The Diablo Canyon seismic shake-up



As the seismic hazard surrounding the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant comes into focus, the local ratepayer advocacy group, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, is questioning the efficacy of Pacific Gas & Electric’s assessment.

On March 31, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility filed a protest with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that, if accepted, would give the group a seat at the table as PG&E seeks to recover approximately $7 million in costs from conducting seismic studies.

The seismic evaluation around Diablo Canyon touches a myriad of government agencies at both the state and federal levels. Most immediately, PG&E plans to submit a final seismic report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in June (the utility is also scheduled to file a Seismic Hazard Update as part of a concurrent seismic review in March 2015).

According to the Alliance’s protest, the utility’s work in 2013 underestimated the potential hazards at Diablo Canyon. The Alliance claims PG&E has low-balled hazard estimates, willfully evaded the recommendations of an Independent Peer Review Panel, provided no time for that panel to review additional studies before June, and disregarded concerns raised by Dr. Doug Hamilton who has testified that the seismic hazard underneath Diablo Canyon could involve the commingling of a number of potential hazards.

“In 2013, PG&E unilaterally shrunk the scope of the studies it had been directed to perform and abruptly halted at midyear its interaction with the Commission’s Independent Peer Review Panel (IPRP),” the Alliance wrote in its protest.

Alliance attorney John Geesman said the protest is intended to heighten the scrutiny of PG&E’s seismic evaluations, as well as protect the interests of ratepayers who could end up footing the bill for what the Alliance has characterized as an inadequate review of the potential for earthquakes at the power plant.

“We have to frame our concerns in terms of cost,” Geesman told New Times. “But the obvious priority for us is to elevate the visibility of this issue at the CPUC and hopefully get the CPUC to slap PG&E into line.”

In a written response to New Times, PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said the Alliance’s protest “is not supported by the facts.” Jones said PG&E effectively implemented seismic studies and fully collaborated with the IPRP: “PG&E responded to all IPRP comments, revising the scope of the seismic studies several times in response to the IPRP’s input. Since then, PG&E has been interpreting and analyzing the data and information collected.”

He added that Hamilton’s concerns continue to be addressed and will be incorporated into a seismic hazard model when it’s submitted to the NRC.

“This, too, is a public, scientifically based peer review process that the [Alliance] has attended,” Jones wrote.

On March 27, the Senior Seismic Hazard Analysis Committee wrapped up its third public workshop after three days of talks to develop the Seismic Source Characterization models that will eventually be enveloped into a seismic report and sent to the NRC in March 2015. Jones said PG&E will not seek a relicensing until after its report is sent in June.

However, members of the Alliance and other nuclear watchdogs question the timing of PG&E’s various seismic reports, and are concerned the utility will attempt to restart its relicensing application before a full analysis has been thoroughly vetted by experts.

“The Alliance thinks that [PG&E has] a pattern of corner cutting and evasion of regulatory oversight going on with this seismic review,” Geesman said.

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