2010-05-27 Mothers for Peace Challenge Diablo License Renewal

Attorney Diane Curran argues for admittance of five Mothers for Peace Contentions before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

For Immediate Release
May 27, 2010
Contact: Jane Swanson, spokesperson
best phone contact (805) 595-2605
mobile phone (805) 440-1359


On May 26, 2010, in San Luis Obispo, a three member Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) heard arguments from San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (SLOMFP) attorney Diane Curran regarding its legal challenge to Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E’s) application for a 20-year extension of its operating licenses for the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. The current operating licenses for Diablo Canyon’s two nuclear reactors expire in 2024 and 2025, respectively. PG&E has applied to continue operations until 2044/2045.

Ms. Curran, from Washington DC, put SLOMFP concerns in context: “Most of the issues raised by SLOMFP in this case relate to a class of accidents that are called “severe accidents.” These are accidents with relatively low probability that are nevertheless reasonably foreseeable. Therefore the law requires that they be taken into account. But the law is only as good as the agencies that enforce it. The entire country is now witnessing the horrific consequences of the Minerals Management Services’ failure to make a rigorous analysis of the potential for severe accidents and means for avoiding or mitigating them before permitting BP to conduct deep ocean oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The Gulf oil spill is a cautionary tale for any large and dangerous federally-licensed operation, that failure to enforce environmental laws can have devastating consequences for generations. SLOMFP calls upon the ASLB to fully enforce the law in the case by requiring that the agency’s decision about re-licensing the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant must await crucial information about the risks of a severe earthquake, that it must be supported by an adequate study of the impacts of an attack on the spent fuel pool, and that it must identify cost-effective measures to avoid or mitigate an attack on either the fuel pools or the reactor.”

Curran presented five contentions to document that PG&E’s license renewal application fails to satisfy federal laws that protect public health and safety and the environment:

* PG&E has failed to demonstrate the ability to safely manage the aging plant, which was designed in the 1960’s, and constructed between the late 1960’s and the early 1980’s. NRC inspection reports document an “adverse trend” of chronic errors in the management of safety equipment at Diablo Canyon. SLOMFP is concerned that PG&E’s inability to identify and correct current problems in a timely and effective way will be repeated in the license renewal term, when detecting aging effects like corrosion and degradation will be even more challenging.

* PG&E ‘s application lacks crucial information on the seismic risks to Diablo, given that studies of the Shoreline Fault, identified in 2008, are incomplete. Seismic studies of the newly discovered fault and its potential interaction with the Hosgri fault will not be completed until 2013. Given that the current licenses for Diablo Canyon will not expire until 2024 and 2025, SLOMFP contends that PG&E and the NRC should wait for the study results before reaching any conclusions about the risks posed by severe earthquakes.

* PG&E has failed to address the airborne environmental impacts of a reasonably foreseeable spectrum of spent fuel pool accidents, including accidents caused by earthquakes, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. * PG&E has failed to evaluate the environmental impacts of an attack on the Diablo Canyon spent fuel pool during the proposed 20-year license extension terms.

* PG&E’s application lacks a required discussion of the cost-effectiveness of measures to mitigate the environmental impacts of an attack on the Diablo Canyon reactor during the license renewal term. The spent fuel pools are among the most vulnerable parts of the plant, as the radioactive wastes stored in them are not protected by containment. The National Academy of Sciences concluded that, because the fuel is so densely packed, even a partial loss of coolant could lead to a fire, which would release radioactive Cesium into the atmosphere. SLOMFP argued that NRC has failed to evaluate and prescribe measures to prevent the environmental damage that would result from such a release, whether caused by earthquake, terrorists or mechanical failure.

The ASLB expects to make a ruling in July. If the Board rules that one or more of SLOMFP contentions meet the legal standard for intervention, further hearings will be scheduled. BACKGROUND SLOMFP has served as a community-based watchdog since 1973, when PG&E applied for an operating license for Diablo Canyon. In 2006, SLOMFP won a favorable ruling from the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the NRC must study the environmental effects of a terrorist attack on the dry cask storage facility at Diablo. Because the NRC did not fully comply with the Court’s ruling, SLOMFP has filed a second challenge in the same court. The lawsuit is pending. Details of SLOMFP actions since 1973 are available on this web site.