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San Onofre: Mitsubishi told to hand over nuclear plant report

The shuttered San Onofre nuclear power plant looms behind the surf at Lower Trestles. Credit: Marc Boster / Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has asked Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to hand over a redacted version of a proprietary report on equipment issues at the now-shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant.

The commission, which has already reviewed the full report, said it intends to make the redacted version public.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) obtained a leaked copy of the report and wrote to the head of the NRC last week alleging that the report "indicates that Southern California Edison (SCE) and MHI were aware of serious problems with the design of San Onofre nuclear power plant’s replacement steam generators before they were installed."

The lawmakers said the report indicated the utility and the manufacturer "rejected enhanced safety modifications and avoided triggering a more rigorous license amendment and safety review process."

Edison and Mitsubishi have denied the allegation and accused the lawmakers of taking brief excerpts of a lengthy report out of context.

In response to Boxer and Markey's letter, NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane said the NRC launched an "expansive investigation" in September into the "completeness and accuracy" of information given to the agency by Edison about the steam generator issues.

NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said that the agency sent a request to Mitsubishi on Thursday for a redacted version of the report that could be released to the public. Dricks said the agency had asked Mitsubishi to provide the report by the following day.

Also Thursday, investment banking firm Jefferies & Co. downgraded Edison stock from "hold" to "underperform" based on fears that the NRC might "significantly delay" restart of the plant and could find Edison at fault in its investigation.

"We believe there is a growing likelihood that the NRC will require an amendment to the operating license ... before permitting the plant to restart. This would delay the restart for 6-12 months depending on whether the NRC decides to hold public hearings," the Jefferies report said. 

San Onofre was shuttered a little more than a year ago because of unusual degradation of the plant's steam generator tubes.  One tube leaked in January 2012, releasing a small amount of radioactive steam.

Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — which owns a 20% share in the plant — spent a combined $774 million replacing the steam generators, which utility customers are now paying for.

The California Public Utilities Commission, which is investigating the costs of the outage to determine whether money should be refunded to ratepayers, has rejected a complaint by advocacy group Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility that claimed Edison violated securities law and the California false claims act by manipulating inflation calculations to recover more money from ratepayers for the replacement steam generators.

The commission told the alliance that the allegations of securities-law violations, unfair competition and false claims do not fall within its jurisdiction.

In October, Edison submitted a restart proposal for one of the plant's two reactor units, where the damage was less severe. The plan involves running the unit at 70% power, which Edison said would alleviate conditions that caused the tubes to vibrate excessively.

As part of a series of follow-up questions on the plan, the NRC asked Edison to show that the tubes could maintain integrity at 100% of its licensed operating power. NRC staff said at a public meeting Tuesday that Edison had not yet submitted a response.

The question raises the possibility that the NRC will require Edison to obtain a license amendment -- something many activists have been pushing for -- if the company cannot demonstrate it is able to operate the unit safely at its full licensed power. 

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-- Abby Sewell

Photo: The shuttered San Onofre nuclear power plant looms behind the surf at Lower Trestles. Credit: Marc Boster / Los Angeles Times

 
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