2004 Letter to MHI Prompts Call from Barbara Boxer for Additional SONGS Investigation

On Tuesday, opponents of the San Onofre nuclear plant led by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer rallied around a letter dating from 2004 that they say merits further investigation into the plant's regulatory oversight during the installation of now-damaged steam generators.

Both units experienced premature steam generator tube wear that has kept the reactors offline for more than a year. At a press conference Tuesday, Boxer said a letter from an SCE vice president to a manager at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan merits an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, in addition to Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigations already underway.

The letter describes the design of problematic anti-vibration bars as "by far one of the most challenging tasks that will face MHI and San Onofre," noting the difficulty both companies faced in formulating a design that could overcome the tube wear that's plagued other steam generators. The letter also describes the steam generators as larger than past MHI designs and states the new and old steam generators "aren't like-for-like replacements."

Boxer alleged that changes to the design were extensive enough to require an additional license amendment beyond those the utility had already received, and that SCE misled the NRC to avoid that process.

In its own statement Tuesday, SCE strongly denied that it violated NRC rules or withheld information, characterizing the letter as evidence of the company's oversight of the project and desire to avoid steam generator problems in the future.