A bad reaction to Diablo license debate

Few are completely satisfied with PG&E’s recent request to delay a final decision on renewing Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant’s operating licenses until in-depth seismic studies are complete.

Organizations as diverse as the county Board of Supervisors and the anti-nuclear group San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace want all license renewal activities stopped until the earthquake studies are done in light of the nuclear disaster in Japan, not just a possible postponement of a final decision.

“There are multiple lessons yet to be learned both from the future seismic studies and from the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima plants,” said Jane Swanson, Mothers for Peace spokeswoman.

NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said the agency has not decided how it will proceed in light of the PG&E request.

For its part, PG&E says the delay request to the NRC is not just window dressing. It is intended to give the NRC as much information as possible about Diablo Canyon’s earthquake danger before its licenses are renewed, said Kory Raftery, PG&E spokesman.

“If the seismic data leads to the conclusion that changes are required at Diablo Canyon, we will act on that issue immediately with the NRC rather than waiting until our current licenses expire,” he said.

County supervisors and others remain confused and skeptical. They cite a seemingly contradictory chain of events that began with a formal request to the NRC on Sunday to “delay the final processing” of its license renewal application pending completion of the seismic studies.

This was followed two days later with a second letter to the NRC making it clear that the utility wants the processing of its renewal application to continue — only issuance of a final decision should be delayed. This prompted supervisors Tuesday to request clarification from the utility about its intentions.

PG&E executives have promised to give regular public updates at board meetings as additional information becomes available.

One thing is clear: Diablo Canyon’s renewal process is shaping up to be one of the lengthier ones.

The seismic report to the NRC that would allow final relicensing could be sent as late as the end of 2015, six years after the utility applied for renewal. Renewal typically takes from two to six years to complete.

If there is no local opposition to license renewal, the process can take two to 21⁄2 years, Dricks said. However, Mothers for Peace has filed formal objections with the NRC.

These require local hearings before an NRC panel called an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, which can add years to the process. Dates for those hearings have not yet been set, Dricks said.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.