NRC says Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is being operated safely

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant continues to operate in a safe manner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said Thursday at a public meeting that drew about 100 people.

This was the second assessment in a row in which plant owners PG&E were told by the agency that there are no outstanding safety-related issues that need to be resolved. A similar assessment was delivered in December.

“We did not find any significant safety issues and all indicators are in the green category,” said Kriss Kennedy, director of the agency’s division of reactor projects. The NRC uses a color-coded reporting system with green indicating low safety significance.

Ed Halpin, PG&E’s chief nuclear officer, said the green rankings indicate the utility is using good, conservative decision-making. However, plant managers are continuing to address a safety issue that first emerged in 2008 when a ceramic bushing in the plant’s electrical distribution system failed.

The failure caused an explosion that broke windows and caused other damage. Since then, the plant has switched to a polymer bushing system that has not exploded but can cause electrical arcing resulting in power outages. PG&E is continuing to look for a permanent solution to the problem, Halpin said.

The issue of storing highly radioactive used reactor fuel continues to be a concern to the public. Used reactor assemblies are stored in pools and in large dry casks on site. Most of the spent fuel remains in the pools but 29 dry casks have been filled, containing about a third of the plant’s used fuel.

“The greatest danger presented by Diablo is the radioactive waste in overcrowded pools surrounded by 13 earthquake faults,” said Jane Swanson, spokeswoman for the antinuclear group San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace. "The so-called spent fuel is about 1 million times more radioactive than when it was first loaded as fresh fuel.”

Not all the comments were opposed to nuclear power. William Gloege of Orcutt said he is concerned about air pollution and other problems caused by fossil fuels and appreciates that nuclear power does not have the same emissions.

“I’m breathing much cleaner air than if you were not here,” he told plant managers. “Fossil fuel is killing a lot of people worldwide.”