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San Onofre: Internal letter reveals Edison knew of defects at crippled reactors but misled federal regulators to get expedited license

Posted May. 28, 2013 / Posted by: Adam Russell

Friends of the Earth: "Restart is dead"

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Barbara Boxer has released a private 2004 letter from Southern California Edison that reveals the utility knew of major problems in its radically redesigned replacement steam generators at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station that could lead to a “disastrous outcome,” but the company knowingly misrepresented its failed design as a “like-for-like” replacement to sidestep a more thorough license review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

The leaked letter confirms accusations of the nuclear watchdog group Friends of the Earth. Its release, said the group, means Edison’s restart plan is dead. 

“This letter from Edison management is truly shocking,” said Damon Moglen, climate and energy director for Friends of the Earth. “It shows definitively that Edison was more concerned with keeping to a construction schedule and making money than with assuring safe operation of their reactors. It raises serious questions about their honesty and about the NRC’s handling of the San Onofre license. 

“The restart of San Onofre reactors is now off the table. 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.”

The letter, which Boxer released to the Associated Press, was sent by Edison Vice President Dwight Nunn to his counterpart, General Manager Akira Sawa, at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which fabricated the replacement steam generators according to Edison’s specifications. The letter states that serious problems with the replacement steam generators could lead to “unacceptable consequences (e.g. tube wear and eventually tube plugging). This would be a disastrous outcome for both of us ...”    

In addition, the letter reveals that Edison was fully aware that the new generators, which failed in less than two years and caused a release of radiation, was not a like-for-like replacement despite their assurances to federal and state regulators. Edison’s Nunn writes:  “Consequently, the design of the new steam generators is currently proceeding using the existing steam generator seismic response based on a like-for-like replacement concept (although the old and new steam generators will be similar in many respects they aren’t like-for-like replacements).”

Sen. Boxer said that she believes “Edison intentionally misled the public and regulators” and is providing the correspondence to “federal and state officials, including the U.S. Department of Justice so they can determine whether Edison engaged in willful wrongdoing.”

Release of the letter follows a May 13 ruling by the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board in which the three-judge panel unanimously ruled that  Edison’s plans to restart the damaged reactors would be  an “experiment” for which they had inadequate experience and which would be outside both their technical specifications and licensing requirements.

“Friends of the Earth accused them, the ASLB judged them and now Edison has confessed,” said Dave Freeman, former head of the federal Tennessee Valley Authority and senior advisor to Friends of the Earth. “The San Onofre restart plan is now deader than a doornail. It’s over.”

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Contact: 
Damon Moglen, (202) 222-0708, dmoglen@foe.org
Shaun Burnie, (202) 701-6962, sburnie@foe.org

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