Public airs concerns over Diablo Canyon license renewal

Earthquake danger, spent fuel storage and the perceived early timing of the renewal application are poised to be major public concerns as federal regulators process an application to extend Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant’s two operating licenses by 20 years.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission kicked off the license renewal process with two public information meetings attended by about 50 people Tuesday in San Luis Obispo. The process is expected to take more than two years to complete.

During an extended question and answer session in the afternoon, NRC officials addressed many familiar safety issues regarding operation of the nuclear plant. If the agency grants Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s request, the lives of the two reactors will be extended from 2024 and 2025 to 2044 and 2045.

Public concern centered on three main issues:

NRC seismologist Annie Kammerer said the plant is built to withstand the most powerful quake the two local faults are liable to generate. PG&E is required to constantly update its seismic safety studies.

Many public speakers were frustrated by the inability of NRC staff to answer the question of how long the fuel will be at the plant. There were also concerns about the danger of transporting the fuel.

NRC officials said PG&E is within the regulatory window for applying for new licenses and other plants have applied even earlier. Loren Sharp, PG&E’s director of engineering services, said the California Public Utilities Commission wanted PG&E to decide whether it would pursue license renewal by 2011 for energy planning purposes.

Many speakers expressed a lack of confidence in the agency’s ability to look out for the public interest in the license renewal process in spite of reassurances to the contrary by the NRC officials on hand. These speakers requested that the application be denied and the plant shut down.

“Mothers for Peace has no confidence in these reassurances based on 37 years of experience,” said Jane Swanson, spokeswoman for the anti-nuclear group.

Andrew Stuyvenberg, the NRC’s environmental project manager, said several key dates are ahead. The agency will hold a hearing March 3 in San Luis Obispo specifically to get input on the environmental issues to be addressed during license renewal.

The public also has until March 22 to request the NRC hold a formal adjudicatory hearing in which members of the public raise their contentions before a panel.

NRC and PG&E officials said they expect that enough substantive issues will be raised to require such a hearing.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.