NRC puts San Onofre complaint to rest

The federal regulatory agency tells Friends of the Earth to stop beating a dead horse. SONGS is closed forever.

The U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) dismissed a complaint against  Southern California Edison (SCE) brought by the anti-nuclear group Friends of the Earth (FOE). It alleged that the utility failed to obtain approval from the NRC for a license amendment to install the new steam generators which ultimately failed and led to the closure of the twin reactors representing 2,200 MW of carbon emission free electrical power.

William Dean, Chief of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation wrote on 7/28/15 that FOE’s complaint “is moot” because SONGS has permanently removed the fuel from the twin reactors and the facility has permanently ceased operations. He added that since the steam generators would never operate again the NRC is dismissing the complaint.

FOE claimed that SCE failed to request a license amendment for changes to the new, but ultimately flawed, steam generators. In doing so the group sought not only to bring a regulatory finding of fault against the utility, but also to open the door to criticism of the NRC for not insisting on the license amendment upfront.

For its part, SCE maintained the two new Steam Generators were sufficiently like the old ones that no license amendment would be required to install them. SCE noted in a press statement that the NRC had determined that a license amendment was not needed to install the steam generators.

The generators failed when it was discovered that radioactive water from the primary coolant running through the steam tubes was leaking due to severe wear on the tubes. The leaks were discovered very early in the life cycle of the steam generators which typically have at least a 20 year service life. It was subsequently discovered that the computer models used by Mitsubishi, which supplied the new steam generators, had calculation errors that led to a faulty design that was carried through to fabrication and installation of the equipment.

Compensation sought by SONGS from Mitsubishi

A claim of $7.6 billion has been made against Mitsubishi by SCE for the forced early closing of the SONGS reactors due to the failure of the steam generators supplied by the Japanese company. If an agreement emerges from the arbitration of the claim, the proceeds will be shared 50/50 with SCE’s customers. The claims include the cost of the steam generators, the closed reactors, and the replacement power SCE must buy to keep the lights on in its service area.

Mitsubishi asserts that it is only liable for the cost of the two steam generators, or $137 million. Otherwise, the firm says it has fulfilled its obligations under the contract with SCE.

SCE says in unusually blunt language for an investor owned utility that Mitsubishi “manufactured a lemon” and “could not fix the defects in the product because they were so fundamental and pervasive.”

The cost of decommissioning the two reactors is estimated to be $3.3 billion. While the utility’s decommissioning fund will pay for some of these expenses, had the steam generators worked as expected the plant would have operated, and the fund grown toward its target level of resources, until at least 2022. 

Ratepayers are now on the hook for some of these costs, which could be offset by whatever compensation SCE gets from Mitsubishi.

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