Barbara Boxer grills NRC over Diablo Canyon
February 4, 2014
OPINION By ALLIANCE FOR NUCLEAR RESPONSIBILITY
For the second time since November of last year, Senator Barbara Boxer has called upon Chairman Allison Macfarlane of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to explain and clarify how the NRC can allow Pacific Gas & Electric to continue to operate the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo in spite of previous determinations that new seismic evidence places the facility out of compliance with the parameters of its original licensing design basis.
SENATOR BOXER: Chairman Mafarlane, are these statements accurate? One, NRC’s former resident inspector for Diablo Canyon filed a formal dissent saying Diablo was operating outside the seismic requirements of its license. Is that accurate?
CHAIRMAN MACFARLANE: I believe that the senior resident in years past did file a non-concurrence.
SENATOR BOXER: You believe that is correct then?
CHAIRMAN MACFARLANE: I believe that is correct.
SENATOR BOXER: He also said that PG&E’s own analysis showed that the newly discovered faults could cause ground shaking that was 70 percent stronger than the NRC license allows. Is that correct?
CHAIRMAN MACFARLANE: I would have to look. I’m do not have that with me.
SENATOR BOXER: Would you get back to me?
CHAIRMAN MACFARLANE: I will take that for the record.
SENATOR BOXER: OK, I have a number of other questions I want to ask about that for the record so I’ll ask all those.
That NRC Chairman Macfarlane appears unfamiliar with the seismic situation at Diablo Canyon is surprising. In November, she was presented with a copy of a paper from the Union of Concerned Scientists–UCS–(author: David Lochbaum) entitled, “Seismic Shift: Diablo Canyon Literally and Figuratively on Shaky Ground” (http://a4nr.org/?p=2998) receipt of which was formally acknowledged by her staff and distributed internally at the NRC. In addition, representatives of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility presented her with the paper during a visit to her office that same month. Senator Boxer raised similar questions in her first hearing on the subject, which can be viewed at: http://a4nr.org/?p=3030.
The UCS paper provides precedents for many previous NRC decisions wherein unanswered or unanalyzed seismic questions or lapses led to the shutdown of the facility (including three in California) until such time as the concerns were mitigated or addressed. Why is Diablo Canyon–the largest of the facilities documented, being given a “pass” by the NRC in spite of these precedents? Why does Chairman Macfarlane respond as if this question is “new” to her? The Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility has presented her with two previous letters raising this concern. (viewable at: http://a4nr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/072612-Macfarlane01.pdf and http://a4nr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/111312-Macfarlane02.pdf)
In addition, Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) raised similar questions before a House subcommittee hearing with the NRC in December 2013 (video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEcy9PRDA-8)
As Senator Boxer stated in her earlier questioning of the NRC, “Earthquakes do not wait until the nuclear industry and the NRC is ready to deal with these threats. And families who live near nuclear facilities–and I have a number of them–should not have to wait one additional day for needed safety enhancements at nuclear reactors.”
Adds Rochelle Becker, executive director of the Alliance, “This unconscionable stonewalling by the NRC–especially as we approach the third anniversary of the ongoing Fukushima disaster–demonstrates that the NRC’s concepts of ‘lessons learned’ is merely lip service. We should continue to support the efforts of our own state’s regulatory agencies like the Energy Commission and PUC, which have been either recommending or requiring that the utility promptly complete updated and independently reviewed seismic analyses. In order to insure affordable and reliable energy–especially after the NRC and SCE’s fiasco at San Onofre–our state legislature should be monitoring this issue as well.”