Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has raised questions regarding the legality of an equipment swap at the San Onofre nuclear power plant between Southern California Edison (SCE) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI).
Boxer alleges that executives may have lied about the type of equipment they were swapping in order to avoid some federal regulations, and thus could be at fault for the radiation leak that occurred at the plant. She is now asking the Justice Department to launch an investigation into the case to determine if there was any wrongdoing.
The San Onofre power plant is located on the coast alongside the 5 freeway, just south of San Clemente and about 60 miles north of San Diego. The plant was closed in January 2012, just three short years after supposedly “new” equipment was installed by SCE, when leaks were detected in tubes that carried radioactive water. The plant had powered around 1.4 million households before it shut down.
Boxer brought the case to the Justice Department on Monday after she discovered a 2004 letter written by a SCE executive to MHI explaining that the equipment swap did not fall under the “like-for-like” requirements, which is eventually what the swap was filed under in order to avoid additional federal checks and regulations.
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Edison released a statement explaining that the letter and other correspondence was part of a long, on-going process to ensure all industry standards were met.
"SCE's own oversight ... complied with industry standards and best practices," said Pete Dietrich, SCE senior vice president and chief nuclear officer. "SCE would never, and did not, install steam generators that it believed would impact public safety or impair reliability."
The generator swap cost Edison $670 million when they changed out the equipment in 2009 and 2010, but because they claimed the new equipment was essentially the same as the old, they were able to skirt around additional regulations and checks that would have cost the company much more money and up to two years of oversight.
The letter Boxer obtained, written by SCE Vice President Dwight E. Nunn, states, "although the old and new steam generators will be similar in many respects they aren't like-for-like replacements."
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The letter does not indicate if any changes were made before the swap actually took place, but does offer some reason to investigate misrepresentation.