The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) proposed giving the two companies responsible for the failed San Onofre nuclear power plant a slap on the wrist Monday, while critics had been hoping the two would get their lights punched out.
Southern California Edison and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries would be given citations, but no fines, for their roles in events that led to the closure of the nuclear plant, located between San Diego and Los Angeles. A spokesman for the commission called the citations appropriate because there was only “low-to-moderate safety circumstances” when vibrations from newly-installed faulty steam generators caused a radioactive leak. The companies have 30 days to respond.
Friends of the Earth energy specialist Damon Moglen told the Los Angeles Times, “It's proof that the NRC is a lap dog and not a watchdog.”
Mitsubishi was given a “notice of noncompliance” for building steam generators with inherent design flaws generated by faulty computer design modeling problems. Edison was chastised for not noticing the problems. Both companies are pointing fingers at each other while investigations, some of which are ongoing, indicate that they both may have had reason to know the hardware, installed in 2009 and 2010, was problematic.
The two determinations were made in a report that explicitly referred to a “significant design deficiency” that was questioned by Edison, but ultimately approved. After replacing a number of tubes damaged by excessive vibration, Edison wanted to restart the plant at 70% power to see if the fixes worked.
Edison had avoided a full government license review of the Mitsubishi steam generator upgrade three years ago by claiming it was a relatively minor tweak. When the NRC told Edison back in October that it would have to submit to that review if it wanted to restart the plant at 70% power, Edison gave up the effort.
While the federal government was soothing the nervous utility and manufacturer, state regulators have begun to address the forthcoming battle over who pays for this mess, which could run around $4 billion. Edison and its partners would prefer that ratepayers and taxpayers pick up the tab, while consumer advocates think shareholders should pay.
On Monday, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) staff recommended that Edison not be paid for replacement power it bought while the plant was tentatively closed between January 2012, when radioactive steam leaks were first discovered, and June 2013, when the closure was made permanent. The commission, which is also considering whether to refund money the utilities have already collected, will consider the staff proposal on October 31.