San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

Dallas Lloyd
February 21, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016

Getting to Know the Station

Fig. 1: A beautiful depiction of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is shown, located on the beach. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, also known as SONGS, is located near San Diego, California. Fig. 1 shows a beautiful view of the station from the beach front. The large station once provided work for over 2,000 American citizens. [1] The three owners of the plant were Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric and the city of Riverside. It consists of three units. Unit one used to be a Westinghouse pressurized water reactor, but now serves as a storage container for fuel that has been spent. [1] Unit one began operating on June 17th, 1967. Units Two and Three served as combustion engineering two loop pressurized water reactors. Unit Two began operating in August 1983 and that of Unit Three began in April 1984.

A complicated, inherently questionable past proved to be the downfall of the station. Perhaps the event that led to the death of the station occurred on January 31st, when a small leak in Unit Two caused a complete shutdown of the plant. [1] As costs tied to the plant's shutdown and repairs soared to $553 million, federal regulators indefinitely delayed a decision on whether to approve the restart of Unit Two.

Fig. 2: In this figure, two workers are inspecting items in the nuclear generating station in 1973. (Source: Wikimedia Commons

Due to the massive risks and potential catastrophic health effects, the nuclear is now shut down. In June 2013, representatives announced that the station would retire and be relieved of its purpose as a nuclear generating station.

Safety: the Top Priority

Since the creation of SONGS, maintenance has always been a top priority for management. In Fig. 2 two workers are shown performing a regular safety maintenance routine in 1973. Although maintenance checkups were regularly performed, upholding high safety and functionality were difficult. In 2013, the decision was made to forgo replacement of steam generators, which consequentially resulted in the decommissioning of SONGS. Barbara Boxer, a California Senator, claimed that the plant had become unsafe and endangered the lives of 8 million people that lived within 50 miles of the nuclear generating station. In addition to her claim, she insisted that a criminal investigation take place.

A realization and contemplation of high-risk persuaded the plant owners to shut it down. [2] In 2011, nearly six million people lived in the danger zone of SONGS. [3] A few years later, in 2014, 10,041,797 people were reported to live in the Los Angeles area. With such catastrophic possibilities, the owners figured it would be best to cease operations of the plant. This decision was made primarily because of the operating costs and geographical proximity to such a large population.

© Dallas Lloyd. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Timeline of San Onofre Plant's Operations," San Diego Union-Tribune, 7 Jun 13.

[2] "San Diego County Demographics Profile, North Central Region, 2011 Population Estimates," County of San Diego, March 2013.

[3] "Profile of the City of Los Angeles," Southern California Association of Governments, May 2015.