2015 - 06 - 24 Mothers for Peace comments on PG&E failure to handle radioactive waste properly

The following message was delivered by MFP SPokesperson Jane Swanson at an NRC meeting in San Luis Obispo on June 24, 2015.

Between 2009 and early June of 2015, PG&E failed to comply with technical specifications in handling the highly radioactive wastes at Diablo Canyon. It took 6 years and 19 cask-loading events before PG&E realized it was out of compliance with NRC expectations.

This situation has serious safety implications:

  • The radioactive waste in question includes high burn-up fuel – fuel that burns longer in the reactor, and so is much hotter (both in temperature and radioactivity) than the “traditional” nuclear fuel. These wastes will be deadly for a million years, according to the EPA.
  • The fact that it took PG&E 6 years to realize its error, during which time the NRC also failed to notice, is troublesome. It does not inspire confidence that either the workers at Diablo or the general public are being protected.
  • PG&E failures to follow proper procedures or to comply with NRC regulations are not uncommon.
    • In 2009 a misaligned valve compromised the emergency core cooling system and was not noticed for 18 months.
    • There have been recurring problems that lasted for years in the areas of proper maintenance of fire doors.
    • A few years ago Diablo needed extra inspections because of repeated failures in the areas of problem identification and resolution.

Given that PG&E has shown that its safety culture is not capable of assuring correct handling of deadly radioactive wastes, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace expects the following from the NRC, the regulator.

  • We expect the NRC to clearly acknowledge that this failure to comply with technical specifications is a serious failure related to safety. PG&E’s public relations effort is giving the message that the failure is “administrative in nature, not safety related.” We view this as a deceptive statement and we ask the NRC to set the record straight.
  • We expect additional oversight of the handling of radioactive spent fuel during at least the next two refueling outages.
  • When PG&E completes its investigation into the root cause of the problem, we expect the NRC to assess that investigation and inform the public of the findings, the methodologies used in the investigation, and the means by which such mishandling of wastes will not be repeated.

We also request that the NRC give the public assurances that the dry casks are guarded by security forces 24/7.  These 34 casks, the majority of which were improperly loaded, sit in full view of anyone on the site, in a plane, or offshore in a boat. Mothers for Peace’s expert witness for a court case in 2006, Gordon Thompson, showed that dry casks are vulnerable to terrorist attack. Given that the NRC’s mandate includes protecting people and the environment, these casks need to be under guard day and night.

In response to the expectations expressed here, Marc Dapas, NRC Region IV Administrator did say the NRC took the matter seriously, and that failure to comply with technical specifications was not acceptable. He also added the PG&E public relations line that this failure did not present a safety hazard.

In response to the question about guarding the dry cask facility 24/7, NRC Inspector Thomas Hipschman said it was so guarded. Marc Dapas said the NRC did not require armed guards to be present 24/7, only that they be able to respond very quickly to any incident.