Reflections in a Dog’s Eye

Diablo Canyon’s Seismic Safety Assurances Challenged by NRC Inspector

Thursday, August 28, 2014
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ALL OUR FAULT: The first, last, and only time I spoke with Dr. Michael Peck, he scared the crap out of me. Theoretically speaking, perhaps. At the time, Peck was teaching at a special university in Chattanooga, Tennessee, training up-and-coming resident inspector for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) how to do their jobs. Up until September 2012, Peck had, in fact, been the resident inspector for the NRC up at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, located about an hour’s drive up the coast. Peck worked at Diablo a little under five years before declaring he wanted to be transferred. Given that the NRC is probably the world’s most singularly impenetrable bureaucracy, I was amazed how easily I got Peck on the line. His message was equally direct. “I’m not saying that Diablo Canyon is unsafe,” he told me. “But we can’t say that it’s safe, either.”

Angry Poodle

In some instances, perhaps it’s exciting to occupy that nebulous no-man’s land between what’s known and what isn’t. But where nuclear power plants are concerned, ambiguity ain’t an option.

This conversation took place a couple of years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011. It also took place after the United States Geological Survey had discovered not just one but three new fault lines located only a few hundred yards off the coast from Diablo Canyon, now the last remaining nuclear power plant in California. Based on the seismic punch that these three faults are capable of delivering, Peck warned his superiors he lacked confidence that Diablo Canyon was capable of safely shutting down ​— ​the essential safety requirement of any nuclear power plant ​— ​in the event of an earthquake. He raised these alarms in official communications and meetings more than 10 times. His superiors saw things otherwise and notified Peck as much.

Peck was neither appeased not persuaded. In fact, he’s consistently upped the ante. In 2012, he issued what’s known in the NRC parlance as a letter of “non-concurrence,” a formal dissent ​— ​and warning ​— ​that would become part of Diablo Canyon’s official safety file. That’s a big deal. During Peck’s 25 years with the NRC, he’d done that only one other time. Peck’s superiors again begged to differ and did so in writing. That, too, is in the official file.

I remember calling Lara Uselding, a gifted public information officer with the NRC, to ask her about Peck’s non-concurrence. I thought I had the proverbial smoking gun. She couldn’t have been more bored. “Oh, that?” she asked dismissively. “We resolved that issue a long time ago. That’s news?”

Around coastal California, it turns out, geological forces unleashed a few million years ago still remain a subject of high anxiety and keen public interest. Just ask the people of Napa, who will be crying over spilled wine for many moons to come. Just one day after the Napa quake, the Associated Press (AP) broke the story that Peck had struck again. From his self-imposed exile in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Peck had filed what’s known as a Differing Professional Opinion (DPO) in 2013. This is another formal dissent on Diablo Canyon’s ability to absorb the newly discovered seismic threats, but this time longer, more robust, and more urgent. It also went further up the chain of command. In 42 turgidly excruciating pages, Peck quietly and blandly made the chilling case that the seismic safety claims made on behalf of Diablo Canyon simply do not compute. They are predicated upon overly optimistic assumptions and methodologies that deviate uniquely from NRC’s own safety protocol. Until they can be verified, Peck insisted, the plant needed to be shut down.

These documents were leaked to the AP. This time around, NRC spokesperson Uselding did not say “Oh, that?” Instead, she allowed that such robust internal debate in part of the NRC’s process, but otherwise explained she wouldn’t be commenting. Blair Jones, Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s spokesperson for Diablo Canyon, issued a statement explaining how Diablo Canyon was unique among all American nuclear power plants in that it was built to withstand not one but three seismic shaking scenarios. The plant is engineered, he explained, to withstand the g-force generated by a 7.5 earthquake originating at the Hosgri fault, located just 2.5 miles off the coast from Diablo Canyon. Since all of the recently discovered “new” faults pack considerably less seismic punch than the Hosgri, he explained, Diablo Canyon is covered.

That logic, Peck has insisted, is as methodologically suspect as it is scientifically faulty. And this Tuesday, Friends of the Earth jumped into the act with both feet, using Peck’s documents as the legal crowbar to demand the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ​— ​an independent and quasi-judicial arm of the NRC ​— ​to hold public hearings to determine whether Diablo Canyon is operating beyond the scope of the seismic safety requirements imposed by its license. It’s entirely not coincidental, by the way, that Friends of the Earth formed in the first place 45 years ago, when the Sierra Club opted not to oppose what would become Diablo Canyon.

Peck’s dissent basically asks the following question: Would you rather get hit in the head by a 90-mile-an-hour fastball thrown from 100 feet away or a 60-mile-an-hour softball thrown from 50 feet? When applied to Diablo Canyon, Peck and Friends of the Earth argue that the damage inflicted by the slower pitch clearly exceeds Diablo Canyon’s ability to withstand ground acceleration and shaking. If and when such a quake happens, the cooling pipes needed to safely shut down the plant will not be able to absorb the stress. When earthquakes happen at places like Napa, we can all lament the loss of so much fine wine. No evacuations, however, are necessary. Should a similar quake strike in any of the “new” faults near Diablo Canyon, we don’t know for sure what will happen, but evacuation, we know for sure, will be impossible. Thanks to Peck and now Friends of the Earth, ignorance is now anything but bliss. In any place other than a highly theoretical world, that should scare the crap out of all of us.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Nick makes it sound so easy to shut down a nuclear power plant. All we have to do is flip a switch, right? Wrong! The steps are onerous.

