The NRC violated federal statutes and longstanding precedents by allowing indefinite operation of Diablo Canyon and ignoring safety and environmental reviews and public hearings.
On March 28, 2023, the 44th anniversary of the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, Mothers for Peace, Friends of the Earth, and Environmental Working Group submitted a letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) demanding that the five officials atop the agency reverse their staff’s decision to exempt PG&E from the NRC’s timely renewal regulation.
The NRC staff’s exemption decision will allow PG&E to operate the twin Diablo Canyon reactors past their license expiration dates of Nov. 2, 2024 (Unit 1) and Aug. 26, 2025 (Unit 2) indefinitely, without first assuring that PG&E would operate in compliance with safety and environmental standards and conducting a public hearing.
Under the NRC’s timely renewal rule, PG&E was required to submit its application three years in advance of the license expiration dates in order to provide adequate time for the government to perform safety and environmental reviews and hold public hearings. Departing radically from the rule and all precedents, the staff’s exemption decision would give the NRC only ten months to complete those processes.
According to MFP attorney Diane Curran, “The exemption would eviscerate the NRC’s timely renewal regulation, which is designed to ensure that public health and the environment are protected and the public is heard from before reactors operate for even a day past the expiration of their initial 40-year licenses.” Curran asserted that “the NRC Staff’s exemption decision violated multiple provisions of the Atomic Energy Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, undermining public safety, environmental standards, and the integrity of the agency’s regulatory authority and credibility.”
“Exactly how does the NRC propose to adhere to its charter to ‘protect people and the environment’ near Diablo Canyon if they allow PG&E to skirt around orderly and timely license renewal, flouting their own regulations?” questioned Linda Seeley, MFP spokesperson.
“NRC’s flawed decision simply cannot stand. These officials should be proceeding with the utmost caution and providing themselves ample time to thoroughly and independently assess whether to extend Diablo Canyon’s tenure,” said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director for Friends of the Earth. “Instead, NRC has allowed PG&E to continue operating its outdated and unsafe nuclear power plant beyond current expiration dates while it plans to consideration of an extension. Today’s appeal will help ensure that this dangerous, unlawful loophole is stopped in its tracks.”
Caroline Leary, counsel for the EWG, stated that “The NRC staff’s unabashed disregard for safety is tempting fate on the 44th anniversary of the Three Mile Island partial meltdown, the worst accident in U.S. history and resulted from a combination of human error, design deficiencies, and equipment failures. It should serve as a stark reminder that a similar disaster at Diablo Canyon could be much worse. It is unacceptable for the NRC to ignore these risks and tempt fate.”
The environmental groups warned the NRC Commissioners that if they fail to reverse the unlawful action taken by agency staff, they will consider federal court litigation.
Read the letter here.