PG&E tries to relax nuclear safety fears

April 12, 2011

By LISA RIZZO

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has succumbed to public anxiety following the Japanese nuclear disaster by asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to hold off on renewing its licenses of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant until it completes more advanced seismic studies of the operation.

“We recognize that many in the public have called for this research to be completed before the NRC renews the plant’s licenses,” said John Conway, PG&E’s senior vice president of energy supply and chief nuclear officer in a statement.

“We are being responsive to this concern by seeking to expeditiously complete the 3-D seismic studies and provide those findings to the commission and other interested parties so that they may have added assurance of the plant’s seismic integrity,” Conway continued.

San Francisco headquartered PG&E has been faced with a public relations nightmare as a result of an unrelated disaster more than 5,000 miles away.

As the energy giant was strategizing its next move last week, anti-nuclear group Mothers for Peace was gathering signatures on petitions and organizing supporters to demonstrate April 16 in Avila Beach in protest of nearby Diablo Canyon’s nuclear reactor license renewal plans.

It was just the latest of a series of repercussions amounting to widespread public concern as a result of the tragic accident at the Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that threatened the health and livelihood of many there.

As the disasters began to unfold on March 11–first the colossal 9.0 magnitude earthquake, then a monster of a tsunami, topped by a partial nuclear meltdown and radioactive releases–breaking news by-the-minute led to chaos, fear and even misreporting in mainstream media.

Squeezed by pressure from anti-nuclear groups, politicians, media and customers alike, PG&E formally asked the NRC Monday to delay its issuance of a license extension, if approved, until the utility formally submits its research findings of the seismic characteristics surrounding the plant to the commission.

The utility mogul says it is expediting the permit process required to undertake high-energy offshore 3-D studies of the shoreline fault’s deeper regions. It will also conduct significant research along the Los Osos Valley and in the Irish Hills.

However, PG&E is at the mercy of the bureaucracy behind various regulatory agencies, including the State Lands Commission, California Coastal Commission and County of San Luis Obispo to issue the necessary permits before the study can commence.

While the future and final NRC action of a 20-year renewal is on hold, PG&E is continuing with the relicensing process which takes years regardless, according to company spokesperson Paul Flake.

The company is banking on the likelihood that the seismic research, revival of its license renewal application, and multi-year approval process will be complete prior to the 2024 and 2025 expirations of the plant’s two-nuclear reactor licenses. The seismic study is expected to be completed by December 2015.

San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace posted on its website that it “considers this only the first step toward denying PG&E permission to operate the two aging reactors at Diablo Canyon.”

Despite their progress, the Diablo opponents still plan to rally Saturday but have shifted gears to include celebration of the license renewal delay in addition to their plan to protest against the power plant.

PG&E claims to be the only utility in the nation that employs a department staffed with seismic experts that regularly study earthquake faults near the power plant and global seismic events as part of its safety plan.

In November 2008, PG&E’s geosciences department along with the United States Geological Survey discovered the new shoreline fault zone. PG&E said it studied the safety risk and found the plant could withstand as large as a 6.5 magnitude earthquake–the maximum ground motion any of the faults in the region are thought to potentially produce.


31 Comments

  1. Cindy says:

    Oh NO, Has anybody seen the headlines in Tribune. Japan has just up it’s nuclear crisis to that of Chernobyl. I wonder if they will be able to stop the leak? It doesn’t seem like it when I consider that they have been unsuccessful and they have been trying everything known to man for the last month. This is getting scary, it’s really upsetting and they’re damaging the ocean which makes it worse than Chernobyl.
    Is there anybody with a background in this industry that can give us an honest heads up on what this all means and what will happen next? What about the contamination leaking into the ocean?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

    • amusselm says:

      The scale of release is still far less than Chernobyl. Most of the reactor material that’s supposed to be in the core is… still in the core. However, you are right to be concerned about the leak in Reactor 2′s containment. Thankfully, they managed to plug that leak. However, in the process, they were forced to empty the mildly contaminated water from the turbine hall into the ocean so that the much more contaminated (as in wadding in it gives a dose of 1 Sv/hour) water that was seeping from Reactor 2 could be stored there. Right now they are bringing in some sort of barge to remove this contaminated water and dispose of it.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

      • WiseGuy says:

        How or where will they be “disposing” the contaminated water?

