NUCLEAR CRISIS:

Pressure builds on NRC to halt license review for Calif. reactor

A California congresswoman today pressed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to immediately halt the review of a license application for Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s Diablo Canyon nuclear power facility, citing uncertainty over offshore seismic risks.

In a letter to NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, Rep. Lois Capps, a Democrat whose district is home to the plant, cited the recent discovery of an offshore fault close to the 2,240-megawatt plant that she believes should be studied in detail before the renewal application process proceeds.

The plant sits on the coast at Avila Beach near San Luis Obispo in the central part of the state and was built to withstand a 7.5 magnitude earthquake. The biggest seismic threat to the facility is from the onshore San Andreas Fault, with offshore earthquakes long considered less of a concern (Greenwire, March 15).

But Capps wants regulators to look more closely at the newly discovered Shoreline Fault, which was cited in a 2008 study by the California Energy Commission that acknowledged an examination of Shoreline had not been completed.

"I am very concerned the NRC has not taken action to address the warnings in the Energy Commission's report, nor has it seriously considered the concerns raised by these state agencies and the public," wrote Capps, calling on the agency to create a state-federal panel to assess seismic risks.

PG&E's licenses for the plant's two reactors expire in 2024 and 2025. A renewal would let the utility operate the facility through 2045.

Capps' letter, the first from a federal lawmaker to demand review suspension for Diablo Canyon, follows a March 16 letter from California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer that urged NRC to thoroughly investigate the vulnerability of the plants. The Democrats asked Jaczko to review both Diablo Canyon and California's other active reactor, Southern California Edison's San Onofre plant in San Clemente.

The senators noted that 7.4 million people live within 50 miles of San Onofre and about 424,000 live within 50 miles of Diablo Canyon.

The pressure on NRC has also picked up back in California. Several state lawmakers have called on NRC to freeze the review for Diablo Canyon, led by Republican state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, a geophysicist and a San Luis Obispo resident. Blakeslee has accused PG&E of blatantly disregarding any new risk assessments following the earthquake crisis in Japan.

"PG&E is now rushing to relicense Diablo Canyon a full 13 years before their current licenses expire, continuing to dismiss any concerns about the safety of the facility," he wrote in a recent editorial. "PG&E confidently maintain that the facility is not vulnerable to a seismic event. The people of Japan were told the same thing."

Blakeslee went on to note that PG&E has not committed to studying the new offshore fault. The utility did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Click here to see Capps' letter.

Sullivan is based in San Francisco.

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