Over the last couple of weeks, we have independently called for a suspension of the relicensing effort under way at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant until a myriad of questions regarding the seismic setting at the facility are answered.
This week, we both testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which is chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, reiterating our deep concerns about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to process the relicensing application for Diablo Canyon, in spite of the newly discovered offshore fault system that lies within hundreds of meters of the plant.
Though PG&E acceded to our request and asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to delay its license renewal application while it completes recommended high energy, 3-D seismic studies of the new fault, the NRC has yet to agree to a delay nor has it agreed to suspend the application process.
The ball is now clearly in the NRC’s court, and we are renewing our call to the NRC to halt the relicensing process until the proper seismic studies are performed, independently reviewed, and furnished to state and federal regulators so that they may make informed, responsible decisions about relicensing.
We want answers to the major questions surrounding the seismic setting and emergency preparedness at Diablo Canyon. This includes issues regarding the ability of the plant and the area’s infrastructure to withstand an earthquake and nuclear accident at the same time and how long the plant would be self-sustaining in the event of such damage. This is particularly pertinent given that just last month the NRC confirmed that Diablo Canyon is one of two nuclear power plants in the highest-risk seismic areas in the country.
We are, to put it lightly, concerned that the NRC has not taken seriously a 2008 California Energy Commission report clearly delineating that more information is needed to determine the true seismic risk surrounding Diablo Canyon. Simply put, a new fault line was discovered a mere half mile from the plant and given the complexity of the fault system, could potentially intersect the dangerous and powerful Hosgri fault that lies three miles offshore, we need to know what kinds of risk this fault system now poses to the facility, prior to relicensing the plant through 2045.
California law, authored by Sen. Blakeslee, requires the California Energy Commission to perform seismic assessments of our state’s nuclear plants. As a result of that legislation, the Energy Commission recommended — and our state Public Utilities Commission directed — that independent, peer-reviewed, advanced seismic studies are performed prior to applying for relicensing. The California Coastal Commission has also filed comments in the license renewal proceedings reiterating the same concerns.
To address this, Congresswoman Capps has called on the NRC to establish an independent panel, including representatives from the affected federal and state agencies, to review the findings on these studies prior to moving forward with the relicensing process.
It’s important to note that there is no hurry to relicense Diablo Canyon, as the current operating licenses run to 2024 and 2025. Surely, that is more than enough time to adequately address seismic concerns in a thoughtful and transparent manner, so that the NRC and the California Public Utilities Commission has the full spectrum of information on which to base critical decisions on the plant’s future operations. Furthermore, this pause in the relicensing would not prejudice NRC from granting PG&E new licenses after considering all the seismic studies should the utility still be able to demonstrate its ability to run the plant safely and efficiently and to be able to prepare for and deal with potential disasters.
To be clear, we are not calling for Diablo Canyon to be shut down or for the plant to be denied a new operating license. What we have done is ask that the relicensing process be halted until comprehensive, independent analyses of the seismic setting are done and that they be considered as part of the relicensing process.
While the tragic events in Japan have brought seismic concerns at Diablo Canyon to the forefront, these concerns are not new for us or the communities we represent on the Central Coast. And while we know Diablo Canyon provides more than 3 million people in California with affordable electricity, safety must always be everyone’s No. 1 concern.
Now that PG&E has indicated that a delay in relicensing is solely the NRC’s call, we urge the agency to make the right one:
Suspend the relicensing process and allow time for independent, advanced and peer-reviewed studies to be completed and analyzed before moving forward.
Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, represents San Luis Obispo County in the state Senate.
Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, represents portions of San Luis Obispo County in Congress.