Regardless of blame, the days of nuclear power are numbered.

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I wrote in my blog, exactly a year ago this month, that San Onofre had become obsolete.

“I took a call the other day from a reporter who was inquiring about San Onofre and if the time were upon us when renewable energy such as solar power could displace the nuclear power being pumped out of the onerous, ticking-time-bomb, situated just south and north of two major population centers. Short answer, Yes.”

Turns out Southern California Edison (SCE) agrees, or at least throws in the towel. It was announced today the troubled powerplant would be shut down. High vibration and other issues degraded about 8.7% of the tubes in the replacement steam generators causing the plant to be shuttered 17 months ago. This lead to the leak of radioactive water and an order to shut down by federal regulators. Faced with a lengthy license amendment process to restart the plant, SCE decided to cut its losses and send as much of the $3.4 billion bill to ratepayers as the California Public Utilities Commission will allow.

So who’s to blame? Did SCE run the plant in good-faith and simply get derailed by unforeseen circumstances? Let’s take a look at the plant’s track record:

  • 1977 – 420 ton nuclear reactor vessel installed backwards
  • 2008 – the plant received multiple citations over issues such as failed emergency generators, improperly wired batteries and falsified fire safety data.
  • 2011 – the NRC writes, “corrective actions to date have not resulted in sustained and measurable improvement” regarding issues with human performance the plant.
  • 2011/2012 – the plant was reported as having failed to develop procedures for “cyber security analysis of electronic devices.”
  • 2013 - U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) accuses: “cut safety corners to avoid a new NRC licensing process.”
  • 2013 – public allegations made by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that the company was aware of design flaws in the steam generators before installation and did not make fixes to avoid triggering a time-consuming license amendment.

Derailed by unforeseen circumstances? Or poorly managed.

Regardless of blame, the days of nuclear power are numbered. The future probably looked promising for nuclear power back in the days when you were waxing your Firebird to REO Speedwagon. Safe; cheap; reliable… Nixon said there would be 1,000 plants spread across the United States by the year 2000. But as Germany, France and other countries built up their nuclear infrastructure, the Unites States took more of a wait-and-see policy. Now, while Germany shuts down its entire fleet in favor of renewables with France soon to follow – this policy turned out for the best. We sort of ended up avoiding the entire era of nuclear power generation and came out for the better. Imagine if we had gone ahead with 1,000 plants instead of the 100 we have now? The San Onofre debacle repeated how many times? And how many Fukushimas avoided? A meltdown at San Onofre would create a 50-mile-radius radioactive footprint effecting 8,460,508 people (how this was ever considered acceptable is beyond me).

So what’s the answer to our energy needs? Your utility would say coal and natural gas. Their customers, at least former customers, say solar. But people aren’t just saying it, they are buying it. The people of California are projected to add 2,300 megawatts of solar generated power to the grid within the next year. Let me say that again - 2,300 megawatts of solar generated power; San Onofre produced only 2,200.

The bottom line is nuclear power is no longer the answer to power. The cost of power from other sources is too low; the cost of human life is too high. Solar is the answer and it’s happening right before our eyes. Let the utilities go down kicking and screaming while the people bypass them with their own solar systems. Not only are the days of nuclear power numbered, so are the days of monopolies dictating the price of power. Generate your own power with solar panels.

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