Diablo Canyon used bad data for safety equipment for 30 years

March 9, 2015

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power PlantOPINION by Friends of the Earth

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. used incorrect earthquake and accident data when building crucial safety equipment for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, according to information released by Senator Barbara Boxer. Friends of the Earth said the revelation suggests that PG&E has acted with gross negligence and that the twin-reactor plant on California’s Central Coast should be immediately shut down pending a public investigation.

Correspondence from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission — released by Sen. Boxer in a recent hearing and reported Sunday on Page 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle (PDF) — shows that since Diablo Canyon’s first reactor came online in 1984, PG&E failed to use updated seismic and loss-of-coolant-accident data, known as LOCA loads, for replacement equipment. Failure of such equipment in an earthquake could lead to a catastrophic release of radiation. PG&E should have used new data after a previously unknown fault, the Hosgri, was discovered during initial construction, but violated its federal operating license by failing to use the updated data in conjunction with loss of cooling accident data in designing and constructing replacement steam generators and reactor vessel heads for the reactors.

In 2011, PG&E notified the NRC of its decades-long negligence, but incredibly, the NRC failed to cite PG&E for any infraction. Instead NRC and PG&E worked together to secretly and illegally alter the plant’s operating license in September 2013. Friends of the Earth has a case pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals asking that the illegal license revision be thrown out and that Diablo Canyon be shut pending public review to determine whether or not the reactors can withstand the forces of newly identified earthquake faults that surround the plant.

Instead of addressing its malfeasance, PG&E launched an internal effort to try to show that despite using the wrong design data, the equipment it had installed was OK. PG&E has asked the California Public Utilities Commission for $133.5 million from ratepayers for what it calls a “Licensing Basis Verification Program.” The utility did not explain that they were asking to bill their customers for a paper exercise to cover up its negligence in the faulty design of well over $1 billion worth of equipment, also paid by customers.

Since the Hosgri Fault was discovered, new research has revealed that at least four faults surrounding Diablo Canyon are capable of causing earthquakes more powerful than the reactors were designed to withstand The plant’s former NRC senior resident inspector, Dr. Michael Peck, warned last year that the increased risks from earthquakes meant that the plant was operating outside of its license and should be shut pending review — a warning that came before the revelations about PG&E’s use of outdated safety data.

“This shows gross negligence by PG&E and a shameful lack of oversight by federal regulators,” said Damon Moglen, senior strategic advisor to Friends of the Earth. “It’s terrifying to think that for 30 years PG&E used the wrong numbers for vital equipment at the U.S. reactors most at risk from earthquakes.”

“No one would dream of putting nuclear reactors in that location today,” Mogen said. “Diablo Canyon should never have been constructed in the first place, and now it is clear it should not be allowed to operate another day. Diablo Canyon must be shut down now, and there should be both state and federal investigations into PG&E’s negligence.”

Dave Freeman, former head of the federal Tennessee Valley Authority, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, said PG&E’s negligence fits the utility’s pattern of cutting corners on safety, which led to the fatal gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno in 2010.

“There they go again,” said Freeman, now senior energy adviser to Friends of the Earth. “Just as with San Bruno, PG&E has again put profits before safety, has misused ratepayers’ money and misled state regulators at the PUC.”

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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These types don’t care that nuclear power is the cleanest and safest, they want us to live in caves and eat bark. Now Capps wants to start up the latest scare-you-out-of-your-taxes scam: ocean acidification! Everyone bring a box of Arm & Hammer to the beach next trip!

Know it is not Ms. Capps coming up with the idea of ocean acidification, it is the democratic party, Pelosi, Boxer, Feinstein, or one of many others controlling Ms. Capps. She has not had an independent thought while in office for quite some time

“These ‘types’ (?) don’t care …” What type is that, exactly?

“…nuclear power is the cleanest and safest, …” Really? Is it “clean” to mine for uranium? To process it? To ship it, with all of the added security, all the added precautions, is it really that “clean”? I do understand your assertion that since nuclear generation does not emit hydrocarbons like all fossil fuel based plants do, that that specific part is “cleaner”, but when all the elements of mining, processing and transporting uranium based fuel is added in, the “clean” part of nuclear generations is diminished tremendously.

After natural gas is burned for generating electricity, what is left? Emitted hydrocarbons. After coal is burned? The same, just a lot more. And what is left after uranium has been used for nuclear generation of electricity? Radioactive waste with a half life of some 100+ generations worth of time; can we be so arrogant, so supremely confident that the devices we have designed to hold that spent fuel will last for all the time the fuel will continue to be radioactive and a danger to humans if it ever escapes those containers?

I for one really like my electricity, and I certainly do not want anyone living in a cave (unless that is their choice, of course) or eating bark (again, unless that is their choice); what I do want to see is somewhere near the same amount of money that has been invested in nuclear and fossil fuel development directed towards cleaner, sustainable, renewable types of electrical generation. Portland has a company testing a device right now that is a turbine that is put into the sewer system that is turned by the water flowing through the sewer system; not just effluent, but all the rainwater runoff and other water that flows through the system. Engineers are very smart people who can invent and develop great, new ideas, as long as the entrenched energy companies can be kept from buying them off, or stopping any investments that can help develop these newer technologies.

All fossil fuel and especially nuclear electrical generation is a dead end technology; we may be able to make them more efficient, less polluting, but in the end, the future lies solely with renewable technologies. We are just allowing the future to be put further and further away by not investing in them, especially when the US government subsidizes so much of the oil industry, the nuclear industry, and gas extraction industry.

Uh, your post is interesting BFSL but the sewer influent turbine gave me a good laugh. The hydraulic head pressure of a gravity sewer and rainwater collection system is too low to make worthwhile power, unless maybe the foot of Lombard Street in SF, which is an atypical street and piping gradient. Portland is also wildly atypical in terms of it’s heavy rainfall. Nice try.

The most reliable bet for public energy infrastructure is a MIX of windmills and woodchips, big farmed as well as distributed rooftop solar (one of my PGE bills is six or eleven $ a month), peaking methane turbines and big hydro and nuke plants and regrettably, scrubbed-exhaust coal plants. Your other dreamer stuff is unworkable or decades off. You get credit for being a dreamer, however.

Bob, you are free to invest your money where you like. How much of your money have you invested in clean, renewable energy? And the sewer thing. Sewer systems do not like rainwater. It messes up the treatment plant something fierce. In Hawaii it was common for houses to direct their roof runoff from the gutters into the sewer system instead of spending the time and money to grade their property to properly send the runoff into the storm water system. So, the municipal sewer system managers would use smoke to tell who illegally connected to the sewer system and fine the perpetrators. So, I think your idea smells about as bad as your moldy straw bale house.

Bob, using your definition of clean, there really is no such thing as clean power. Solar panels require mining, energy, transportation, etc. Wind mills use up raw materials that have to be mined, manufactured, and transported.

Billions have been spent on solar and wind energy, and the costs are still subsided.

We shouldn’t rely solely on one or a small basket of sources. The sun doesn’t always shine, wind doesn’t always blow, and natural gas is ultimately a limited supply.

All energy sources have some environmental impact.

Nuclear generates a massive amount of power for a relatively small footprint. If at some point in the future, we allow fuel reprocessing, the waste can be significantly reduced.