Pacific Gas & Electric Co. deserves a measure of credit for agreeing to “accelerate” mapping of earthquake faults near Diablo Canyon, as well as for asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to delay “final processing” of its license renewal application until seismic studies are complete.
But the company should have made it clear from the outset that it was not seeking to put the entire relicensing process on hold.
Instead, it composed an artfully worded letter to the NRC on Sunday, in which it spoke of the prudence of completing seismic studies prior to issuance of permits, in light of events at Japan’s Fukushima plant. It also mentioned the “considerable public concern regarding the need to assure the seismic safety at DCPP (Diablo Canyon Power Plant).”
The letter concluded by requesting the NRC to delay “final processing” of the permit application.
The key word, of course, being “final.”
As it turns out, PG&E wants the license review to stay on track, which was made abundantly clear in a letter PG&E sent to the NRC licensing board Tuesday.
“PG&E has not requested any suspension or delay in the NRC Staff’s ongoing safety and environmental reviews of the DCPP license renewal application,” that letter states.
“PG&E also is not requesting any delay in the schedule for this licensing hearing process.”
It appears, then, that PG&E is simply asking the NRC to delay issuing a final stamp of approval until seismic studies are complete.
That’s hardly the suspension of the relicensing process that many public officials — including Sen. Sam Blakeslee, a geophysicist — have been requesting.
In fact, the “delay” could barely be a blip.
Depending on how long the application review takes — it could be anywhere from two years to six years — the wait for the seismic studies could delay issuance of a final permit by as little as a year or so, if at all.
And when you consider that PG&E’s existing licenses won’t expire until 2024 and 2025, that shouldn’t be a huge concern.
That’s assuming, of course, that seismic studies won’t turn up disturbing new information.
And if they do?
Well, then PG&E already will have spent millions of dollars on relicensing — money it expects to receive from ratepayers, as evidenced by the $85 million recoupment request it has pending with the California Public Utilities Commission.
But it isn’t just potential fiscal waste that’s a concern.
PG&E’s determination to plow forward with relicensing could be interpreted as an unwillingness to even consider the possibility that the seismic danger could be greater than predicted.
That’s exactly what Blakeslee warned of last month, when he accused PG&E of tolerating a “culture of disregarding risk.”
Of course, PG&E would disagree.
By way of reassurance, it points to its own seismological studies that have downgraded the risk posed by the Shoreline Fault. It also notes that it is the only utility in the country that “employs a seismic department staffed with experts.”
That’s all well and good, but we will be far more reassured by 3-D seismic studies that have been thoroughly and independently reviewed.
Again, we commend PG&E for agreeing to accelerate completion of those studies.
Under the circumstances, however, we find PG&E’s request for a delay in the “final processing” of its relicensing application to be disingenuous, and it could ultimately prove irrelevant.