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Californians Consider a Future Without a Nuclear Plant for a Neighbor – NYTimes.com

SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. — Residents of this quiet Orange County beach community often all but forgot about the hulking nuclear plant just south of the city limits.

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But reminders, while infrequent, were jarring. The governor’s office mailed residents potassium iodide pills, to take in case of a radioactive leak. Emergency sirens occasionally sounded in the middle of the night (false alarms, residents were told). And anyone who drove south out of town was confronted with the plant’s looming twin domes.

But after nearly half a century living with a radioactive neighbor, San Clemente is now adjusting to a future without the San Onofre nuclear power plant, whose proximity has long shaped life here in ways big and small.

Last month, Southern California Edison announced that the nuclear plant, which was closed in January 2012 when a problem with its new steam generators led to a small leak of radioactive steam, would shut down for good.

Many residents rejoiced at this news, but San Onofre’s closing raises some uncomfortable questions for nearby towns that had relied on it as a source of cheap energy and jobs.

Worries about radiation poisoning, which increased here after the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, have suddenly been supplanted by more mundane concerns, like how much the cost of electricity will go up.

“For most residents, I think San Onofre was out of sight, out of mind,” Tim Brown, a San Clemente city councilman, said. “They took the power it generated for granted. Now that it’s gone, well, we’ll see how much it really does affect our lives.

“I anticipate it’s going to be tough for some folks,” he continued. “The plant was a large employer in town. It brought a lot of money and activity to our city. And the new normal is going to be ever-increasing power rates.”

As more of the aging nuclear reactors around the country are closed — four reactors, including the two at San Onofre, have been retired this year — more communities around the country may soon find themselves in circumstances similar to San Clemente’s. The dismantling of San Onofre’s reactors will be among the largest decommissioning of nuclear power plants in the country. Experts say it will likely take at least a decade.

But the effects of the plant’s closing are already reverberating. By September, Southern California Edison will reduce its staff at the plant to 600 employees from 1,500. Electricity prices have increased since the plant, which is about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego and powered 1.4 million homes, went offline last year.

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