        And, do we really feel confident that, with the disaster still on-going, that we have been given all the relevant information?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

        • choprzrul says:

          I wonder what the United States and France did with all of the radiated water from nuclear testing in the Pacific for 35 years?

          Which would create more contaminated water, the nuke plant in Japan or setting off a nuclear bomb on an atoll: http://s3.hubimg.com/u/2362458_f496.jpg

          ???

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

          • WiseGuy says:

            If I’m not mistaken, those “atolls” remain uninhabited to this day, and for good reason.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

            • choprzrul says:

              Meh, no worries. I was stationed on Johnston Island for a year and drove by the ‘plutonium area’ nearly every day I was there. The island was seriously radiated when, during the course of atmospheric testing, they had to self destruct a missle that went off course. It rained down plutonium material on the island. The cure was to scrape the top layer of soil and pile it up on the downwind side of island and fence it off. Then, they brought the chemical stockpile from Okinawa in operation Red Hat. After that, they brought tons of agent orange and stored it downwind from the plutonium area.

              I worked 6 days a week for the Army reconfiguring nerve agent and mustard agent rounds for demill in the incinerator plant. So, I have lived and worked in a very confined area (island was 1/2 mile wide by 2 miles long) for a year with some of the deadliest and most toxic substances on earth. I am still here over 20 years later with no health issues outside of a bad back. I think that there is a lot of Fear, Uncertainty, and Deception (FUD) being spread regarding all of this.

              Please feel free to rebutt if you have been there and done that. If you haven’t had first hand experience, stop the FUD.

              Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

              • WiseGuy says:

                Interesting posting. How old are you, Choprz? I happen to know someonewho was exposed to radiation during WWII. He was healthy as can be nearly everyday of his life, until his 65th year when he was diagnosed with lymphoma and died 6 months later.

                I hope you do considerably better than that. Thank you for your service. Sincerely.

                And you might consider thanking God for the grace bestowed upon you.

                Ambient levels of environmental toxins are so high in most places in the world, some sclentists theorize that it can only be through the grace of some God force that we are not all dead or dying from the effects.

                Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

        • WiseGuy says:

          I love it. First we are reassured that the “contaminated water” will be “disposed of.”

          Then we question how and where? Uhhh???

          No reply. Ooops.

          Common sense, my friends. Common sense.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

          • knowitall says:

            Common sense would dictate that you are unlikely to come across someone who is an expert at disposing radioactive waste in comments section of calcoastnews. Instead of assuming the worst, why don’t you take the time to educate yourself?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

          • amusselm says:

            Um… The same way they decontaminated the secondary coolant at Three Mile Island, Reactor 2? I’m not a nuclear engineer (although, the area does seem intriguing), but I would guess that filtration followed by reverse-osmosis would be able to remove most of the contaminates. Of course, then the filters become rad-waste, but they are a lot easier to deal with than the vast quantity of contaminated water. You can put those in storage casks right next to the suits and boots from the disaster. In a decade or two, you can just bury the lot in a landfill.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

            • amusselm says:

              Or, more specifically: Using this vessel. It turns out that this isn’t the first time we have had to deal with decommissioning reactors near the ocean.

              Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

              • WiseGuy says:

                Thanks for the link that questions the effectiveness of the “disposal” of the radioactive water:
                And I quote from the link YOU provided:

                “There have been questions raised about the effectiveness of the decontamination process, especially regarding the removal of caesium-137[5]”

                And notice the article is sketchy on exactly where the waste will be disposed of.

                Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        • knowitall says:

          “In Units 1, 2 and 3, 60 000 tons of contaminated water need to be removed from the turbine buildings and trenches. This water will be transferred to the condensers of each unit and the Radioactive Waste Treatment facility. In addition, temporary storage tanks have been ordered to provide additional capacity for the water and will be located adjacent to the Radioactive Waste Treatment facility.”

          http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/tsunamiupdate01.html

          The water can be cleaned up at the Radioactive Waste Treatment facility using filters and demineralizers to aceptable limits and then discharged to the ocean.

          If you’re only getting your info from the media than more than likely your not. I don’t know why I posted that link since I’m sure you’ll dismis it and continue to count on the sensationalized stories published by the media. If you don’t, you’ll find far more information about what is going there than anywhere else.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

      • Cindy says:

        Ausselm, Thank You for your eloquent reply and reassurance. If you’re correct, then the headline in the Tribune is obviously a bunch of “media hype” and considering that the majority of the population is poorly versed where in-depth specifics surrounding nuclear power plants are concerned or the correlation of partial matter to ratio’s and it’s effects (including me), I think the media deserves a whack off the head with a phone book for that headline.
        I hope you’re right and that this disaster has now been remedied. If the leak is plugged and the worse of the contaminated water is about to be hauled off and contained then I should think this incident is no longer a threat to the environment and all its inhabitants?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • WiseGuy says:

        You sound like you believe what you are mindlessly repeating from press releases! What makes you think you are getting the most complete, up-to-date and ABSOLUTELY HONEST reports on the status of the disaster? Do tell, please.

        Oh, yes, and where, exactly, and how, exactly, do you believe the contaminated water will be “disposed of”? Rocketed to the moon, perhaps? Do Tell, please.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

        • Cindy says:

          Yes one does wonder what will be done with the contaminated water. They sure can’t run it through the waste treatment plant. I guess they will do the same thing that they do with all the other contamination that the nuke plants generate, or will they they do something sneaky that we won’t like?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

        • knowitall says:

          Are you suggesting that the media has more accurate information?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

    • choprzrul says:

      Take a look at all of the nuclear accidents/incidents worldwide since the 40′s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_nuclear_disasters_and_radioactive_incidents

      Amazing any of us are still alive.

      Then, consider all of the nuclear testing that has gone on since WWII. Here is a video timeline showing a world map & over 2,000 detonations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9lquok4Pdk&feature=player_embedded

      A quick map of current stockpiles by country: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_wNnxpE79lMQ/Sdv8stR3S5I/AAAAAAAAALc/PuoG1zrrZ5o/s1600-h/nuclear_weapons_around_the_world.png

      Point being, how does the current situation in Japan compare to the thousands of accident/incidents/detonations that have happened worldwide over the last 76 years? Shouldn’t we be at the point where nothing that comes from the ground or sea is edible due to radiation?

      .

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

      • WiseGuy says:

        You neglect to mention all the people who have died because of radiation exposure over the years. One problem is that the cancers that many people working with nuclear materials have come down with are not easily confirmed as being from their exposure to radiation. But check the cancer rates for the workers who built and the crew members who manned The Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine, for instance. Or the cancer rates for people involved with nuclear tests in Nevada, or those living in the vicinity.

        But any way you look at it, it seems silly to be so tolerant and lackadaisical about these massive radiation leaks in Japan. Why? It does not seem wise to continually downplay the dangers. Weshould be working to make our nuclear facilities safer, rather than spending so much energy trying to defend unsafe and deteriorating nuclear plants.

        The Japanese thought their nuclear plants were the best in the world—that’s what they were told, and that may be true—but the reality is that even those plants failed HORRIBLY due to chronic under-estimation of threats. This same scenario is playing out at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

        • amusselm says:

