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san-onofre-plantSAN DIEGO — Fuel has been removed from the two reactors at the idled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the plant operator announced Wednesday.

Southern California Edison reported that the removal of fuel assemblies from reactor Units 2 and 3 was the last regulatory step before the utility can retire its operating license for the troubled nuclear power plant on the northern San Diego County coastline.

Faced with mounting and expensive regulatory hurdles, Edison announced last month it would decommission the reactors, which have been inoperative since a small, non-injury leak was discovered in January 2012. The leak occurred in one reactor, and the other was shut down at the time for maintenance.

“While we have safely performed this kind of defueling work for four decades, the final removal of fuel from the Unit 2 reactor marks a significant milestone in San Onofre’s history,” said Pete Dietrich, SCE’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer. “We are committed to remaining focused on public health and safety as we transition through decommissioning.”

SCE officials said they have notified the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the fuel was removed and placed in a storage area to cool. The removal operation was performed entirely under water, according to the utility.

Actually dismantling the facility’s structure is expected to take a couple of decades.