The nuclear accident in Japan and resulting public concern about earthquake safety at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant have led PG&E to ask federal regulators to delay final implementation of the license renewal process for the plant.
In a letter dated Sunday to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, PG&E calls its request “prudent” in light of the damage the Japanese nuclear plant sustained a month ago after the earthquake and tsunami there.
“PG&E therefore requests that the commission delay the final processing of the LRA (license renewal application) such that the renewed operating licenses, if approved, would not be issued until after PG&E has completed the 3-D seismic studies and submitted a report to the NRC addressing the results of those studies,” wrote John Conway, PG&E’s chief nuclear officer.
Victor Dricks, an NRC spokesman, said the agency just got the letter Monday afternoon. “We are going to review the letter and see what the effect will be,” he said.
County Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes Diablo Canyon, said the wording of the letter would allow license renewal work to proceed, only delaying final approval. He said that the best way PG&E can earn the trust of its customers is to make finishing the seismic studies the highest priority.
“I think it is a small step in the right direction,” he said. “Let’s focus first and foremost on completing the seismic studies.”
The Board of Supervisors has a letter to PG&E to that effect on today’s agenda. Hill said he expects the board will proceed with the letter.
Jane Swanson, a spokeswoman for the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, said the announcement is welcome news. The anti-nuclear group will hold a rally in Avila Beach on Saturday to protest license renewal.
“This is a sensible move on PG&E’s part,” Swanson said. “It will somewhat change the tenor and content of the rally on Saturday.”
Diablo Canyon’s two operating licenses are due to expire in 2024 and 2025. PG&E has applied to extend the licenses another 20 years each.
In addition to requesting a delay in license renewal, the utility says it will accelerate completion of the seismic studies. The utility also plans to conduct significant earthquake research along Los Osos Valley and in the Irish Hills.
PG&E began low-energy seismic studies last year and expects that it will take three years to complete the additional work. In order to do so, PG&E needs permits from the county, State Lands Commission and state Coastal Commission to perform high-energy offshore studies.
“In any event, presuming PG&E obtains all necessary permits, PG&E expects the 3-D seismic studies to be completed and intends to issue a report addressing the results of those studies as soon as possible after completing the analysis of the date and no later than December 2015,” Conway said in the letter.
Until this point, both PG&E and the NRC had contended that license renewal and the 3-D seismic studies could proceed concurrently. However, since the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant a month ago in Japan, PG&E has been under intense pressure to delay license renewal.
In addition to the Board of Supervisors, state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, and Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, have formally asked for a delay in license renewal.
Both Capps and Blakeslee will testify in Washington, D.C., today in a Senate hearing on the implications of the Japanese nuclear accident. California Sen. Barbara Boxer chairs the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
In a statement issued late Monday, Blakeslee commended PG&E “for taking the responsible action of delaying relicensing until critical seismic questions are answered. It’s our duty to learn and apply the lessons of Japan to ensure we protect our communities.”
Capps said in a statement that “there is simply no need to rush through relicensing until we have all the information we need to ensure Diablo Canyon can be run safely and that the plant is prepared to deal with the inevitable seismic activity the area is known for.”
Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.