Hold off on renewal, Diablo critics say

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Reportedly fueled by their constituents’ concerns following the nuclear crisis on the Japanese coast, a number of public officials loudly calle--or reiterated their cal--for regulatory officials to hold off on relicensing the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant until more is known about the seismology of the region.

Republican Sen. Sam Blakeslee, who originally penned legislation that would have mandated Pacific Gas & Electric conduct thorough 3D seismic studies of the region surrounding the plant before it could be relicensed, grilled PG&E at a Senate committee hearing on earthquake preparedness in Sacramento.

Blakeslee appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, which has profiled Diablo Canyon numerous times because of questions regarding safety following the discovery of the Shoreline Fault less than a mile from the plant in 2008.

Blakeslee told New Times he has received assurances from PG&E that 3D seismic studies are getting underway, but added that he plans on reintroducing identical legislation should the utility be seen as dragging its feet.

On March 24, Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps chimed in, sending a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is currently considering Diablo’s relicensing application. Capps asked for a stay in the process until those studies prove the design of the plant can withstand the strongest temblor the region could potentially generate.

“These safety issues continue to be of great concern to me and my constituents based on a history of incomplete and faulty NRC oversight of the Diablo Canyon plant,” Capps wrote. “While Pacific Gas & Electric has put into place safety measures to address some potential hazards at the plant, there are simply too many unanswered questions on seismic activity and emergency preparedness for this licensing renewal process to move forward.”

California’s Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have also called on the NRC to further inspect Diablo Canyon, as well as the San Onofre nuclear facility in Southern California, for seismic safety.

NRC Public Affairs Officer Lara Uselding told New Times the agency plans to respond to the letters individually.

On March 29, three of five San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voiced to support for a stay in the relicensing process until the in-depth seismic studies are completed. Board Chair Adam Hill will draft a letter to PG&E reiterating that position, which is scheduled to come before the board on a future agenda.

Meanwhile, one of Diablo Canyon’s reactors had to be shutdown—a ‘scram’ in nuclear lingo—at 2:49 pm, March 26, because of a malfunctioning water pump, according to a report filed with the NRC.

According to the report, the reactor shutdown went well, with the reactor being cooled by the auxiliary feedwater system. Offsite power was used to power reserve cooling systems and there were two back up diesels available—one was down for maintenance—if outside power was unavailable.

According to the report, the problem was due to “non-radioactive water spray on [the failing pump's] control console.” The water spray was came from a leaking valve, according to the report.

Matt Fountain and Robert A. McDonald

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