Viewpoint: PG&E chief says it is committed to safety of Diablo

June 4, 2011 

For nearly 12 weeks, nuclear operators around the world have worked to understand and learn from the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

While the lessons from Japan are still emerging, we’ve heard the concerns expressed by our customers and neighbors in the community about the seismic safety characteristics of Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

That’s why we recently took the unprecedented step of making a formal request with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to delay the final issuance of the plant’s license renewal, if approved, until we complete 3-D seismic studies in the area, evaluate the research, incorporate any applicable findings into the safety of the plant and share the findings with the NRC.

Last week, the NRC agreed with our request, providing a revised license renewal schedule that will allow us to finish these important studies before final action is taken on our license renewal application.

Separately, the NRC also issued its Safety Evaluation Report last week. Based on site audits and a staff review of our application, the report concludes that PG&E is prepared to safely operate Diablo Canyon, should the license extension be approved. In that report, the NRC confirmed that it will consider the results of the seismic studies prior to finalizing a decision on license renewal.

PG&E remains focused on completing three tiers of seismic studies: 3-D high-energy offshore imagery, 2-D onshore data collection and imagery, and 3-D low-energy offshore work. We also plan to install four additional seismic sensors on the ocean’s floor to increase our ability to monitor seismic activity.

We started the low-energy work in 2010 and hope to begin the 3-D high-energy studies in fall 2012. Once available, data from the studies will be incorporated into the plant’s safety plans. PG&E will also share information collected with local public and government agencies, so they can incorporate it into emergency preparedness plans and enhance public safety for the entire Central Coast.

At Diablo Canyon, no priority is more pressing, no responsibility more important and no commitment more fundamental than the safe operations of the plant. As part of our licenses to operate the plant, we regularly assess and adjust the procedures and protocols in use to create the safest operating environment possible. The NRC also is continuously looking at and evaluating our ability to operate the plant safely and protect our communities.

Beyond the inherent safety provided by the 85-foot bluff where Diablo Canyon was built, the plant employs a full-time seismic department and conducts regular emergency preparedness exercises with local response agencies. Thanks to the thorough, attentive work of our engineers, mechanics, scientists and operators, we also have in place robust response plans and safeguards for regular operations and potential emergency situations.

As with all aspects of our business, PG&E’s goal is to see that Diablo Canyon is an industry leader when it comes to safe operations. Our customers have asked for it; they and the entire region deserve it; and PG&E is dedicated to meeting that standard.

When both units are at 100 percent, Diablo Canyon is generating about 2,300 megawatts of electricity at any given time — providing more than 3 million homes in Northern and Central California with safe, carbon-free electricity. The plant also contributes more than $640 million each year to the San Luis Obispo County economy and provides well-paying jobs for more than a thousand local residents.

PG&E is proud of the essential role Diablo Canyon plays in promoting a vibrant Central Coast economy and the vital role it fills in meeting our state’s ever-expanding clean energy needs.

Chris Johns is president of PG&E.

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