Did PG&E and the NRC work together to spin news on Diablo Canyon quake safety?

September 19, 2014


Last week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied a dissent by the former chief inspector at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, who said new seismic data show the plant may be vulnerable to earthquakes of greater magnitude than allowed by its license. On the same day, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. released a long-awaited seismic study that, like the NRC’s ruling, also claimed that Diablo Canyon is safe.

Was the timing a coincidence? Friends of the Earth doubts it.

Today, Friends of the Earth, joined by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Mothers for Peace and the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine whether the NRC and PG&E improperly worked together on a public relations strategy to counteract widespread news coverage of the inspector’s dissent. According to the FOIA request, filed with the NRC in Washington:

The PG&E seismic report, released on the same day [as the decision on the inspector’s dissent] indicates a possible relationship between the regulator and its licensee that has brought up widespread public concern regarding the independence of the regulator. There have been numerous concerns as to how the two documents could have been released simultaneously, given that [the handling of the inspector’s dissent] has been kept secret.

The FOIA filing comes three days after three PG&E executives and a top staff member of the California Public Utilities Commission were removed for improperly working together to appoint the company’s preferred judge to a case stemming from a September 2010 gas line explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno, California.

“You don’t have to look any further than today’s headlines to see that PG&E is capable of trying to improperly influence a government regulator when its profits are on the line,” said Damon Moglen, Senior strategic advisor for Friends of the Earth. “Unfortunately, the NRC’s track record on this issue shows an unfortunate tendency to put PG&E’s interests before those of public safety. We want to find out to what extent PG&E and the NRC worked together to spin the story that Diablo Canyon is safe, despite the mounting evidence that it is vulnerable to quakes more powerful than it was built to withstand.”

San Luis Obispo County supervisor Bruce Gibson, a seismologist and member of the Independent Peer Review Panel for Diablo Canyon appointed by the CPUC, also questioned the timing of the release of PG&E’s report.

“PG&E chose to finalize its entire report and release it to the public before it sought any comment from—or even contacted—the peer review panel,” Gibson wrote in the San Luis Obispo Tribune. “It appears to me that PG&E’s public relations staff advised them to get their story to the public before any detailed questions might be asked.”

Dr. Michael Peck, the former chief inspector at Diablo Canyon, in June 2013 filed a dissent known as a Differing Professional Opinion, or DPO, raising concerns that the plant might not withstand an earthquake on one of several fault lines that were not known when it was designed and built more than 40 years ago. Peck called for the shutdown of the plant until and unless PG&E could prove it is safe.

For more than a year, the NRC kept Peck’s DPO secret and took no action on it. On August 25, 2014, the Associated Press revealed the existence of Peck’s document, prompting Sen. Barbara Boxer of California to call a hearing to examine NRC’s handling of the dissent. On September 10, the NRC announced it had ruled against Peck. Within hours, PG&E released a seismic safety study the NRC had ordered in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011.

“PG&E’s seismic safety study is one more example of its half-century history of trying to rationalize away the extreme earthquake hazards to the Diablo Canyon reactors,” said Jane Swanson, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace. “Despite three earthquake faults identified near Diablo, the NRC has continued to allow this devil of a plant to continue to operate.”

Under federal law, the NRC has 20 days to respond to the Freedom of Information Act request.

Friends of the Earth fights to create a more healthy and just world. Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.

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None of the methods of producing electricity are truly green by those standards. Solar panels lose efficiency and eventually need to be replaced, requiring fuel to mine the rare metals, manufacture the panels, transport them, and install them. Wind turbines may last a long time, but also require maintenance and replacement parts. I associate green with very low, or no emissions during the production of electricity, compared to the output. Basically, coal, natural gas, diesel, or other fossil fuel heat sources are out because of the release of CO2 and other particulates to the atmosphere. At over 2200MW or 2,200,000 kW for a 2 unit site, 19,272,000,000 kWh can be produced during a continuous 1 year period. That’s a lot of power for the relatively small footprint of a site, and a huge amount compared to any fossil fuels consumed to make the fuel or otherwise support production.

Some of the post-article comments were spot-on. It is curious that the article has no names identified, just FOE. As such an “important” (Not) organization, I guess they don’t wish to stand up for their views. Even after many years of research, we continue to be amazed at the lack of intelligence on this planet, so well displayed on the Central Coast.

If people would study the facts, visit in detail with PG&E, other nuclear utilities, and the NRC, and study how these very complex governmental processes work, it would go a long way to improving the collective IQ of our society. But, we continue to see such disappointing and vastly incomplete articles based on little or no facts and true, in-depth, logical, intelligent, critical reasoning.

The U.S. and other countries are trying desperately to have the world recognize the mega challenges that the human race is facing in climate change in the coming 100 years. The U.S. is far behind other countries in this battle, burying our heads in the sand. A great deal of today’s human race must be ashamed of our performance, creating a growing nightmare for our children.

