SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Directors of Sacramento's citizen-owned electricity district voted Tuesday to accept bids for 10 days to buy and operate their nuclear power plant, which was closed on orders from the voters.
The five-member board made the decision by a 3-2 vote over the protests of citizen activists who campaigned for shutdown of the Rancho Seco nuclear power facility.
The board already has one bid to take over the plant and operate it. The bidder is Quadrex Corp. of Campbell, Calif., which specializes in repair and retrofitting of nuclear power stations.
Residents of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, best known in California by its initials of SMUD, voted by 53.4 to 46.6 percent June 6 to reject a ballot measure that would have prolonged Rancho Seco's 15-year life.
It was the first U.S. nuclear plant to be closed by an election.
Before the vote, the governing board adopted a resolution that it would be bound by the will of the ratepayers.
The three directors who voted to open the door to offers from buyers said they wanted the district to escape the costs of decommissioning Rancho Seco, a process that could take up to 20 years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
They also argued that the June 6 vote merely forbade SMUD to operate the plant, but did not rule out the alternative of selling it to another company.
They also made reopening of Rancho Seco conditional on another election which would be held in late Septamber or early November.
Leaders of Sacramentans for Safe Energy (SAFE), the citizen group that has campaigned for shutdown of the plant for four years, said there would be no immediate legal move against the board's action.
'We will wait and see what happens in the 10-day period,' said Michael Remy, the environmentalist attorney who serves as SAFE chairman. 'Our position still is that enough is enough.'
Remy on Monday had threatened recall action against SMUD directors if they tried to sell Rancho Seco to anyone who would promise to operate it.
Director Ed Smeloff, one of the two board members who favored shutdown of Rancho Seco, said the SMUD board had tried for three years before the June 6 election to find an outside nuclear power company to take over the plant.
'That process ended June 6,' Smeloff said. 'Any baseball game has nine innings. It's over.' Smeloff was joined in his no vote by board member Peter Keat, who also favored closedown.
Rancho Seco, located on a plain 25 miles southeast of the state Capitol, was taken off line the day after the election. It is now in a state of cold shutdown. About 400 contract employees at the plant already have been sent home.
Layoffs of 100 of the approximately 1,000 SMUD employees at the plant will begin in early July, the SMUD management announced Tuesday. Another 300 will be let go by the end of the year.
SMUD officials reported that removal of radioactive fuel from the plant will be completed by November. It will be stored at the Rancho Seco site until a national repository for nuclear waste goes into use sometime in the next century.