November 17, 2022, Mothers for Peace, Friends of the Earth, Environmental Working Group, and Committee to Bridge the Gap sent a letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) objecting to Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) request to the NRC to unlawfully resurrect a dead license renewal application rather than file a new application to keep Diablo Canyon operating past 2025.
Per the letter, accommodating PG&E in its never-ending chess game to keep the old, toxic nuclear power plant up and running would “undermine aspects of the license renewal review that are crucial for safety and would hamstring effective public involvement by the many groups and citizens concerned about extending the life of the Diablo Canyon units.”
Diane Curran, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace Attorney, said the NRC should not reverse decisions it made years ago that concerns government review of PG&E’s 2009 application: “Having approved the complete withdrawal of PG&E’s license renewal application in 2018, the NRC must abide by its decision and require PG&E to submit a new license renewal application that is current and complete.” She continued, “Given the catastrophic public health, economic and environmental impacts that could result from a radiological accident at these earthquake-vulnerable reactors, it would be irresponsible for the NRC to go forward with a review of PG&E’s now grossly-outdated license renewal application.”
While SB 846, passed by the California State Legislature in September, provides PG&E with economic incentives to go back to the NRC for a five-year extension of Diablo Canyon’s license, neither SB 846 nor any NRC decision provides PG&E with legal grounds for seeking to reopen the license renewal proceeding that it abandoned in 2016. PG&E should be required to develop updated and complete information regarding the condition of the plant before its operating license can be renewed.
Importantly, PG&E’s proposal to reopen the original license renewal proceeding would also severely hamper public participation in the license renewal proceeding. As stated by the environmental and civic groups in their letter, involvement of the public in the license renewal decision-making process and “the protection that comes with it” cannot be assured, “unless the renewal process commences in a manner that recognizes that this is in many ways a new application.”
This is especially true since PG&E abandoned safety and environmental upgrades in 2016 when it entered into a settlement agreement with Friends of the Earth and others to close the reactors. Curran noted that PG&E unwittingly built the two reactors very close to the major Hosgri earthquake fault; questions remain about the adequacy of subsequent upgrades that fall short of a complete design overhaul to address earthquake risks. And even though the State of California Legislature voted in SB 846 to subsidize PG&E for re-applying for license renewal, the Legislature signaled its concern about earthquake risks by relying on the NRC to conduct a thorough license renewal review, even going so far as to anticipate that seismic safety upgrades and other improvements ordered by the NRC may make Diablo Canyon too expensive to warrant operation for another five years beyond 2024 and 2025.
“Just because PG&E and politicians in California want this old-age nuclear power plant to continue operating, doesn’t mean it should,” said Bill Allayaud, EWG’s California Director for Government Affairs. “Federal regulators at the NRC should not allow PG&E, which arguably has one of the worst safety records among any electric utility in the country, to short-cut the rules when it comes to a nuclear power plant that sits atop a web of fault lines and everyone agreed should be closed ASAP. Even one of NRC’s own senior safety inspectors urged Diablo Canyon be closed back in 2014 over concerns it could be damaged by an earthquake.”
“PG&E’s about-face seems to abandon our settlement agreement for Diablo’s retirement by 2025, which we have significantly relied on for nearly a decade,” said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director for Friends of the Earth. “We urge the NRC to approach this hazardous decision with the utmost caution. This cannot be achieved through hasty and potentially unlawful action, such as reviving a fully withdrawn and stale relicensing application.”
PG&E has already anticipated its next move if the NRC requires PG&E to submit a new and complete license renewal application: PG&E has asked the NRC to immediately exempt it from the timely renewal requirement for a nuclear plant to submit a license renewal application at least five years before the expiration date. This exemption, too, would be unprecedented and unjustifiable, given that PG&E let six years go by without investing in safety and environmental protections for future operation.
Linda Seeley, Mothers for Peace spokesperson, said, “PG&E acts like a child deserving special treatment when they have shown absolutely no evidence of cooperative behavior on how they will mitigate aging management and environmental risks that may have changed since PG&E abandoned its 2009 license renewal application.” She added, “The NRC must require PG&E to submit a new license renewal application with updated information on the seismic, environmental, and maintenance activities of the Diablo plant.”
The letter to the NRC concludes: “… in the interests of public health and safety, environmental protection, and the lawful, principled fair and open administration of NRC’s procedures and precedents, we ask you to soundly reject PG&E’s set of proposals to either restore the original license renewal proceeding or to grant PG&E a regulatory exemption from the timely renewal regulations.”
Organizations letter to NRC