Mothers for Peace and Friends of the Earth Warn PG&E and the CPUC to be Vigilant in Their Assessment of Diablo Canyon
On October 14, 2022, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (SLOMFP) and Friends of the Earth (FOE) filed a joint reply to Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) comments on a scoping memo and ruling. It warns PG&E and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to be vigilant in assessing the economic viability and safety impacts of keeping Diablo Canyon nuclear plant operating past its scheduled decommissioning date by 2025.
On August 31, 2022, the California Legislature passed SB 846, extending the operation of Diablo Canyon for five years past 2025. SB 846 charges the CPUC to assess and monitor the cost increases that might make Diablo uneconomical to operate and to close the plant if its operations “prove to be economically disadvantageous, or even financially catastrophic, for California electricity consumers.”
SLOMFP and FOE’s reply suggests that “The Commission should establish a second phase of this reopened proceeding, to track the cost of continued operation of Diablo Canyon, and assess whether increased cost renders such continued operation uneconomic.”
That SB 846 provides PG&E a “forgivable loan” paid by the California taxpayer – you and me — ups the ante on the CPUC to accurately and thoroughly monitor and assess Diablo’s economic viability. As Tom Jones, Director of Government Relations for PG&E, candidly stated recently, “Ultimately, we are now becoming a contractor in the state of California.”
Beyond the economic risks to California taxpayers at play in keeping Diablo running past 2025, the reply by SLOMFP and FOE to PG&E’s and the CPUC’s comments also highlight the excessive safety risks involved in this extension. While SB 846 requires a seismic update and requires Diablo to meet potential requirements by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), it is not clear if the NRC has the ability to determine the adequacy of the reactor’s design. According to the brief filed by SLOMFP and FOE, the NRC “only seems to be concerned with the effects of aging on reactor equipment, and exclude questions about the adequacy of the reactor’s design…” And according to the filing, “Neither FOE nor SLOMFP is aware of any NRC regulations requiring confirmation of the adequacy of a nuclear reactor’s design to protect public health and safety prior to the approval of a license renewal application.” (See Final Rule, Nuclear Power Plant License Renewal, 56 Fed. Reg. 64,943, 64,970 (Dec. 13, 1991, [“The activities that must be accomplished in order to demonstrate adequate management of age-related degradation occurring during the renewal term are not likely to involve fundamental changes in the principal design criteria for a nuclear power plant or the design bases implementing these criteria.”])
SLOMFP attorney, Sabrina Venskus, said, “It is up to the CPUC to make sure a thorough and independent seismic assessment is done. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, while responsible for the safe handling of radioactive materials, will not review seismic issues when PG&E applies for the 20-year license renewal necessary to keep the plant running beyond the 2025 closure date that PG&E committed to in 2016.”
To the end, SLOMFP and FOE recommend that the Commission establish a full second phase of this proceeding to:
- impose a reporting obligation on PG&E with respect to the cost of continued operation of Diablo Canyon beyond 2025;
- allow the Commission to closely track the cost of continued operation;
- allow full participation by intervenors.
The uncertain safety and economic viability of keeping Diablo running puts California residents on a slippery slope. Relying on the State and, ultimately, the CPUC to determine the vital impacts of keeping a 40-year-old, earthquake-prone, toxic nuclear plant running past 2025 brings cold comfort to those California ratepayers and those living in the vicinity of the web of active faults surrounding Diablo Canyon.
Click here to read the Joint Reply Comments of Friends of the Earth and San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace.