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The devil's in the details of NRC Diablo ruling

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Another chapter was added to the divisive saga of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, thanks to a federal regulator’s recent decision.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a ruling on a petition by Friends of the Earth (FOE), an environmental activist group, that called for a shutdown of the plant over safety concerns. The NRC’s ruling didn’t shutter Diablo’s operations, but the group’s still claiming a victory.

While the commission didn’t order the plant to shut down, it did call for a hearing before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to determine whether or not the NRC granted Pacific Gas & Electric a de facto amendment to the plant’s operating license when it allowed Diablo to continue operations in spite of new seismic findings—which FOE argued put the plant outside of safety regulations.

FOE heralded the 3-1 decision of the NRC as a step toward closing the plant down.

“This is a major victory that could be the turning point for a nuclear-free California,” said Damon Moglen, a senior strategic advisory for the group.

But the NRC decision only partially agrees with the case presented by the group, and ultimately the plant will continue to operate. So while FOE claims victory, PG&E insisted that the ruling affirms their stance that Diablo Canyon is “a safe and valuable clean energy asset for our customers.”

“In their action, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reaffirmed that Diablo Canyon is seismically safe and directed the Atomic Safety Licensing Board to examine a narrow aspect of Friends of the Earth’s overall petition,” PG&E Spokesman Blair Jones said. “We will participate in this upcoming proceeding and address the Friends of the Earth’s continued and intentional mischaracterizations regarding the seismic licensing basis for Diablo Canyon.”

A hearing hasn’t been set yet.

While the two sides wait for the hearing, PG&E continues to move ahead with mandated seismic safety studies. Prior to the decision, the NRC directed the company to conduct additional seismic analysis on Diablo Canyon by June of 2016.

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