Boxer says Edison lied; wants Justice Department to investigate San Onofre Nuclear Power Plan

Steam rises between reactors 2 and 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente, CA.
Steam rises between reactors 2 and 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente, CA.
David McNew/Getty Images

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Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) is asking the Justice Department to investigate whether Southern California Edison (SCE) lied to regulators and the public about the San Onofre nuclear plant.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Senator Boxer did not hide her contempt towards Edison.

“What they’re saying is gobbledygook,” she said. “It’s embarrassing.”

The senator later added: “I don’t know what planet they’re living on,” she added.

In a statement, Edison strongly denied the accusations.

Boxer says she obtained two letters written by top Edison executives about a decade ago that will be a turning point in the debate about whether to re-open San Onofre.

Her office released one letter, written by former Edison Vice-President Dwight E. Nunn, to a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries General Manager.

Another letter to Mitsubishi was released Tuesday afternoon by Edison.

The Japanese company manufactured San Onofre’s steam generators, which were installed in 2009 and 2010.

They were supposed to extend the plant's operating life by decades. Instead they quickly deteriorated, leading to San Onofre's shut down last year.

In the letter first released by Boxer's office, Nunn says the new generators aren’t a like-for-like replacement.

Boxer says that’s crucial because Edison told regulators it was a like-for-like swap, which meant they could avoid lengthy hearings in order to gain approval to install the new equipment.

“You can’t do that,” said Boxer. “You can’t lie. You have to tell the truth.”

Nunn’s letter is remarkably prescient. In 2004, he outlined the problem that would beguile the steam generators eight years later: excessive tube-to-tube vibration.

He also notes the steam generators were among the largest ever to be built in the U.S.

He warns that if they failed,  it would end with "disastrous consequences."

Reached at his home near San Clemente, Nunn said he retired from Edison eight years ago.

When asked about his letter, he said he would have no comment and referred questions to Edison.

Edison declined to make anyone available for an interview but released a statement strongly disputing Boxer’s assertions.

"At no time did SCE hide the differences from the NRC, nor did it seek to mislead the NRC," the company said in a statement."

It says the correspondence was not a secret. It handed it to regulators months ago, though it wouldn't say exactly when.

The company says the letters show the company was paying careful attention to the design of the generators.

Boxer scoffed at that defense. She also had harsh words for nuclear regulators.

“I don’t appreciate the way this has been handled,” she said.

Boxer says regulators assured her they wouldn’t allow the plant to restart until all investigations were complete, a promise they’ve since walked back.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board – part of the NRC – recommended the utility must go through a licensing review process before the plant can be restarted. The decision – if it stands – could potentially delay a restart of the facility for years.

Edison has proposed a partial restart of the plant in 2013.