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San Onofre: Pressed by Calif. regulators, Edison forced to release another damning letter

Posted May. 29, 2013 / Posted by: Adam Russell

Friends of the Earth: More proof utility sought to mislead NRC

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Under pressure from the California Public Utility Commission, Southern California Edison has released to Friends of the Earth another suppressed and highly incriminating internal document, showing that the utility knew eight years ago of serious flaws in the design of replacement steam generators for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The letter directly contradicts written testimony Edison gave in January to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The 2005 letter from then-Edison Vice President Dwight Nunn was released Tuesday, after the state PUC sharply questioned why Edison had not provided it as part of the PUC’s investigation of failure of the San Onofre reactors, shut down since January 2012 after a leak of radioactive steam. The day before, Boxer released a 2004 letter from Nunn proving that Edison knew that the flawed generators were not “like-for-like” with the ones they replaced, but failed to reveal that to the NRC in order to expedite approval from the NRC. 

“This new letter shows conclusively that in 2005 Edison was aware that its defective design could lead to vibration and cracking of steam generator tubes,” said Damon Moglen, Friends of the Earth’s climate and energy program director. “While Edison knew this could lead to what the earlier letter calls ‘a disastrous outcome,’ they didn’t fix the problem, they didn’t tell the NRC then and denied it again in testimony this year. This is a scandal of the highest order: Edison prioritized its construction schedule and profits and endangered the lives and livelihoods of millions of Southern Californians.”

In the June 16, 2005 letter, Nunn writes to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which manufactured the replacement steam generators to Edison’s specifications, about the “probability” that the design could cause the tubes to vibrate and crack. Despite later suggestions from a joint Mitsubishi/Edison design team to fix the problem prior to construction, the contractors rejected such changes because they would have triggered a lengthy NRC license amendment review, including public hearings. In January, in written testimony to the NRC in a case brought by Friends of the Earth, Edison claimed that the problem “was not known at the time.” 

S. David Freeman, former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority and of several nuclear utilities, said Edison knew it was taking a risk.

“With these revelations, it’s clear that Edison was conducting an experiment all along,” said Freeman, senior advisor to Friends of the Earth. “They were operating reactors with equipment that they knew had major problems. That’s unforgivable. 

“Edison gambled that additional safety measures were not needed when they gave the highest priority not to safety but speed of construction. Of course they didn't know for sure that the equipment would fail, but they did know that they were taking a risk and they lost on their gamble. Gambling with the safety of a nuclear plant is not acceptable and an egregious misuse of ratepayer’s money.” 

The mounting revelations of Edison’s deception dash the utility’s request to restart San Onofre rector Unit 2 this summer, said Moglen. “The NRC must make sure these reactors are not restarted with this damaged equipment, and the PUC must make sure no ratepayer money is spent to operate, let alone restart, this failed plant,” he said.

After Senator Boxer released the 2004 letter yesterday, the California PUC issued a statement asking “whether Edison had a duty to disclose the letters earlier.” PUC Executive Director Paul Clanon said the Commission “need(s) to investigate whether Edison took unnecessary risks, or tried to evade regulatory oversight.“ Edison quickly released the 2005 letter, along with other suppressed internal documents (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) that may hold more revelations. Friends of the Earth is currently evaluating the remaining documents. 

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Contact:
Damon Moglen, (202) 222-0708, dmoglen@foe.org
Adam Russell, (202) 222-0722, arussell@foe.org

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