Sam Blakeslee blasts PG&E over Diablo Canyon

Lawmaker cites utility’s refusal to suspend license renewal as putting constituents ‘in great risk’

dsneed@thetribunenews.comMarch 21, 2011 

State Sen. Sam Blakeslee on Monday rebuked PG&E for tolerating a “culture of disregarding risk” when it comes to safety at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

He cited PG&E’s refusal to suspend Diablo Canyon’s license renewal activities until more high definition earthquake mapping around the plant can be completed. He also cited the deadly explosion of a PG&E natural gas line in San Bruno as evidence of disregarding risk.

“It is a culture that has become endemic in PG&E, and it puts my constituents in great risk,” Blakeslee said at a Senate select committee hearing on earthquake safety held in Sacramento.

Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, repeatedly and “sincerely” asked the utility to suspend its plans to renew its operating licenses at Diablo Canyon. Steve David, Diablo Canyon’s director of site services, said he was not in a position to make that promise.

Blakeslee said he would craft some sort of legislation if the utility failed to suspend license renewal. He did not go into detail about the possible bill.

In a meeting with The Tribune last week, PG&E President Chris Johns said the utility is going to continue its relicensing efforts on a parallel course with its seismic studies.

Other senators at the hearing said they are frustrated with PG&E’s reluctance to delay licensing renewal as well as a perceived slowness in the utility’s schedule for conducting more seismic studies.

“I think that a utility would start a little sooner,” said Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro. “Sadly, we have to have a disaster like the one in Japan to get things going.”

Lloyd Cluff, director of PG&E’s seismic program, said the utility began three-dimensional mapping in October with low energy, ground-penetrating studies. Next month, PG&E will apply for the state permits that it needs to do higher energy, deeper-penetrating earthquake fault studies.

Under repeated questioning from various senators, Cluff said PG&E is concerned about the uncertainty that surrounds the science of predicting earthquakes, but the utility is confident that its modeling brings that uncertainty down to reasonable levels.

Diablo Canyon is designed to withstand a quake of a 7.5 magnitude. Seismologists say the faults around the power plant are not predicted to generate a temblor stronger than that amount.

James Boyd, a state energy commissioner, outlined for the committee PG&E’s history of earthquake problems at Diablo Canyon. These include failure to discover the offshore Hosgri Fault before the plant was built and using mirror-image blueprints for its seismic retrofit work.

These caused huge cost overruns when Diablo Canyon was built and doubled the time it took PG&E to get the plant’s initial operating licenses to 16 years.

The state Energy Commission has asked PG&E and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to delay license renewal until more earthquake studies can be done, Boyd said.

“We again reiterate that these studies need to be done,” he said, “Like the Japanese plants, California’s two nuclear plants are older and have significant spent fuel stored on site.”

The questioning of PG&E took place at a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Earthquake and Disaster Preparedness Response and Recovery, of which Blakeslee is a member. The topic of the hearing was nuclear plant safety in the aftermath of the recent magnitude-9.0 earthquake in Japan.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.

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