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PG&E cries uncle

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Nearly a year and a half after Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced it was seeking to relicense the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, the energy company has succumbed to pressure to delay its relicensing efforts.

Though the utility hasn’t halted the federal process, it sent a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on April 10 requesting the agency not finalize its application until in-depth 3D seismic studies are completed.

Currently in their initial stages, those studies were previously expected to be finished by 2015. However, in its letter to the NRC, PG&E said it plans to “accelerate” completion of the studies—but exactly what an acceleration means isn’t yet clear.

“It’s that we’re going to be pursuing [the studies] more aggressively,” said PG&E Spokesman Paul Flake. “As of right now, I don’t have any information on how soon we can finish. The thing we’re asking is that the NRC delay their final decision until we are done.”

Flake said the decision was made as a direct response to local concerns over seismic safety following the ongoing Japanese nuclear disaster.

“Basically, we’re trying to be responsive to what we’re hearing, and what we’ve heard is an extreme amount of interest after what happened in Japan,” Flake said. “When the studies are done, we will have that added assurance of the safety of the plant.”

However, many critics, including David Weisman of the nuclear watchdog group the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, say the announcement was little more than a public relations move that creates more questions than answers, including the accuracy of “accelerated” seismic studies, and how those studies will be reviewed.

“They’re handing out this brightly colored lollypop, but we’re not suckers,” Weisman said.

“We are currently reviewing [PG&E’s request] to see what impact—if any—it will have on the review schedule,” NRC Spokesman Victor Dricks told New Times.

A spokesperson for Republican State Sen. Sam Blakeslee—a geophysicist by training, who had repeatedly called for PG&E to halt the relicensing process until the studies are completed—told New Times the senator was notified of the announcement as he traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on the nuclear emergency in Japan and its implications for the United States.

“I commend PG&E for taking the responsible action of delaying relicensing until critical seismic questions are answered. It’s our duty to learn and apply the lessons of Japan to ensure we protect our communities,” Blakeslee said in a statement within an hour of PG&E’s announcement.

“We respect that this is a difficult decision that demonstrates their willingness to prioritize the safety of Californians,” he said.

PG&E’s move didn’t go far enough for the SLO County Board of Supervisors, however, who on April 12 voted to send a letter to PG&E requesting the utility completely halt its relicensing bid until completion of the studies, noting the utility is requesting customer money to pay for them.

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