It was just more than one year ago that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced they had filed papers with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to renew their license with the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The current licenses do not expire until 2024 and 2025.
In 2006, then Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee passed bipartisan legislation (AB 1632) that empowered the California Energy Commission to analyze whether continued nuclear power was in the long-term best interest of maintaining affordable and reliable electricity.
Two years later, a “new” earthquake fault was disclosed 1,800 feet from the reactors and the California Energy Commission and the Legislature united in their requests for independently evaluated seismic studies. Yet PG&E appears to be in no hurry, nor overly generous in accommodating the “independence” of the peer review.
To many watchdogs and regulators, the seismic uncertainties need to be answered before any more money is spent on license renewal.
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PG&E has a troubled history of seismic miscalculations at Diablo Canyon. Anyone familiar with the local history no doubt recalls that PG&E failed to find or disclose the Hosgri fault when the plant was designed and built, and then had to redesign and retrofit the plant, adding $4.4 billion to the price ultimately paid by consumers.
PG&E maintains that all the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission relicensing applications, studies and processes can occur simultaneously, but 100 percent of the money to fund them comes from only one place: ratepayer pockets. They want money now, yet ratepayers get answers in 2013.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission believes they can relicense the reactors by 2012. Do the math! Ratepayers and state regulators have every right to have their seismic concerns satisfied before authorizing further spending of our money. Can we afford to throw good money after bad in a distressed economy?
We are not alone. Michael Peevey, the president of the California Public Utilities Commission (the company that controls the utility’s purse strings), wrote to the CEO of PG&E in June 2009:
“It has come to my attention that PG&E does not believe that it should include a seismic study, and other AB 1632 report recommended studies, as part of its Diablo Canyon license extension studies for the CPUC
This commission will not be able to adequately and appropriately exercise its authority to fund and oversee Diablo Canyon’s license extension without these AB 1632 issues being fully developed.”
Furthermore, at a recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission “seismic workshop” held in San Luis Obispo, Sen. Blakeslee told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that he would not be satisfied with a “check the boxes approach” to license renewal and, with his doctorate in seismology, added: “Let’s ask the right questions and get good, solid answers.”
Sadly, we may never get the answers. The California Public Utilities Commission has before it a “settlement agreement” with PG&E that awards them $80 million and precludes the hearing process at which all the evidence accumulated by the other regulators would be presented. Déjà vu of the late 1980s and the $4.4 billion passed on to Californians.
Can we afford that today? And can we trust either the California Public Utilities Commission or PG&E, especially in the wake of the San Bruno explosion tragedy, where they both have culpability?
The California Public Utilities Commission must live up to the words of its president. PG&E must do the all the studies and the results and discussions must be part of the public process.
The Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility will protest the proposed settlement agreement and has offered amendments. If they are not accepted, we will demand hearings at the California Public Utilities Commission.
As Sen. Blakeslee said, “The discussions we’re having deal with a very momentous issue, which is the safe operation of an aging nuclear power plant in the vicinity of and close proximity to a number of faults — which, at this stage, are still in the process of being understood and characterized.”
Nobody wants to see a repeat of the San Bruno incident, and in the face of widespread regulatory failure, it is up to citizens to monitor and advocate in their own best interests.
If you are a ratepayer who wishes not to repeat the $4.4 billion blunder of yesteryear, let the California Public Utilities Commission know that you oppose the settlement agreement for the Diablo Canyon license renewal absent Alliance amendments. You can visit www.a4nr.org to find the historical documentation and sample letters.
Rochelle Becker is the executive director for the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.