The leaked report from former Diablo Canyon inspector Michael Peck — who recommends that the nuclear plant close until it can be determined whether it’s seismically safe — once again raises key questions about the plant’s ability to withstand an earthquake.
This debate has been going on for decades, but what adds a new level of concern is this: Peck is on the staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and was chief inspector at Diablo Canyon when he first raised the issue. In other words, he comes from the very agency often accused of having too cozy of a relationship with the nuclear industry.
We commend Peck for repeatedly raising his concerns, because we believe dissent among experts is healthy and can lead to more complete understanding of complex issues. We don’t want the NRC to be rubber-stamping PG&E’s requests or minimizing concerns. So bravo, Michael Peck.
We can’t say as much for the NRC as a whole. It’s disappointing that the agency has not answered Peck’s concerns in a timely manner. The NRC reportedly missed several deadlines to respond to Peck’s latest report, leaving members of the public as well as local agencies and officials with little guidance other than the same pat reassurances.
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It’s not as though the NRC hasn’t had plenty of time to consider Peck’s opinions. He filed the leaked report more than a year ago, in July 2013. And prior to that, he submitted a “differing professional opinion” to the NRC in 2012, which contains much of the information in the leaked document.
Concerns raised by Peck, as well as by nuclear industry watchdogs, focus on whether the plant can withstand the ground acceleration that could occur during a quake on the Shoreline Fault. Peck also contends that PG&E needs a license amendment to continue to operate.
PG&E says it has done the necessary analyses and ensures the public that the plant can withstand the most powerful quake that nearby faults, including the Shoreline, could produce.
The NRC concurs. In its response to Peck’s 2012 “differing opinion” report, it states: “The plant continues to be operated safely, including consideration for the new seismic data.”
The NRC has not publicly responded to Peck’s leaked report. However, Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, plans to hold hearings on earthquake risks at Diablo Canyon.
Frankly, so many hearings have been conducted on this issue, we would be shocked if anything new were to result from another round.
We believe, however, that the NRC has been less than transparent in responding to the concerns of a respected member of its own staff. That response is all the more critical given PG&E’s efforts to relicense Diablo Canyon.
If it takes a congressional hearing to get straight answers from the NRC, we strongly support that step.