  18. ^ “Construction of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station”. Los Angeles Times. 16 June 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  19. ^ Williams, Eesha. Wikipedia distorts nuclear history Valley Post, May 1, 2008.
  20. ^ Jameson Steed (March 12, 2012). “Anti nuclear groups protest San Onofre”. Daily Titan.
  21. ^ “Protesters ask Edison to decommission San Onofre nuclear plant”. LA Times. May 23, 2012.
  22. ^ Corporate Enclaves, p.33, Catalyst Game Labs 2007
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Bill Dedman, Nuclear neighbors: Population rises near US reactors,, April 14, 2011 Accessed May 1, 2011.
  26. ^ Rick Rojas (30 March 2012). “Fear grows in O.C. cities near San Onofre nuclear plant”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 August 2012. “Officials in nearby San Clemente and Laguna Beach — both within 20 miles of the San Onofre facility — have registered their fears after significant wear was found on hundreds of tubes carrying radioactive water inside the plant’s generators.”
  27. ^ Jamie Reno (29 May 2012). “With Summer Approaching, the Heat Is On to Re-open the San Onofre Nuclear Plant”. The Daily Beast. Retrieved 11 August 2012. “Karen Garland, a married mother of two who lives in Oceanside, 17 miles south of the plant, recalls the the blackout that affected San Diego and Orange Counties last September.”
  28. ^ Tina Gerhardt (23 July 2012). “San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station to Remain Shuttered”. Washington Monthly. Retrieved 12 August 2012. “The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant rests on the Pacific Coast 60 miles south of Los Angeles and 45 miles north of San Diego, the second and eighth largest cities in the U.S. respectively. The nuclear power plant is within 50 miles of 8.5 million people.”

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About Leslie Brodie

Leslie Brodie is a reporter, writer, blogger, activist, and a religious leader in the community.


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