The new chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was taken to task on the need for a better understanding of the seismic landscape around the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
On Jan. 28 in Washington, D.C., the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Power had a chance to hear from NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane and question her on a range of topics from the storage of hazardous waste to regulatory oversight.
Congresswoman Lois Capps took her five minutes to question Macfarlane about her commitment to seeking additional information about the seismic risk surrounding the plant prior to signing off on license renewal that would allow the plant to operate until 2045. The call for additional information has thus far come from state lawmakers and regulators.
If the federal regulator was enthusiastic about the issue, she didn’t show it.
“The health and safety of my constituents is my top priority, and I strongly believe that additional study of the fault is needed before the relicensing process can move forward,” Capps told Macfarlane. “… Do you also agree that having additional, independent data on the Shoreline Fault would be helpful?”
“Additional information can always be helpful, but we can operate with the information that we have,” Macfarlane said.
Capps also asked pointed questions of Macfarlane in light of an October 2012 NRC report that wrote off the newly discovered Shoreline Fault, which sits just offshore from the plant, as not representing a significant risk. A U.S. Geological Survey report by the geologist who discovered the fault in 2009, however, concluded that much about the fault is still unknown.
Macfarlane said that, on the federal level, there’s a committee currently assessing the seismic situation around Diablo Canyon.
“We’re observing this process and are looking to see what the outcome is,” she said.
A day before the hearing, Capps and Macfarlane met privately to discuss the issue at greater length than what was allotted before the subcommittee.
“She certainly thought it was a good conversation,” Capps’ press secretary, Ashley Schapitl, told New Times. “Lois has made no secret that she’s been kind of skeptical of the NRC on the seismic issue, and it’s an issue that’s especially relevant to Diablo Canyon.”
Macfarlane recently visited the Central Coast on Jan. 15, touring Diablo Canyon and meeting with county officials and representatives of nuclear-related interest groups San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace and the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.
Pacific Gas & Electric, which operates the facility, has stayed its relicensing efforts for Diablo’s two reactors after it was denied a permit by the California Coastal Commission in November, halting the utility’s effort to map fault lines offshore using high-energy, three-dimensional surveys, due to environmental concerns.
Macfarlane—the only current NRC commissioner with a professional background in geology—was sworn in as the new NRC head in July. Her term is currently set to expire June 30, 2013.
The current licenses for Diablo Canyon do not expire until 2024 and 2025.