Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Early History of Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant

Here are two historical articles on the Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant.

#1 from the the local Eureka Humboldt Standard,  Feb 21, 1958

PG&E Head Reveals Huge Project Cost

The atomic power-plant which Pacific Gas & Electric Company plans to build near Eureka will cost 28 million dollars to build and operate for four years, according to PG&E President Norman R.Sutherland.. 
He said the 60,000 kilowatt plant, which will produce economical nuclear electricity, will be built by BechteI Corp  for 20 million dollars. This compares with 11 million dollars for a conventional steam plant.
Uranium to run the plant for 3 ½ to 4 ½ years will be rented from the government for five million dollars, Sutherland told a press conference Thursday.  It will cost another  Three million dollars to fabricate the uranium into pellets for the core of the boiling-water type reactor furnace.
Cheaper Than Oil
He said the eight million dollar cost for fuel is about-half that of oil used in steam plants, therefore, costs of building and operating the nuclear plant would begin to balance out with the costs of conventional plants with the second core or batch of uranium fuel.
Sutherland said Eureka was picked for the site of the new plant because it has moderately high fuel costs.   “Oil for steam ‘plants must be barged in and it is remote from our general transmission system,” he said. “Two 100,000 volt lines’ are brought ‘in 110 miles over the Trinity Mountains f r o m Lockwood, and standby facilities must be maintained.”
Negotiating for Land
Sutherland said PG&E is negotiating to buy land on the coast near San Francisco for future construction of a nuclear plant. He said studies are continuing, although so far surveys have indicated that such a plant would be competitive with steam and hydro electric plants.  Asked if he believed the’ Eureka plant indicated the coming obsolescence of steam am hydroelectric plants, Sutherland replied: “Emphatically no.”  It may do so. In the Eureka area,” he said, “but not in our general system. In fact, we now have five hydroelectric and three steam-plants under construction.”
Eureka Humboldt Standard
Feb 21, 1958   p9
#2 From the Sierra Club Magazine, 1984

The Short, Sad Life and

                      Long, Slow Death of Humboldt Bay

NUCLEAR ENERGY made its California debut in 1958, when Pacific Gas & Electric announced that the state's first atomic-power plant would be built on the remote north coast. Two years later surveyors mapped out a site a few miles south of Eureka, and in September 1963 Humboldt Bay became the seventh nuclear-power plant in the country to go on-line.
In what was to prove an inauspicious beginning, Humboldt underwent two sudden emergency shutdowns within its first two months of operation. For ten weeks during 1965, faulty fuel rods released uncontrolled radiation. A near-meltdown occurred in July 1970, the year that Humboldt, which led all the nation's reactors in radioactive emissions, was labeled the country's "dirtiest" nuke by Science magazine.
The beginning of the end for Humboldt came in 1976, when a Forest Service geologist documented the existence of two active earthquake faults in the vicinity, one only 56 feet from the reactor. The plant was closed for refueling at the time, and ­following a petition by citizen intervenors to keep it shut down permanently-the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled that Humboldt should not be reopened.
The plant was removed from PG&E's rate base in 1979. In July 1983 the utility announced that it did not plan to operate the plant ever again and that the decommissioning process would begin.
Because the shutdown of the plant in 1976 had not eliminated the earthquake danger, citizen activists had begun their own decommissioning process years before PG&E's 1983 announcement. They sponsored conferences on decommissioning in 1979 and 1981 to focus community attention on the technical and financial problems facing Humboldt. No one had any clear idea how the decommissioning process was going to work, and PG&E had used the money collected from ratepayers for decommissioning to pay the utility's day-to-day operating expenses.
In 1983 the PUC ruled that all state utilities must establish an "external sinking fund," a separate fund for decommissioning that would be outside the utilities' control. The ruling did not settle the financial controversy over Humboldt.  PG&E now claims that, because it was fulfilling its responsibility to provide eco­nomical energy to its customers, the ratepayers should be responsible for the full costs of decommissioning; the utility has requested a $130-million rate hike for this purpose. Others argue that the majority of the burden should be borne by PG&E stockholders, because Humboldt failed to operate for even half its expected lifetime. The PUC has yet to determine who should pay how much for how long.
Technical questions remain as well. P&E has not made a formal announcement concerning its decommissioning plans, but it apparently intends to delay dismantle­ment of the Humboldt Bay facility until 2015. Meanwhile, it has already embarked on a modified version of safe storage: The fuel rods have been removed from the reactor core and placed in an on-site storage pool. Critics are concerned about the safety of the storage plan: The pool is below sea level and only 100 yards from the ocean-and the earthquake faults that were there in 1976 have not disappeared.
As an intervenor since 1978 in the NRC proceedings regarding Humboldt, the Sierra Club is asking for a full environmental impact statement on PG&E's decommis­sioning plans. The Club contends that decommissioning is a matter of great public interest and that approval of a plan would constitute "major federal action signifi­cantly affecting the quality of the human environment."
Humboldt Bay operated for a mere 13 years. Its afterlife could indeed be an eternity. -Annie Stine / Sierra #69, 1984

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