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Diablo Canyon: Stirred Not Shaken

Lois Capps Takes Issue with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission


Congressmember Lois Capps expressed doubt that the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is adequately engineered to safely shut down in the event of an earthquake. She spoke at a congressional subcommittee hearing last Thursday attended by all five members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In addition, Capps said she was upset by new NRC regulations making it more cumbersome for members of oversight committees to have access to sensitive NRC documents relating to the safety of plants in their own districts. Capps said the new policies ​— ​which require members of oversight committees to submit information requests via their committee chairs or minority leaders ​— ​were “troubling” and “unacceptable” with regard to NRC transparency.

NRC chair Allison Macfarlane said nothing has really changed, telling Capps, “We will respond as we always have.” In other interviews, Macfarlane attributed the uproar over the new rules ​— ​exclusively by Democrats ​— ​to “a misunderstanding.” She also told Capps that the NRC has determined that Diablo Canyon complies with all NRC seismic safety regulations and disputed concerns raised two years ago by Dr. Michael Peck, the NRC’s resident inspector assigned to Diablo Canyon, that the plant did not conform with NRC safe-shut-down requirements.

Capps echoed Peck’s concern that the discovery of a new fault just offshore from Diablo Canyon called into question the amount of ground-shaking the plant might likely experience in the event of a quake. Macfarlane said Diablo Canyon had been engineered to safely shut down in the event of a quake 10 times more powerful than what the new fault could inflict. But when Capps tested the new policy, asking Macfarlane if she could provide a copy of Peck’s “non-concurrence” report, Macfarlane equivocated, stating, “I will have to check on that.”

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