          So… Suppose that PG&E decides forgo re-licensing of Diablo Canyon and the existing reactors shut down in 2025. Instead, they decide to build a trio of brand new Molten Salt Reactor that uses Thorium Fuel Cycle. With a bit of clever reactor design, it’s possible to build such a reactor that will not suffer the same sort decay-heat incident that we have seen at Three Mile Island and Fukushima. Also, criticality accidents, like what happened at SL1 and Chernobyl would be nearly impossible. Imagen that the new design called for the reactors to be housed in a containment structure that was designed to withstand a magnitude 11 earthquake (as in more powerful than anything in recorded human history), and was designed to remain online through a magnitude 9 earthquake. Also, since it would be a breeder reactor using Thorium fuel, it’s outputs could not be used to make any sort of nuclear bomb. Nor would it output the depleted uranium we use as armor for some of our tanks. Also, the waste would only be radioactive for a short time. With 200 years, it would emit less radiation than Uranium ore. With all of these features and improvements, how do you think the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace will react? Will they embrace such a plant with open arms?

          Would you?

          On some level, I agree. We should require future nuclear plants to remove decay heat passively. We should require reactor containment structures that are capable of containing all of the core material even if these passive systems fail. Yet, I don’t think that this would be enough for the anti-nuclear activists. I’m not defending 60,000 tons of water that gives off 1 Sv/hour. That’s a nasty mess and I know it. I am defending the plant that created it. Yes, we can and should do better, but you have to admit that this is pretty darn good compared to some of the alternatives. What about the 13 people who died fighting a refinery fire a few miles to the south of Fukushima? How about the long-term health effects of the public who were exposed to the smoke from that fire? Compare that to exactly 2 deaths due to emergency operations at Fukushima (the two men found in the turbine hall, apparently drowned as a result of the facility being hit with a 3 meter tsunami) and some possible health consequences for volunteers who chose to remain at the plant? And, that’s just one non-nuclear facility in this particular disaster. If Fukushima had been an oil-burning plant, how many other refineries would have to be built in order to fuel it? How many lives would be lost fighting fires in these refineries if they were hit by tsunamis?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

          • EmergentQuality says:

            Spot On. But SLOMFP isnot about either peace or nuclear power. “Mothers for Peace” is really about establishing a Reinstated Matriarchal Dictatorship which never existed. If the PG&E Board of Directors was all -femail, nuclear power would be a sacrament.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  2. WiseGuy says:

    The PG&E seismic studies are horrendously flawed and don’t take into account that various faults are connected and thus could easily generate quakes far beyond what Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant was built to withstand.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 6

  3. WiseGuy says:

    Most tuna is already heavily contaminated with environmental toxins and have been for a long time.

    http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/tuna-mercury-47050102

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • amusselm says:

      Ah, Methylmercury… Rather nasty stuff. You know where that comes from?

      You see, certain industrial processes (like older coal-fired power plants) release elemental mercury into the environment. Now, that mercury is, in and of itself, not so bad. But, then bacteria manage to ingest that mercury and they can’t get rid of in its elemental form. So, they attach a methyl group to it and eject it. Now, this methylmercury is much more toxic than elemental mercury. It also bio-accumulates. Now, even if we stop all of the elemental mercury emissions right now, it will take some time for the methylmercury to break down. The stuff can’t be even be processed by bacteria… In fact, that’s why it’s so toxic. Living things simply can’t process it. I’ll bet a vial of methylmercury will be toxic for a lot longer than a sample of radioactive isotopes will be radioactive. Therefore, I would take a mild radioactive release over a mild mercury release any day of the week. At least the radioactive isotopes go away.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

      • WiseGuy says:

        That’s a weird choice you’re giving us, “ammuselm’: Mecury poisoing, or being Irradiated?

        Why do we have to chose one or the other? Who brainwashed you into believing that is our only choice?

        I say NO THANK YOU, to both forms of poisoning, if you don’t mind!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

        • zaphod says:

          search: coal+ash+water+image and study the links, it is worse than amusselm suggests

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. Cindy says:

    You should remove the word “fears” from the headline.

    I was talking with a friend from Japan who warned me not to eat any tuna sushi and to stock up on canned tuna now. He was serious, he say’s the tuna have been migrating into US waters for the last 3 weeks and that many are radiated.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

    • knowitall says:

      fear
      –noun
      1. A distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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