Sempra utility San Diego Gas & Electric abruptly reversed its plans late last week to stay out of the nuclear power business. Two weeks earlier, Sempra reversed its corporate plans for participating in the coal-fired power plant business. The utility asked the California Public Utilities Commission April 14 to recognize its return to the fold as part owner of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, and to the commission's steam generator replacement proceeding. Over the last two years, SDG&E attempted to extinguish its 20 percent ownership interest in the nuke. SDG&E expressed concerns about Edison's plant management and the utility's liability attached to paying for its share of replacing steam generators at the nuclear plant. If the commission approves the CPUC filing, SDG&E will commit its ratepayers to spending an initial $142 million to replace aging power plant parts. "It's more preferable to go this route than building a gas-fired power plant" to replace SDG&E's share - about 440 MW - of San Onofre, said Peter Hidalgo, SDG&E spokesperson. Hidalgo, however, steadfastly refused to say what economics the utility based its decision on. In its CPUC filing, the utility asked for a protective order for such information, asserting that "by disclosing this information, SDG&E is effectively providing a blueprint of its business plan for the upcoming years, and a candid self-assessment of its strengths and potential vulnerabilities." The utility maintained that market participants would take economic advantage of revelations of its strategic thinking. "My guess is someone remembered that nukes are cash cows," said Truman Burns, Department of Ratepayer Advocates analyst. He estimated that retaining ownership is worth about $13 million in annual profits to the utility. Stranded investments in nuclear plants were paid off in a deal with utilities when the state deregulated the electricity market. Environmentalists were chagrined. "Ratepayers deserve a full cost-benefit and risk analysis of the state's continued reliance on decades-old nuclear reactors," stated Rochelle Becker, Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility executive director. She called for limiting the reactors' life spans with a resulting limit on radioactive waste accumulation.