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Just what did Edison tell Feds about San Onofre equipment switch?

Posted Jul. 24, 2012 / Posted by: Becca Connors

Friends of the Earth files for NRC records under Freedom of Information Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Friends of the Earth today filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all communications between the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Southern California Edison about the faulty replacement steam generators at the crippled San Onofre nuclear plant located between Los Angeles and San Diego. The organization expects the records it seeks will show definitively that Edison misled the government about significant changes to the design of the replacement generators.

Exactly what Edison told the NRC about the design of the generators is the key question in assessing responsibility for the failure on an unprecedented scale of the thin, tightly packed tubes that carry super-heated radioactive water from the reactors to create steam for the plant’s electricity turbines. The NRC said last week that Edison complied with the rules about disclosing design changes, but the corresponding findings of the report by the NRC’s inspection team directly contradicted that assertion.

Under NRC rules, the generators installed in 2009 and 2010 should have been essentially identical to the worn-out generators they replaced. But a series of technical analyses commissioned by Friends of the Earth have shown that, in an effort to generate more power and profit, Edison made major design changes to the new generators.

The NRC inspection team report backs up these findings, showing that in 2006 Edison described the generators as “like-for-like” replacements in order to sidestep the rigorous license amendment process and public adjudicatory hearing required under NRC’s so-called 50.59 regulations. The unfounded assertion that Edison did not mislead the government, made by the NRC in the report’s press release and executive summary and widely repeated by the news media, prompted the FOIA request filed today by Friends of the Earth.

“The NRC is trying to whitewash not only Edison’s intentional misrepresentation of the replacement steam generators but also the agency’s own failure to catch the deception,” said Damon Moglen, climate and energy campaign director for Friends of the Earth. “The records we’re demanding that the NRC release will reveal just what Edison said about the generators and how the agency responded.”

The request from Friends of the Earth to NRC FOIA officer Donna L. Sealing seeks the release of all e-mails, letters, notes from meetings and phone calls and other documents about the San Onofre replacement generators dating from November 1, 2001 to present. It covers not only communications between the NRC and Edison but also between the NRC and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which manufactured the generators to Edison’s design specifications.

Friends of the Earth also released a detailed analysis of last week’s report from the NRC’s Augmented Inspection Team. The analysis found:

  • Compared to the original steam generators, Edison made at least six significant changes to the design of the replacements.
  • The AIT report confirms that Edison failed to disclose these major design changes in the 50.59 process, and that those changes were significant enough to require a thorough review and a license amendment.
  • The NRC inspectors list no less than 10 issues as unresolved, including “change of methodologies associated with 10 CFR 50.59 review.”
  • The press release “clearing” Edison directly contradicts a statement from NRC Regional Administrator Elmo Collins in the AIT report’s cover letter:  “It is not the responsibility of an AIT to determine compliance with the NRC rules and regulations . ... This will be done through subsequent NRC inspection or review.”

“Despite the NRC’s spin, the report shows clearly that Edison is responsible for the generator design changes and that those changes led to the crisis we’re in now," said Moglen. "The NRC failed in its responsibility to catch Edison, so now the agency is trying to cover its own tracks.”

Contact:
Bill Walker, (510) 759-9911
Kendra Ulrich, (202) 222-0715

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