Pasadena Court to Hear Arguments on San Onofre Nuclear Plant Closure

Published : Monday, December 5, 2016 | 6:06 AM

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station 2013. Photo: D. Ramey Logan

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena has set hearing date in early 2017 to consider whether state regulators favored power company shareholders over the rate-paying public, in the case of the failed San Onofre nuclear power plant, a report on the San Diego Tribune said Friday.

On February 9, the federal court will hear arguments on the case filed two years ago by Citizens Oversight, a nonprofit advocacy group seeking to overturn the California Public Utilities Commission decision charging customers more than 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost for the failure of the twin-domed plant.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo rejected the case, ruling that Citizens Oversight had not exercised all of the judicial remedies available at the state level.

If the appeal court decides to return the case to the district court, the plaintiffs would be permitted to access internal commission and utility records and take sworn depositions from those involved.

“The proceedings before the California Public Utilities Commission were not a fair hearing,” Citizens Oversight attorney Michael Aguirre told the San Diego Tribune. “We weren’t even allowed to gather the record.”

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), located in the northwestern corner of San Diego County, south of San Clemente, is currently in the initial stages of preparation to be decommissioned after being closed in 2013 following the failure of replacement steam generators.

The plant’s first unit operated from 1968 to 1992.Unit 2 was started in 1983 and Unit 3 started in 1984. Upgrades designed to last 20 years were made to the reactor units in 2009 and 2010; however, both reactors had to be shut down in January 2012 due to premature wear found on over 3,000 tubes in replacement steam generators that had been installed in 2010 and 2011.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is currently investigating the events that led to the closure.

In June 2013, Southern California Edison announced on June 7, 2013 that it would “permanently retire” Unit 2 and Unit 3 but would not say when or if SONGS might return to service. The company stated that “full retirement” of the units prior to decommissioning will take some years. The actual decommissioning itself is expected to take several years.

According to the San Diego Tribune report, the federal case will be decided on arguments that already have been submitted. No additional briefs or motions will be filed between now and February. The judges are scheduled to hear 15 minutes of oral arguments from each side before determining whether state regulators acted fairly in handling the San Onofre proceeding.

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