In the wake of Friday’s tragic earthquake in Japan, our hearts and those of millions of other Americans go out to the victims there.
But here at home, thoughts are already turning inward to the lessons we should learn from that catastrophe — for California’s earthquake preparedness in general, and for the safety of California’s nuclear facilities in particular.
Those lessons are obviously vital for residents of this area, but they are also central to everyone in this state who enjoys the benefits of abundant, clean and low-cost nuclear energy.
Japan has reportedly shut down 11 of its nuclear reactors — some because of a reported loss of coolant after the tsunami, some as a precautionary measure. However, it is much too early for us to draw specific judgments. The facts are emerging slowly and will no doubt be the subject of analysis in the months to come.
As details become clearer, we at PG&E are committed to working closely with the nuclear power industry and government regulators to learn from this accident and respond with appropriate and timely safety adjustments.
The U.S. nuclear industry has an enviable safety record in part because it closely monitors issues and incidents around the world and quickly adjusts practices to address them.
The regulations that govern the design, construction and operation of nuclear power plants in the United States are already among the most stringent in the world. As most local residents know, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires licensees to design their plants to withstand the effects of earthquakes and tsunamis.
In fact, the NRC requires that significant structures, systems and components at nuclear power plants be designed to survive the most severe natural phenomena historically reported for the site and surrounding area.
That goes for Diablo Canyon Power Plant, too. It was built with an extra margin of safety to withstand environmental hazards, including tsunamis and the largest credible earthquakes that could potentially result from nearby faults.
PG&E is the only utility in the country that employs a fully staffed seismic department. Our geological experts, using state-of-the-art technology, have determined that potential impacts of all nearby faults fall within all design safety margins and that Diablo Canyon remains seismically safe.
The study was independently reviewed by the U.S. Geological Survey, and we recently submitted the findings to the NRC.
Besides seismically reinforced structures, our power block and most of our safety systems are 85 feet above sea level — far above the height that a tsunami such as the one that occurred in Japan could reach.
As operators of Diablo Canyon, and residents of SLO County, we commit to our fellow residents of San Luis Obispo County, and to California energy consumers, that we will heed the lessons of Japan as they emerge and learn from them to create an even safer environment here at Diablo Canyon.
James Becker has been vice president of plant operations and station director of Diablo Canyon Power Plant since 2002.