NRC restarts Diablo Canyon license renewal process
Energize Weekly, July 15, 2015
Federal regulators have restarted the license renewal process for the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility, California’s last remaining operational nuclear power plant.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced last week it will begin processing a request from Diablo Canyon owner Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) to renew its operating licenses, which are set to expire in 2024 and 2025. PG&E began the application to renew Diablo Canyon’s licenses in 2009, however that process ground to a halt after an earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused three reactors at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant to melt down in 2011. The NRC ordered a delay in the licensing renewal process at Diablo Canyon, which is surrounded by fault lines, until PG&E could complete an in-depth study of the plant’s vulnerability to earthquakes.
PG&E finished that study in September of last year, and found that Diablo Canyon was “designed to withstand and perform [its] safety functions during and after a major seismic event” and could endure the strongest quakes the area is likely to experience in the next 10,000 years.
Opponents of the plant, which include environmentalists and local residents, have claimed that PG&E colluded with the NRC to sidestep federal rules and conceal the plant’s seismic risk. Richard Ayers, an attorney for Friends of the Earth, argued before the NRC last week that the agency allowed the company to improperly alter the licenses to reduce its margin of safety. Opponents have also noted a history of missteps at Diablo Canyon by PG&E, including replacing $842 million worth of equipment from the plant’s steam generators without conducting a crucial seismic safety test. Opponents have also become highly vocal ever since another California nuclear power plant, San Onofre, was permanently shut down over safety concerns.
PG&E officials say that the plant is safe and reliable.
“The assertions made by these parties are not supported by the facts and represent continued efforts to mischaracterize information,” said PG&E chief nuclear officer Ed Halpin.
The NRC has long held that Diablo Canyon is safe, with NRC officials noting last month that the plant operated safely in 2014 after conducting 7,300 hours of inspections, while also noting that a 2014 analysis found the plant could safely shut down in the event of an earthquake.
In addition to getting approval by the NRC, PG&E will also need to seek permission for the license extension by the California Coastal Commission and the California Water Resources Control Board, which is slated to vote on whether to require PG&E to change the cooling system at Diablo Canyon later this year. PG&E says it has not yet requested state agencies to move forward with their portion of the license renewal process.