SLO County wants own expert on Diablo Canyon panel

The county wants to have its own earthquake expert on a panel of scientists that will review seismic studies being done on faults around Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to petition the California Public Utilities Commission to give a seismologist selected by the county a seat on an independent peer review panel established by the commission.

Supervisors also directed staff to explore the possibility of starting the process of searching for and hiring the seismologist before the Public Utilities Commission approves the request. Supervisor Bruce Gibson said he wants the county’s representative onboard while the studies are still being designed.

This panel, which has already met once, will oversee studies being done by PG&E on earthquake faults around Diablo Canyon. The panel will also independently interpret the data produced by those studies.

The county does not have anyone in mind to fill the position, and it could be challenging to find someone with all the necessary expertise, said Ron Alsop, county emergency services coordinator.

The state already has scientists from four state agencies on the panel. These agencies are the Energy Commission, Geological Survey, Coastal Commission and Seismic Safety Commission.

Another part of the county’s request to the Public Utilities Commission is to have PG&E ratepayers offset the cost of the county seismologist, which is estimated to be $70,000 a year for the next three years.

John Conway, PG&E’s chief nuclear officer, said the utility supports the county having a seat on the panel. It could take the state as long as eight months to act on the request, he said.

PG&E is in the process of conducting extensive earthquake fault surveys in onshore and offshore areas of the county’s coastline from Cambria to Port San Luis. It is the most comprehensive look in 25 years at the faults in the area, Conway said.

The most complicated and controversial are high-energy offshore surveys that use air guns to emit loud sounds into the ocean that reverberate deeply into the Earth’s crust. These are scheduled to begin next year and extend into 2013.

The goal of the studies is to get a better idea of how powerful an earthquake the faults around Diablo Canyon could produce. The main faults examined in the studies are the Hosgri, San Simeon and Shoreline faults.

County supervisors and many other elected officials demanded that the studies be done as part of PG&E’s request to extend Diablo Canyon’s two reactor licenses to 2044 and 2045.

The Public Utilities Commission has approved PG&E spending $16.73 million on the studies. However, the scope of the studies has seen a three- to four-fold increase, and the utility will have to file a new cost-recovery request with the commission, Conway said.

The exact amount of the new funding request is not yet available but is likely to be in proportion to the scope of the studies, said Kory Raftery, a PG&E spokesman. This means the new cost could be in the $50 million to $67 million range.