Boxer: SoCal Edison Knew About San Onofre Flaws Before Installation

NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane visits the ailing San Onofre nuke | Photo: Nuclear Regulatory Commission/Flickr/Creative Commons License

In a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts have charged that Southern California Edison (SCE), the operator of the beleaguered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, was "aware of serious problems with the design of San Onofre nuclear power plant's replacement steam generators before they were installed." SCE has strongly denied Boxer and Markey's charges.

A leak in a tube in one of those generators forced San Onofre's Unit 3 to shut down in January 2012. Unit 2 had been shuttered for maintenance three weeks before, and the plant has remained offline since.

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In the letter, sent February 6 to NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane, Senator Boxer and Representative Markey allege that SCE installed the new generators despite knowing of the flaws, and that the utility then declined to make safety modifications to the generators that would have triggered formal review under the NRC's license amendment process.

Boxer and Markey learned of the alleged failings in SCE practices while reviewing a report on the generator leaks written by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), the contractor that supplied the generators. In their letter, Boxer and Markey detail the alleged practices that drew their attention

Boxer and Markey urge the NRC to investigate fully:

For its part, SCE -- which owns the plant along with San Diego Gas and Electric and the City of Riverside -- has denied the allegations in the strongest possible terms. In a public response to Boxer and Markey issued Wednesday, the utility stated that public safety was its foremost concern:

The factual battle will likely shape up to be a war of words between SCE and MHI, as each firm seeks to avoid liability.

In the meantime, anti-nuclear activists are not pleased with the allegations contained in the MHI report. On Thursday, the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE), which has sought to prevent the nuclear plant's re-opening, demanded that the NRC release the entire MHI document to the public, along with any other documents the NRC may have in its possession that may shed light on SCE's alleged foreknowledge of flaws in the generators.

"At stake is not only the NRC's own credibility as the nation's nuclear regulator, but also the right of the millions of Southern Californians who live near these crippled reactors to know the truth about what Edison knew about this dangerously defective equipment," said FOE's Erich Pica. "It is not acceptable for the NRC to suppress these documents pleading that they might contain proprietary information -- when millions of families are at risk it is the right of the public, not the profits of the company, that is most important."


For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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