A California electric utility formally initiated a dispute Thursday with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. over defective steam generators at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which was retired early.

Southern California Edison, known as SCE, claims that Mitsubishi Heavy and Mitsubishi Nuclear Energy Systems made a "total and fundamental" breach of contract and are liable for a laundry list of damages.

Under its warranty, MHI said the four generators would operate reliably for 20 years, but SCE took the plant offline in January 2012 when one of the steam generators experienced a radioactive coolant leak after less than a year of operation, according to the utility.