Seismic safety focus of Diablo meeting

Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials Tuesday held what could prove to be the first in a long series of meetings concerning renewing Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant’s two operating licenses.

Speakers addressed the gamut of familiar Diablo Canyon controversies including earthquake safety, spent fuel storage, biological effects of the cooling system and vulnerability of the plant to terrorist attack.

The agency is updating its license renewal rules and held the meeting in Pismo Beach to gather public input. About two dozen people attended.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. officials say the utility has not decided whether it will apply for license renewal. However, it is standard industry practice to apply for renewal, and the state Public Utilities Commission has given the utility a deadline of June 2011 to make its decision.

Of the nation’s 104 operating nuclear reactors, 54 have received renewals and another 21 have applied for renewal, according the Nuclear Energy Institute. Diablo Canyon’s two licenses will expire in 2024 and 2025.

Nuclear power plants are initially licensed to operate for 40 years and can apply for 20-year extensions. The renewal process typically takes two and a half years and features multiple public hearings.

To expedite the process, the NRC maintains a generic environmental impact statement covering issues common to all reactors, which is updated every 10 years, said Jeffrey Rikhoff, the NRC’s GEIS coordinator. A supplemental EIS is prepared for individual reactors at the time of renewal.

The agency is updating its generic rules, which were the subject of Tuesday’s hearing. Most of the public comments centered on which issues specific to Diablo Canyon should be covered in a supplemental report.

Of particular concern to speakers was seismic safety. The area around Diablo Canyon has several earthquake faults and a new one, called the Shoreline Fault, was recently discovered a mile offshore of the plant.

“If there is one issue that has to be looked at individually for each plant, it’s got to be seismic,” said Peg Pinard, former county supervisor and San Luis Obispo resident.

Tuesday’s hearing was one of a series held across the nation to deal with license renewal, but it generated an unusual amount of interest and controversy. Activists and elected officials protested when the NRC announced it would hold one meeting for California’s two nuclear plants and that meeting would take place in Westlake Village, a town equidistant between Diablo Canyon and San Onofre.

The agency acceded to the protests and scheduled two hearings, one in Pismo Beach and another today in Dana Point.