New generators on way to nuclear power plant

The first of four new steam generators needed to keep the San Onofre nuclear power plant in operation is slowly making its way to the facility by ship, barge and a tractor-trailer-like vehicle with 256 wheels, it was reported Wednesday.

The 650-ton pieces of equipment are intended to extend the life span of the power plant, which has come under scrutiny from regulators in the last year because of safety lapses.

The aging generators will join the facility’s original nuclear reactor, now retired, in the power plant’s growing storehouse of spent radioactive machinery, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The installation is “a major milestone in the station’s history,” Ross Ridenoure, Southern California Edison senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re committed to making sure it’s done right.”

To maneuver the 22-foot-diameter generators into the plant’s two reactor domes, crews must cut a 28-foot-wide opening through the 4 to 6 feet of concrete, steel reinforcement bars and thick cables that secure each building, according to The Times.

At least one antinuclear watchdog group has expressed alarm at the risks of cutting open nuclear facilities in a seismically active region, The Times reported.

Two generators will be installed by crane inside the power plant’s northern dome this fall, with two more going in the southern dome in fall 2010, according to Southern California Edison officials quoted by The Times. The generators create steam that is piped to turbines, which produce electricity.

Each reactor will be shut off for about four months while the steam generators are replaced as part of the $670 million project. Edison will purchase additional power to make up for the lost electricity.