SAN DIEGO — 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 and the public 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.
In a written statement release Tuesday morning, Pete Dietrich, Southern California Edison senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, said the company has provided the NRC with documents about its work with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on the replacement steam generators.
“We take very seriously our responsibility to ensure we protect public health and safety,” Dietrich said. “SCE’s own oversight of MHI’s design review complied with industry standards and best practices.”
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.