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US Senator requests DOJ investigation of San Onofre nuclear plant


Senator Barbara Boxer requested Tuesday that the US Department ofJustice, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and state regulatorsinvestigate what she called "major new evidence of misrepresentation andsafety lapses" by Southern California Edison at its two-unit San Onofrenuclear power plant.

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An SCE official said in a statement Tuesday the utility had not actedimproperly and was cooperating with NRC's ongoing investigation of issuesrelated to replacement of steam generators at the plant.

Boxer, a California Democrat and who chairs the Senate Environment andPublic Works Committee, said in a statement that she had obtained a November2004 letter from SCE to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries that showed thatpotential wrong-doing.

"This correspondence leads me to believe that Edison intentionallymisled the public and regulators in order to avoid a full safety review andpublic hearing in connection with its redesign of the plant," she said.

Boxer intends to give the letter to DOJ and other state and federalofficials "so they can determine whether Edison engaged in willfulwrongdoing," according to a statement.

SCE shut San Onofre-2 and -3 in January 2012 after an unusual amount ofwear was found in the tubes for their replacement steam generators, whichwere designed and manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and beganoperating in 2010 and 2011, respectively. San Onofre-1 permanently shut in1992.

SCE has previously said the installation of the steam generators did notrequire submission to NRC of a request to amend the plant's operating licenseprior to their installation.

That claim is being challenged before an NRC atomic safety and licensingboard by environmental groups that oppose the utility's proposal, now beingreviewed by NRC, to restart San Onofre-2 and operate it at 70% power for anextended period to test the viability of the unit's steam generators. Thegroups and Boxer have criticized that proposal as an "experiment" with thesafety of those living near the plant.

NRC will not comment on Boxer's allegations, agency spokesman EliotBrenner said Tuesday.

Boxer said in her statement that the 2004 letter "shows that Edison knewthey were not proceeding with a simple 'like-for-like' replacement as theylater claimed." However, she said, "ultimately Edison asserted that thereplacement was 'like-for-like,' enabling them to avoid a full [NRC] licensereview and a public hearing."

Dwight Nunn, an SCE vice president said in the letter released by Boxerthat the replacement project "will require [MHI] to evolve a new designbeyond that which they currently have available. Such design evolutions tendto challenge the capability of existing models and engineering tools used forproven steam generator designs."

Nunn said that "although the old and new steam generators will besimilar in many respects they aren't like-for-like replacements."

He also said he is "concerned that there is the potential that designflaws could be inadvertently introduced into the steam generator design thatwill lead to unacceptable consequences (e.g., tube wear and eventually tubeplugging). This would be a disastrous outcome for both of us and a resulteach of our companies desire[s] to avoid."

In a statement Tuesday, SCE did not comment directly on Boxer'sstatement, but it said the November 2004 letter she released, and otherdocuments on the steam generator replacement, had been provided to NRC"earlier this year" as part of the agency's ongoing review.

"Recognizing that SCE was not the designer of the steam generators andthat there were limitations on the assistance SCE could provide, the lettersidentified a number of design issues that SCE asked MHI to focus on to ensurethat design flaws were not inadvertently introduced," the utility said.

Pete Dietrich, SCE's senior vice president and chief nuclear officer,said in the statement that the documents demonstrate careful oversight thatcomplied with industry standards.

"SCE would never, and did not, install steam generators that it believedwould impact public safety or impair reliability," he said.

The utility will continue to cooperate with NRC's investigation,Dietrich said.

SCE said that it had met NRC criteria for making design changes.

SCE also noted that the agency had approved two license amendmentsrelated to the steam generator project. The groups challenging restart havesaid those amendments were not sufficient to meet the requirements of NRCregulations regarding prior approval of certain component replacements.

A spokesman for Mitsubishi Nuclear Energy Systems, MHI's affiliate inthe US, declined to immediately comment.

NRC has yet to set a deadline for deciding on the restart.

--Steven Dolley, by Derek Sands,