Today, January 24, 2023, the technical staff at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) refused a request by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to resume reviewing a 2009 license renewal application the company formally withdrew from NRC consideration in 2018.
The Staff’s decision affirmed recent arguments in the petition by San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (SLOMFP), Friends of the Earth (FoE), and Environmental Working Group (EWG) that resuming review of PG&E’s withdrawn license renewal application would be unlawful. The organizations demanded that the five Commissioners at the top of the NRC deny PG&E’s October 31, 2022, request to resume review of the application.
The decision is important because it prevents PG&E from making an end-run around NRC regulations that requires the company to file a new and up-to-date license renewal application. PG&E had admitted that the application was severely outdated and could not be updated or completed until late 2023 – a year before the Unit 1 license term expires. It now appears that PG&E may have to close Diablo Canyon when its licenses expire in the fall 2024 (Unit 1) and spring 2025 (Unit 2) and keep them closed unless and until the NRC approves a new license renewal application.
The NRC also acknowledged that PG&E had requested an exemption from regulations that would require the reactors to shut down in 2024 and 2025 unless the licenses had been renewed by then. But the NRC postponed a decision on the exemptions until March.
Diane Curran, an attorney for SLOMFP, said that “PG&E does not have any legal options for keeping the Diablo Canyon reactors running continuously past their license expiration dates.” Curran praised the NRC Staff decision as “a correct and faithful application of NRC regulations and policy for fair, efficient and transparent decision-making.” Further, she said it was reasonable to expect that the Staff would also deny PG&E’s exemption requests. “The NRC has no authority to grant an exemption that would extend the license terms past their 40-year limit, other than to renew those licenses. And the renewal process is likely to take years.”
Hallie Templeton, Legal Director at Friends of the Earth, said: “We are pleased to see the NRC using common sense and following the law when it comes to extending operations at Diablo Canyon. Requiring PG&E to submit an updated and complete relicensing application will help ensure that the NRC has sufficient information to reach a determination. We will continue to watch this issue closely and make certain that government officials as well as PG&E fulfill all their legal mandates and obligations. When it comes to deadly and dangerous nuclear power, cutting corners is simply not an option.”
Caroline Leary, an attorney for EWG, said that “It’s not too late for the California Legislature to re-direct the billion dollars slated for revival of these unsafe and uneconomical reactors to the support of safe and renewable alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power, energy efficiency and load management. PG&E may not be familiar with hearing ‘no’ from its captive regulators in California, but it’s clear the professional staff at the NRC takes its oversight role and the safety of the communities surrounding Diablo Canyon seriously.”