Sources: Decisions made on San Onofre nuclear plant flawed

Source says NRC failed to question SCE's decisions

SAN ONOFRE, Calif. - Sources tell Team 10 that that Southern California Edison let their desire for more profits outweigh safety concerns at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

So while San Onofre may be shutting down, the story behind the closure is far from over.

With a Department of Justice investigation in the works and millions at stake, SONGS remains a hot spot.

PHOTOS: Water pipe repair at San Onofre in the 1980s

Sources say SCE was under pressure to replace the old steam generators because they were not profitable. When they decided to partner with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to replace the generators, they set in motion a series of events that would spiral out of control and eventually lead to the plants closing.

Our experts say Mitsubishi was not experienced in building the type of generators that SCE wanted. The utility wanted bigger steam generators that produced more power. And Mitsubishi wanted to be the partner that SCE chose for the project. They made promises, says one insider, they could not keep.

Adding to the mix, the project had to be fast-tracked because the longer it took, the more money it would cost. The sooner the new steam generators were operating, the sooner SCE could begin boosting its profits.

Insiders say that is why SCE chose to describe the project as removing original steam generators and installing better ones. But, internal documents acquired by Team 10 from other insiders say the NRC was told it was a project with "no or minimal permanent modifications to the plant systems, structures and components."

The NRC, while they have inspectors onsite at SONGS and access to the plans for the installation of the generators, never seemed to question to the utility about the claims this was a “replacement in kind” project.

The problem began, says Dr Joe Hopenfeld, at the very beginnings with Mitsubishi.

“I went through their analysis, it’s completely invalid. It is full of errors," Hopenfeld says there is plenty of blame to go around.  SCE’s decision-making was flawed and the NRC, where Dr Hopenfeld used to work, was guilty of not doing the job it is tasked to do.

“The NRC had the last chance, the last call, they could have stopped it” he told 10News.

We requested a response to our story from Southern California Edison on the issues raised in our report of June 12. Maureen Brown, the media relations project manager at SCE, provided us a transcript of the news conference of CEO Theodore Craver on June 7 in which, she says, he responds to two or our questions.

The transcript for the entire conference is provided for your review (click here to read). We have taken excerpts from the conference that pertain to our questions and have included them below. We also source other responses given to us by SCE.

Did SCE sacrifice safety for profit with the way they handled the installation of the new steam generators at San Onofre?

Response from Pete Dietrich, chief nuclear officer, SONGS (in press release dated May 28, 2013):

"SCE's own oversight of MHI's design review complied with industry standards and best practices."

"SCE would never, and did not, install steam generators that it believed would impact public safety or impair reliability."

An SCE document obtained by Team 10 describes the new generators as very similar to the generators they were replacing, quoting, in par a "replacement in kind, in terms of an overall fit, form and function, with no, or minimal" modifications. Is this still the position of SCE? Can you elaborate on why believe this is true?

Response by Theodore Craver (page 13, page 14 of the June 7 press conference):

You know, this term of like for like is actually something -- I'm not really exactly sure whether that's even grown up.

It's not in the 5059 regulation. There's no such term like for like. The term is really that the new equipment has to be of a similar form, fit and function to the equipment that it's replacing.

So there is no like for like and in this case in the nuclear industry steam generators have had a -- an issue really across all of the plants or the vast majority of the plants, what they call cracking and corrosion of the tubes.

It was determined many years ago that the principal cause of that was the alloy, the type of metal that was used in steam generator tubes, so-called INCONEL alloy 600.

So that was -- it was determined that the way you could solve the cracking and corrosion problem in the nuclear steam generators was to use an improved metal, the INCONEL alloy 690.

However the -- that tube metal also does not conduct heat as well as the previous metal. So all of the steam generator replacements that have been done in the industry over the last many years really are to improve a problem with the metal and the cracking and corrosion.

So you certainly wouldn't want to put the same, you know, the same stuff back into the steam generators because you're just going to have the same problem, and that's where the improvements in the metal were made.

Again because the metal doesn't conduct heat as well, really you end up having to put additional tubes in there so that you can get the same type of heat transfer in the steam generators.

So really our -- there's no additional power consideration here. It was really to address a cracking and corrosion problem. In fact in our case the two steam generator -- or the two units, Unit 2 and 3 -- had we not replaced the steam generators one of those units would have shut down in 2012, and the other unit would've had to shut down in 2015. So they were really at a critical point where you could no longer, you know, plug the tubes and maintain safety. So they had to be replaced and that's what we did with the improved metal so that we could avoid the cracking and corrosion problem.

Does SCE stand behind its decision to portray the changes to the plant as falling under 50.59 designation? Critics say SCE should have used the 50.90 process but instead chose the 50.59

Response by Theodore Craver (page 6):

The whole process that's been used for replacing steam generators in the industry is a pretty well traveled path. After the first few were done several years ago at other plants, the so-called 5059 process was established.

And essentially I like to think of it as a test. It basically says, "If you have essentially the same form, fit and function as the previous steam generators then you can go forward with the so-called 5059 process."

When we went through that analysis, which takes quite some time to do, we determined that much of it was really standard and could go through the -- a -- the 5059 process.

But we actually did need to obtain some license amendments to our technical specifications in our license. So it's -- the 5059 process is basically a -- as I say it's a -- it's kind of a test.

If you go through that analysis and you determine that yes, what you're proposing is essentially the same form, fit and function as what you had in there before, then you can go forward with the replacement.

Anything that's outside of that has to go through a license amendment process. So as I said we actually had a little bit of both in our case.

Can you tell me who made up the Nuclear Safety Group Review at SCE/SONGS at the time of the companies 10CFR50.59 evaluation for the RSGs? This Safety Group is listed as the author of the internal SCE documents that 10News has acquired. The report is titled "Nuclear Safety Group Review of SONGS. If you can not provide names, please provide the titles of the individuals in the group. Our source says there were four people, a manager, two males and a female with "no experience in replacement steam generator design."

Response from Maureen Brown:

Unable to respond

Did SCE ever consider designing a generator in the same manner as Palos Verdes? Our experts say that your firm owns a percentage of the plant and would have had access to information that would allow you to duplicate was apparently has been successful in Arizona. Any comment on this?

Response from Maureen Brown:

We don't have access to all the bid process information for this period so we can't provide you with a lot of specific information. Instead, I can say that SCE conducted a thorough competitive bid process and selected a company that was most appropriate for this job.

There are sister designs throughout the industry but each plant has it's own unique requirements.


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