Political Fallout Hits Diablo Canyon

Japan Radioactivity Reignites Concern Over Power Plant’s Seismic Vulnerability

Trace amounts of radioactive iodine, presumably fallout from the ongoing nuclear nightmare at Japan’s Fukushima plants, have been found in milk produced by dairy cows owned by Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, but in quantities 5,000 times less than federal safety standards. State officials have tested the milk for years based on the herd’s proximity to the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant just outside Avila Beach, and, until the Fukushima catastrophe, no radioactive readings had registered. In the meantime, officials with PG&E, which owns the Diablo Canyon plant, announced that Reactor Number Two had been placed back in service after being shut down for a week because of electrical problems afflicting a feed water pump that serves a nonnuclear portion of the plant and which ultimately delivers water to the plant’s steam generators.

Ongoing struggles to contain radioactivity spilling from the Japanese nuclear plants has reignited concern about the seismic vulnerability of Diablo Canyon, built just off the coast from two earthquake faults. Last week, Congressmember Lois Capps spoke on the phone with Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chair Greg Jaczko, urging him to suspend Diablo Canyon’s relicensing application pending the results from a high-energy 3-d seismic study on the new fault discovered in 2008, located 300-600 yards off the coast from Diablo Canyon. Capps has been joined in this demand by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and State Senator Sam Blakeslee, a Republican who represents the district. Opposing her on this score is Congressmember Kevin McCarthy, a politically influential Republican who represents portions of San Luis Obispo County, and State Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian, a former member of the SLO Board of Supervisors.

To date, PG&E and the NRC have declined to put off relicensing efforts in deference to new seismic studies. Both groups have insisted that new seismic information is the subject of constant reevaluation, and falls outside the purview of the relicensing process. Although Diablo Canyon’s twin reactors don’t expire for another 13 years, PG&E officials insist they need to launch the relicensing process so that California energy regulators plan for the state’s future energy needs with reliable information. The seismic studies would take three years to complete. A Capps spokesperson questioned PG&E’s motivations, noting that owners of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant have yet to take steps to relicense its generators, even though its licenses expire sooner than Diablo Canyon’s. Likewise, San Onofre has already pledged to launch new seismic studies.

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