Nuclear power is one vital component of helping us ween ourselves off CO2 producing sources. Sad to say, we are now recognizing, and trying to come to terms with, the huge “benefits” of a high standard of living in the U.S. over the past couple hundred years that have been placing our human civilization in peril, given that many other countries are now racing to have the same high standard of living, including unchecked and unregulated major manufacturing, millions of gas-guzzling vehicles and many hundreds of coal-fired power plants. Humans have a very difficult time of learning.

It would be great if the FOE and other similar organizations would work with utility companies, other businesses and our system of government to make the difficult decisions on ways to improve our future, not shut it down. Sometimes those decisions will have to go against the public opinion, as we learn what is truly needed, not just what everyone wants. Just continue to follow the lemmings over the cliff … the result of zero critical thinking, which FOE is demonstrating so well.

While I know that nuclear power has fewer drawbacks than burning any sort of fossil fuel for energy, there are possibilities for disaster. Done right, those possibilities are minimal.

However, PG&E has made it hard to put trust in their top level management to do things right. (San Bruno is Exhibit A.) As for the NRC, their processes and their refusal to ever give serious consideration to the few intelligent critiques make them look a lot like a “captive agency” that could do exactly the type of thing FOE is accusing them of doing.

Asking people to put faith in bureaucrats using legal obfuscations and often unnecessary technical jargon and requiring them to travel great distances without compensation to make their voices heard is not going to help either. FOE and many others with concerns about nuclear power and related topics don’t have access to fleets of airplanes for business use and many have limited travel budgets in general. Likewise, many people have job commitments that can’t be lightly or regularly put aside time to travel to meetings in DC, LA or SF. In other words the deck is stacked against public participation right from the start. (Note, this is true of most federal agencies and departments no matter what the issue.)

You may never convince the nutcases who voice uninformed or misinformed views about nuclear power that it is safe enough but making the process for getting information and voicing concerns burdensome to the more informed will keep many more people suspicious of the process and the players.

It’s amazing after almost half a century of earthquakes, tidal waves, thunder and electrical storms that Diablo Canyon Power Plant hasn’t cracked wide open, blown up and imploded sending all of us on the Central Coast to a horrific death and destruction, while leveling California with a nuclear meltdown that goes all the way through the Earth, splitting her in two and ending the entire world.

Wasn’t Three-Mile Island suppose to go all the way inside the Earth’s crust and out the other end? Of course thousands and thousands of people died because of that incident.

No, you say? No one died? Wait a minute, that can’t be.

The truth is, along with using natural gas (three times cleaner) instead of gasoline, there should be a nuclear power plant in every county. Then we could eliminate coal as a power producer, while getting rid of silly windmills that are more efficient at killing animals than producing power and truly clean our environment up.

Stop it, your making sense.

What about the might, shoulda, coulda, maybe, argument from the lefties !!! eyes rolling.

The problem with your logic is that nuclear disasters have the potential to be widespread and permanent. The odds against such disasters may be huge but the consequences if they occur are equally huge. The first such disaster is one too many. I am willing to take the chance right now given the need for power and the insufficiency of good alternatives but I can understand the concerns of those who disagree. Maybe a bit more openness to easy public participation and showing a bit less hubris by the NRC and PG&E would help matters.

The Neo-Luddites are at it again. If only they had the guts to admit their real agenda: to eliminate all forms of power. They know nuclear is the cleanest, safest, and most economical. They know solar and wind are useless. They know coal is the most efficient, albeit dirty, and it is the go-to source for when solar is down (50% of the day) and wind is down (90% of the year, and it KILLS RAPTORS!) They want us in caves in their thrall. Actually, we will be enslaved by China as they don’t play well with home-grown low-information Neo-Luddites. Kyoto is beautiful this time of year.

If you say it, it must be so.

Actually, as a proponent of alternative power sources like solar, wind, geothermal, wave and just about any other non-fossil fuel, low impact and renewable source, my main objection to nuclear power in general and Diablo in particular is founded on two questions. How do we guarantee the safety of the spent fuel for the next 200, 500, 1000 or 5000 years? The other question is for those who continue to make the assertion that nuclear power is “green”; it is NOT renewable, it is a form of fossil fuel, even though it has no emissions while in service, the mining of uranium, the transporting of the raw form, the processing and then the transportation of the processed fuel all takes a lot of energy, almost all of that energy is using some form of fossil fuel- tell me again how it is that nuclear is “green”? Call it no emission, call it no greenhouse gas producing, but since it is not renewable, it is not green.

And to counter; the energy and fuels used to create giant wind turbines and dozens of square acres of solar panels, are also enormous, and take many many years to “repay” that loss.

They are also “not green”, as they are not renewable. No wind, no power. No sun, no power. Now you have giant machines doing nothing at all, and costing money and other energy sources to bypass until their main source of operation returns.

While Diablo takes a up a few hundred acres to operate. To put in an equivalent wind farm to duplicate its energy output, would requires hundreds, or thousands, of turbines built from Montana DeOro, to Avila Beach, turning that entire coastline into a steel forest. Solar? Same thing, same size. Not one inch of that bit of coast line would ever be seen again, covered in blue silicone. I won’t mention the salt tower solar plants, since they BBQ birds in flight…