Diablo Canyon safety will be focus of 3 upcoming meetings

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near Avila Beach.
Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near Avila Beach. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Safety issues at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant will be the subject of three Nuclear Regulatory Commission meetings over the next month.

One meeting will take place in San Luis Obispo and is the agency’s annual safety assessment for the plant for 2014. The other two meetings will be hearings by the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board in Rockville, Md., to hear testimony on separate safety issues raised by the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace and Friends of the Earth.

The annual safety assessment will be June 24 at Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo. An open house will be from 2 to 5 p.m. followed by a meeting between NRC staff and PG&E officials from 6 to 9 p.m.

“In addition to discussing our annual assessment of plant performance with PG&E, the open house and extensive question-and-answer period following the meeting will provide local officials and the public ample opportunity to engage the NRC on our regulatory oversight activities at Diablo Canyon,” said Marc Dapas, the agency’s regional administrator.

While the plant operated safely in 2014, the NRC announced the plant will receive an extra inspection to review its emergency preparedness plans. PG&E notified the NRC that the plant’s emergency evacuation plans had been changed to omit a measure to recommend evacuating boats at sea within 10 miles of the plant. The oversight first occurred in 2005 and was corrected in 2013.

“While the NRC determined the public was never at risk, the agency will perform an additional inspection this year to review the corrective actions we have taken related to this matter,” said Blair Jones, PG&E spokesman.

On July 9, the agency will hold two oral argument sessions at its national headquarters in Rockville, Md., to discuss legal issues regarding Diablo Canyon. Both hearings will be held by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, an independent body within the NRC that conducts adjudicatory hearings and renders decisions on legal challenges to licensing actions.

The first session at 6 a.m. Pacific time will consist of oral arguments about four contentions filed by Mothers for Peace challenging Diablo Canyon’s license renewal process.

Two of the contentions charge that PG&E has skewed a new analysis of energy alternatives to ignore or reject a wide range of renewable energy options available to replace the power generated by Diablo Canyon. It further asserts that the NRC has no justification for renewing PG&E's license in light of the greater environmental impacts of Diablo Canyon and lesser costs of renewables.

Jones said "the evaluation shows that the impacts of the operation of Diablo Canyon are not greater than the impacts of other energy alternatives" and that the report meets all of the NRC's requirements.

The other two contentions are that PG&E has failed to comply with environmental laws requiring it to propose measures to lessen the impacts of severe Fukushima-like earthquakes and floods at Diablo Canyon.

Jones said PG&E's flooding hazard re-evaluation required by the NRC determined that the plant's key safety systems and components are safe from tsunamis and potential flooding.

The second session at 10 a.m. Pacific time concerns a petition filed by Friends of the Earth. The group asserts that the agency issued a de facto license amendment by allowing Diablo Canyon to operate after the discovery of the Shoreline Fault in 2008, which calls into question the plant’s ability to safely shut down in the event of an earthquake.

PG&E contends that the Friends of the Earth petition intentionally mischaracterizes the seismic threat at Diablo Canyon.

“As previous and new research has demonstrated, the facility’s license design can withstand the largest potential tremors that the Shoreline and other faults are capable of producing,” Jones said.

Participation in the oral arguments will be limited to lawyers for Mothers for Peace, Friends of the Earth, PG&E and NRC staff. However, the public is welcome to view the proceedings via web streaming or by listening by telephone but must sign up in advance. Contact the board’s law clerk Alana Wase at Alana.wase@nrc.gov or at (301) 415-6693 by July 2.

The board is not expected to issue any rulings at its July 9 hearings.