Federal ruling calls future of Diablo Canyon reactors into question
Posted May. 21, 2015 / Posted by: Kate Colwell
Friends of the Earth: Decision is beginning of the end for troubled nuclear plant
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a major victory that could mark the beginning of the end for the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners have ruled that an Atomic Safety Licensing Board will decide whether Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was allowed to illegally alter the plant’s license. This alteration is an attempt to hide the risk from powerful earthquake faults discovered since it was designed and built. The Commission’s referral of the issue to the licensing board parallels a move that presaged the shutdown of Southern California Edison’s San Onofre nuclear plant two years ago.
“This is a major victory that could be the turning point for a nuclear-free future for California,” said Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth, which had petitioned the NRC, saying that the secret amendment of the license was an illegal maneuver designed to avoid holding a public hearing on the issue as required by federal law. “PG&E now is following the same path that forced Southern California Edison to pull the plug on San Onofre,” Moglen said.
In a 3 -1 ruling released today, commissioners ruled that Friends of the Earth’s petition will now be considered by an expert panel of the licensing board. Friends of the Earth alleged that PG&E is operating the 1960-era nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon in violation of their license and called for the reactors to be closed immediately pending public hearings to prove it is safe.
The Commission did not rule on closing the reactors pending public hearings, but ruled that the safety issues should now be considered by the Commission’s executive director for operations.
Today’s decision is all but identical to that by the Commission in November 2012 in response to a similar petition from Friends of the Earth regarding the damaged nuclear reactors at San Onofre. In that case, the licensing board ruled in May 2013 that public hearings should be held as part of a formal license amendment proceeding to assess the safety of San Onofre. When Edison announced the closure of San Onofre a few weeks later, they referred to the ASLB decision.
“This decision is indeed the beginning of the end for Diablo Canyon,” said Dave Freeman, former head of the federal Tennessee Valley Authority, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. “PG&E is not going to get away with running Diablo Canyon when the plant can not withstand the ground motion from the earthquake faults we now know surround these reactors,” said Freeman, a special advisor to Friends of the Earth.
The ruling comes days after the NRC sent PG&E a letter requiring the utility to conduct further seismic risk studies to show whether Diablo Canyon — California’s last nuclear plant, on the Pacific coast near San Luis Obispo — is operating within the bounds of its license. Diablo Canyon is one of only two nuclear plants the NRC classified as high priority for the seismic risk study.