Oceans & Forests Blog

San Onofre: Nuclear watchdog files request for more documents on design of flawed steam generators

Posted Mar. 11, 2013 / Posted by: Adam Russell

Friends of the Earth petitions PUC to speed probe into Edison's responsibility

SAN FRANCISCO -- Friends of the Earth filed a request today for Southern California Edison to release documents expected to further confirm that the utility knew about worrying design problems with the defective replacement steam generators in the San Onofre nuclear reactors but chose not to make changes that might have mitigated the problems. The group also filed a motion asking the California Public Utilities Commission to speed its investigation into Edison’s responsibility for the steam generator failure, which would be a decisive factor in deciding whether Edison can pass on to customers the cost of the defective equipment  and the reactors’ shutdown.

The request comes on the heels of the release last week of a bombshell report from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries showing that a joint Edison/MHI design team knew as early as 2005 of problems concerning the replacement steam generators, but chose not to make safety changes out of concern that they would trigger a rigorous, public license amendment proceeding before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Today Friends of the Earth requested that Edison provide the PUC with, and publicly release, all records of the design team’s work and deliberations. The group believes the records will provide further details confirming Edison’s ultimate responsibility for the steam generators’ failure, which has kept the reactors closed since January 2012.

In a separate filing, Friends of the Earth, joined by the World Business Academy, asked the PUC to expedite the aspect of its investigation into San Onofre that will assess responsibility for the steam generators failure -- an issue that will otherwise be delayed till later in the year. The motion reads in part:

The MHI Report appears to provide decisive evidence that the Southern California Edison Company (“SCE”) was imprudent in the design of the [steam generator] tubes, the failure of which has resulted in the shutdown of the San Onofre power plant. However, the costs of this plant remain in the rates that consumers are paying, and consumers remain potentially responsible for massive repair costs that would be incurred if SCE ultimately seeks to restart the whole plant.  

The dramatic new information revealed by . . . the MHI Report calls out for the Commission to address these key questions sooner rather than later. What is at stake in this case goes to the essence of the Commission’s responsibility to protect the rate-paying consumer.  The existing rates that SCE’s customers are paying for the closed plant, even if eventually refunded, constitute an involuntary loan at low interest to SCE.

“The MHI report appears to squarely place the cause of and responsibility for the outages at San Onofre at Edison’s feet,” said S. David Freeman, former head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and a senior advisor to Friends of the Earth. “It’s urgent that the Public Utilities Commission prioritize this phase of the investigation, and the additional documents we’ve requested from Edison are important to answering these questions.”

Rinaldo S. Brutoco, president of the World Business Academy, said that California ratepayers should not be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for Southern California Edison’s faulty steam generators. Brutoco said: “The Academy, which believes that companies can generate profits while being good corporate citizens, concludes that Edison’s actions, in circumventing federal nuclear safety regulations and playing radioactive Russian roulette with the health of Californians, represent an unscrupulous way of doing business.”

Friends of the Earth requested the Edison documents in its capacity as an official intervener in the PUC investigation. Edison must respond within 10 working days, and its responses must be posted on a website that the PUC has required Edison to set up in order to provide easy public access to the documents in this proceeding.

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Addendum:
PUC Motion: Exhibit A

Contact:
Damon Moglen, (202) 222-0708
Bill Walker, (510) 759-9911

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