LOS ANGELES - Two nuclear power plants that seemed to have more lives than a cat finally met their end Friday as the Washington Public Power Supply System board of directors voted to terminate projects 1 and 3.
The directors left open the possibility that the plants could be converted to another use. But Friday's voted killed off the plant's originally intended purpose serving as a commercial nuclear power plant's for the Bonneville Power Administration.
Board members favored termination by a 9-to-4 margin.
The board agreed "to terminate certain provisions of contracts between the supply system and Bonneville for the two projects and abandon the possibility of the supply system completing either of the projects" as initially envisioned, WPPSS said in a news release.
Friday's vote culminated a decade-long debate over the fate of the plants.
WPPSS commenced an extended construction delay on unit 1 in 1982 and began a similar delay on unit 3 in 1983. Work on the units was never resumed, though money has been spent on preserving them. Unit 1 is 65% completed and unit 3 is 75% finished.
The termination resolutions contain a provision for Bonneville "to enter into an agreement with the supply system to continue to preserve the plants until at least Jan. 13, 1995, or a date mutually agreed upon by the supply system and [Bonneville], to allow for exploration of new missions for the plants," the WPPSS release said.
The supply system and others are studying the possibility of running at least one of the plants with a new fuel mixture. Such proposal envision burning weapons-grade plutonium under new arrangements with the U.S. Department of Energy.
With the termination vote in place, the supply system also has several other options "to maximize any potential returns on the projects, including selling the projects intact to an independent producer [or] disposing of project equipment through an asset sales program," the released said.
Bonneville, which secures debt for the partially built plants, had recommended termination. Officials at the federal power marketing agency had said it was no longer cost effective to complete such large energy plants. A termination vote was delayed last month so the WPPSS board could study the matter further.
Some local utility officials had also favored termination, rather than continuing to pay millions of dollars annually to mothball the plants.
But others questioned whether it was premature to terminate the plants, and found it difficult to digest the writing off much of the massive $4 billion investment.
Supply system and Bonneville officials have stressed that the termination decision does not alter Bonneville's obligation to pay all future debt's service on bonds issued for the projects.
In a release Friday, Moody's Investors Service said the decision to terminate the projects "does not change credit quality" because of Bonneville's backing for $2.25 billion of bonds outstanding for unit 1 and $1.74 billion outstanding for unit 3.
In the late 1970s, WPPSS began building five nuclear power plants but only one of them, unit 2, was finished and went into operation.
WPPSS terminated units 4 and 5 in January 1982. It defaulted on $2.25 billion of bonds for those projects in 1983 after the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that participating utilities lacked authority to secure debt for the terminated plants.
In contrast, units 1, 2, and 3 bonds stayed afloat thanks to net-billing arrangements that obligate Bonneville to provide funds covering all cost of those projects, including debt service.