SONGS Mediation Proceeds: Lawyers Chosen

Lawyers on both sides of the multi-billion-dollar fight over who should pay for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) failure have agreed to mediation.  The discussions are confidential and non-binding.  Any settlement would have to be approved by the federal appeals court. The commission, which ordered the latest round of negotiations, also would have to approve any revised agreement.

Layn Phillips, who oversaw the 2013 deal between National Football League owners and players that set aside $765 million for injuries caused by on-field collisions, is expected to jump-start the San Onofre negotiations that have dragged on for months.

Southern California Edison lawyer Henry Weissmann, San Diego consumer attorney Michael Aguirre and others made the announcement in a joint filing with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the California Public Utilities Commission.

Phillips, a former federal prosecutor and judge, will try to resolve the complicated dispute over almost $5 billion in costs stemming from the premature shutdown of the power plant amid a radiation leak in 2012.

The 2,200-megawatt nuclear plant north of Oceanside failed after newly installed replacement steam generators leaked a small amount of radiation.

Public criticism of the original settlement terms mounted and the Public Utilities Commission ordered the San Onofre record reopened. The terms from 2014 remain in place, although regulators ordered the two sides to begin new settlement talks.

Those talks, held in January and February in San Francisco, combined with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court ruling, led the parties to turn to mediation.

It is not clear whether Phillips will have access to evidence presented in the recently resolved arbitration case between Edison and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which manufactured the equipment that led to the plant failure in 2012.

Earlier this month, arbitrators at the International Chamber of Commerce awarded Edison $125 in damages, a fraction of the $7 billion the utility had sought. The chamber also ordered Edison to pay $58 million in legal fees to Mitsubishi.  According to the filing, the Japanese manufacturer is seeking to keep portions of the evidence submitted in the arbitration case confidential.

The federal appeals court has ordered regular updates to the negotiations.  (The San Diego Union Tribune, 3/29/2017)