NRC discusses Diablo Canyon logistics with the public
The majority of speakers at a May 3 community forum said they support keeping the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant operating past its original decommissioning date.
A smaller number expressed safety concerns or simply oppose the plant near Avila Beach remaining open beyond the next few years.
The speakers addressed officials of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the forum in the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors chambers.
The meeting was held in anticipation of Pacific Gas & Electric seeking to renew its licenses to operate the plant.
Diablo Canyon’s two reactors are currently scheduled to shut down in 2024 and 2025.
But, a late push with $1.4 billion in funding from Gov. Gavin Newsom and many other proponents helped extend the life of Diablo Canyon through 2030 to help alleviate concerns of rolling blackouts without the power plant’s presence.
PG&E is expected to apply to the NRC later this year to extend its licenses for an additional 20 years. The plant was first licensed in 1984.
A typical NRC license renewal review takes 20-24 months, said Brian Harris, the senior safety project manager in the NRC’s division of new and renewed licenses.
The agency said in a release it had concluded the reactors operated safely in 2022.
“All inspection findings and performance indicators had very low safety significance,” the NRC said.
“As a result, the plant remains under the NRC’s normal level of oversight which entails thousands of hours of inspection each year,” the agency said.
Dozens of speakers, both elected officials and members of the public, spoke at the three-hour-plus meeting.
Many of those in favor of renewing PG&E’s licenses argued that the state and the region desperately need the energy the plant safely produces.
“Electricity demand in California has increased,” said San Luis Obispo County Supervisor John Peschong. “The increase is due in no small part to the growing electrification of businesses, homes and transportation.”
A recent study by the California Energy Commission “determined that it is prudent to extend energy production at the Diablo Canyon power plant to protect against energy supply shortfalls,” he said.
The plant, Peschong said, “is a safe, clean and vital energy source for our state and communities.”
Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno said that if the NRC doesn’t allow Diablo Canyon “to continue to generate vital energy, California will be incapable of meeting its electric demands.
“Our grid will be overwhelmed, rolling blackouts are likely to ensue and every Californian will bear that cost,” she said.
The officials’ remarks were followed by those from members of the public, including John Jasbinsek, a geophysicist and seismologist at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“I’m very pro-nuclear power and I look forward to Diablo Canyon continuing on,” he said.
“Using nuclear power to get us to the next energy transition I feel is really critical to support a society that might consider itself to be advanced in the sense that everyone doesn’t have to constantly worry about electrical power,” he said.
Also speaking in favor of renewing PG&E’s licenses was Heather Hoff, co-founder of Mothers for Nuclear and a Diablo Canyon employee.
“Generally, when nuclear plants are closed, they’re followed by fossil fuels,” she said.
Adam Peck, PG&E’s site vice president for Diablo Canyon, said, “our mission is to safely generate clean, reliable and affordable energy for California hometowns.”
Ron Garcia, who was involved in the construction of Diablo Canyon during his time with a power company, said he now has several concerns about the plant.
“I’m troubled that we have decided to use radioactive uranium to boil water to make electricity without figuring out what we’re going to do with that radioactive material,” said Garcia, who holds an engineering degree from Cal Poly.
“The material is just collecting at Diablo Canyon,” he said. “Basically, no one wants it.”
Like others, Garcia said he also was concerned about the earthquake fault lines near the plant.
Sherry Lewis, a member of anti-nuclear San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, said she had similar concerns.
A draft environmental impact study that PG&E and the NRC “have been relying on to show that this area is relatively safe from a bad earthquake is incomplete, inaccurate and needs to be revised using more recent modeling of the area,” she said.
“It’s inadequate for now, but especially a real problem if the life of the two reactors is extended even five years, Lewis said. “Or especially ten or 20 more years.
“It is not safe now and will be even more unsafe in years to come,” she said.