PG&E tries to relax nuclear safety fears
April 12, 2011
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.