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Boxer: Letter Shows Operator of Troubled Nuclear Plant Misled NRC

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON – A key Senate Democrat says newly obtained information shows the operator of a troubled nuclear power plant in California misled the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding the scope of repairs at the site.

A 2004 letter from Southern California Edison to a contractor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, shows Edison was aware that a plan to install new steam generators at the facility was beyond the scope of its existing NRC license, Boxer said in a Tuesday release. The company nonetheless presented the project to NRC regulators as one that was relatively minor and that did not require a formal license amendment, according to the lawmaker, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“In Edison’s own words, ‘[t]his will be one of the largest steam generators ever built. … It will require Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to evolve a new design beyond that which they currently have available’ … [they] aren’t ‘like-for like-replacements,’” Boxer said, quoting from the letter.

Reactors at the San Onofre facility have been shut down since last year when a tube in the Unit 3 replacement steam generator – a key part of a reactor’s cooling system that is designed to prevent a meltdown – burst. Shortly afterward, it was revealed that a similar replacement steam generator in Unit 2 also had hundreds of damaged tubes. Activists argue this makes the reactors vulnerable to sabotage, particularly if a terrorist broke the reactor’s main steam line.

Boxer said she would forward the letter made public on Tuesday to the Justice Department, so it could “determine whether Edison engaged in willful wrongdoing.” The lawmaker said letter also made misleading statements regarding the seriousness of steam generator wear at the plant.

In the letter, “Edison said if there were to be a failure of the steam generators due to tube wear and the need for tube plugging, this would be a ‘disastrous outcome,’” Boxer noted. “Now that this precise failure has occurred, and there has been a leak of radioactive material, Edison claims that it could simply restart [Unit 2] at 70 percent capacity, and once again circumvent the full safety and licensing process.  How could they first assert that tube failure would be a ‘disastrous outcome’ and now claim that it is no big deal?”

A three-member panel of the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled earlier this month that a decision to restart Unit 2 would require a license amendment proceeding complete with public hearings. There has been some confusion over the ruling’s impact, however, with some NRC officials suggesting the agency could still make a decision on the proposed restart independent of a license amending proceeding and public hearing.

Boxer said the new information made it clear “that in order for this nuclear plant to even be considered for a restart in the future all investigations must be completed and a full license amendment and public hearing process must be required.”

Edison did not respond by press time to a request for comment.

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