Sen. Barbara Boxer wants US probe on San Onofre nuclear power plant

SAN ONOFRE - Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called Tuesday for the Justice Department to investigate whether the operator and majority owner of the idled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station intentionally misled regulators on its replacement steam generators.

The senator referenced a 2004 letter from a Southern California Edison executive to the maker of the generators, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, that refers to the generators as "new" and says MHI has to "evolve a new design."

Boxer and the anti-nuclear group Friends of the Earth contend that Edison avoided a lengthy review of the new generators by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by instead calling them "like-for-like" replacements.

The letter is "major new evidence of misrepresentation and safety lapses by Edison," Boxer said.

The Rosemead-based utility said in a statement that the letter and another one a year later shows the utility conducted "responsible oversight" of MHI.

"SCE's own oversight of MHI's design review complied with industry standards and best practices," said Pete Dietrich, SCE's senior vice president and chief nuclear officer. "SCE would never, and did not, install steam generators that it believed would impact public safety or impair reliability."

The nuclear power plant on the northern San Diego County coastline has been shut down since January 2012, when a small, non-injury leak occurred in one of its two reactors. The other unit was closed for scheduled maintenance at the time.

An investigation found that tubes in the new steam generators, installed in 2009 and 2010, degraded faster than expected.

Edison has asked the NRC to allow it to restart the reactor that was undergoing maintenance and run it at 70 percent power.

Boxer said she plans to "provide this correspondence to federal and state officials, including the U.S. Department of Justice, so they can determine whether Edison engaged in willful wrongdoing."

"This correspondence leads me to believe that Edison intentionally misled the public and regulators in order to avoid a full safety review and public hearing in connection with its redesign of the plant," Boxer said.

Damon Moglen, climate and energy director for Friends of the Earth, an anti-nuclear group that opposes SCE's restart plan, said the letter raises serious questions about the utility's honesty and about the NRC's handling of the San Onofre license.

"The restart of San Onofre reactors is now off the table," Moglen said. "No one can possibly argue for the further operation of these crippled reactors when such an experiment places the lives and livelihoods of millions of Southern Californians at risk."

In the letter, SCE calls development of a way to minimize vibrations in the generators "perhaps the most critical issue at this time." The investigation of the leak found that the tube degradation was caused by vibrations.

The letters emphasize the importance of careful attention to the design of the steam generators, SCE said in its statement.

The utility said it took numerous steps to ensure that MHI appropriately addressed those concerns, including design review and executive oversight meetings, and meetings of many other groups of SCE and MHI personnel.

Plant insiders have told Team 10 before that in a worse-case scenario, that could lead to a steam line break, and potential for the reactor core to overheat, which could mean a full or partial meltdown.

NRC spokesman Eliot Brenner declined comment Tuesday.

SCE Vice President Pete Dietrich told the Washington Post that Edison would "never and did not, install steam generators that it believed would impact public safety or impair reliability."

Another statement read:

"These documents demonstrate the type of careful oversight that SCE exercised during the replacement steam generator project and also served to establish our expectations of MHI."

Print this article Back to Top