Nuclear Regulatory Commission dealing with multiple issues at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is having a busy month in San Luis Obispo County as it begins processing an application to renew Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant’s two operating licenses and wraps up an investigation into misaligned safety switches at the plant.

A team of NRC officials is here this week to meet with local elected officials, including the county Board of Supervisors. The meetings are “to acquaint them with the process that we will be using to review the license renewal application and to answer any immediate questions they might have. We see this as the first of several meetings of this type,” said Victor Dricks, NRC spokesman.

The agency has also scheduled a public meeting Jan. 26 to discuss with Pacific Gas and Electric officials the findings of a special inspection into several misaligned switches that would have impaired plant operators’ ability to respond to a severe reactor emergency.

PG&E has applied to extend the operating life of Diablo Canyon’s two reactors by an additional 20 years, until 2044 and 2045. The process is expected to take several years to complete.

The agency will soon open up a 60-day period for local groups and individuals to request a public hearing on the license renewal process. When PG&E announced its decision to pursue license renewal in late November, many local officials came out in support because of the economic importance of the plant and its 1,200 employees and $25 million in annual property taxes.

However, local anti-nuclear activists are lining up to oppose renewal. They want PG&E to focus more on renewable energy. They’re also concerned about the seismic safety of the plant given the recent discovery of a new earthquake fault nearby.

“The newly discovered Shoreline Fault, less than one mile offshore of the Diablo site, has not been thoroughly studied yet, but it clearly exacerbates an already precarious situation,” said Jane Swanson, spokeswoman for the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace.

Also of concern are several misaligned safety valves that could not have been opened remotely in the event of a severe loss of coolant in one of the reactors. Operators would have had to open the valves manually or use a backup cooling system.

The misalignment was discovered during a refueling shutdown in October. An investigation by PG&E determined that the error was the result of incorrect maintenance and testing performed during the previous outage 18 months before.

Four NRC inspectors investigated the error from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3. NRC officials will present the results of that investigation to PG&E at the Jan. 26 public meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at the Embassy Suites Hotel, 333 Madonna Road. The public can observe the meeting and will have an opportunity to ask questions of NRC staff after the business meeting with PG&E is complete.