By the time you'd even get through the decommissioning phase, you could perform a study to determine if the plant will withstand a 7.5 magnitude quake as designed.

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2014 at 6:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"Thanks to Peck and now Friends of the Earth". Indeed.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2014 at 11:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)

As usual on the subject of Diablo, Nick totally gets it.

A piece by Karl Grossman today (link below) sums it up: "An analysis done in 1982 by Sandia National Laboratories for the NRC, titled “Calculations for Reactor Accident Consequences 2,” evaluated the impacts of a meltdown with “breach of containment” at every nuclear plant in the U.S.—what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants as a result of an earthquake. For the Diablo Canyon nuclear plants, it projected 10,000 “peak early fatalities” for each of the plants and $155 billion in property damages for Diablo Canyon 1 and $158 billion for Diablo Canyon 2—in 1980 dollars."

NancyBlack (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2014 at 4:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Peck is saying the plant is not earthquake safe. Many, many others responsible for safety like others in the NRC and Special Safety Committee have said it is. Diablo Canyon is the only nuclear plant in the US having its own independent Safety Committee made up of experts. They reviewed and re-reviewed all earthquake reports from multiple sources and find the plant well prepared for large earthquakes. This plant is NOT a 100 year old brick building in Napa, though sensationalists equate it as such.

After all the review experts say the plant is safe, but one man says no, we instantly get Associated Press headlines nationwide screaming "Close the Plant." . Friends of the Earth springs into action, saying the same.

These "environmentalists" seem completely unconcerned about the millions of tons of carbon that would be added to the atmosphere to bring more great danger to Mother Earth. Environmentalists in the area of San Onofre participated gleefully in closing that nuclear plant.

Nine million tons more CO2 have been added to the earth's precious atmosphere since then, but the Friends of the Earth issues not a peep about this damage that will last centuries. Why is that? Why are certain "environmental" organizations straining to get us back on fossil fuel that kills millions yearly? One needs to ask.

Forbes published an article about the relatively harm each energy source had on humans. ("How Deadly is Your Kilowatt?" 6/10/12) Coal came in worst at 170,000 human deaths per trillion kWhr electricity generated.

Nuclear power came in best with only 90 deaths per trillion kWhr generated, including Fukushima and Chernobyl. Nuclear is the safest form of energy generation by far - but environmentalists hate it. What's going on here?

If nuclear power takes over, as it may with even safer new technologies being developed by China and others, there will be one, big, huge loser - the Fossil Fuel Industry.

The income for just American oil companies is around $2 trillion dollars per year. If that was your income, what would you do to preserve it? How much would you spend to preserve that income?

Be very careful of so-called environmentalists and others creating negative news about nuclear power. With our consolidated media distortions by the mighty and well funded become easier and easier.

Sons98 (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2014 at 4:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Georgy (anonymous profile)
August 29, 2014 at 8:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Wow/. The Poodle gets the conspiracy post of the summer. Anti Nuke activists are shills for the Fossil Fuel industry! Would love to be the fly on the wall when Son98 runs that by the next EDC meeting.
Meanwhile how many of you have your earthquake kits in place? If we can get enough of SLO county to be prepared, we'll be safe, cause everyone knows that if you are prepared for the disaster, it won't happen. That's why nobody with a gun ever gets robbed. Right?
If we put a fraction of the money into subsidizing distributed solar (low and no interest loans for homeowners to convert to solar) that we do in to arguing about which poison is best, we would be on our way out of this mess.
Stay warm and well fed.

visionmatters (anonymous profile)
August 29, 2014 at 5:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Close Diablo Now! Where's the Abalone Alliance? If Germany can close half their reactors in a year, WE can close one in California by August 2015.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 29, 2014 at 5:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

We were able to survive without nuclear power, but I don't think we can survive with it.

Sure, the benefits are tempting, but when one considers that Japan--probably the most technologically advanced nation in the world--and one that knows better than any other the effects of radiation poisoning, had one of the worst if not *the* worst nuclear meltdown in world history despite its precautions, I have no reason to believe we are any different.

As the bumper sticker says: "Diablo Canyon has a lot of faults". I think between all the other types of energy we can get by just fine.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
August 29, 2014 at 7:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Even WE can C that Diablo is a bad idea. Dr. Daniel "Dre" Young raised a good point about Germany.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2014 at 2:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

billclausen: Fukushima disn't have a nuclear meltdown.

"Jim Stone, Freelance Journalist, published on May 21 2011 Updated Saturday, April 21, 2012

This is a massive and technical report. If you have troubles understanding it, just look at THIS classified picture of the vanished reactor, THIS classified picture of the destroyed facility and THIS picture of Magna BSP's camera. Then scroll down to the photos which prove there was no actual quake damage to Japan and the original Japanese seismic charts which prove there was no 9.0. The linked public records prove that the very real tsunami which destroyed everything in it's path could not have been natural. The fact that what happened in Japan did not occur naturally has been very well documented by a skilled investigator, who spent hundreds of hours getting to the bottom of this story.

NEW INFO: Japan offered to enrich uranium for IRAN!,73...

HERE ARE THE LINKS: Ynet news... Inside Japan News Network...The New American...Rianovosti news...Hindustan Times...Zee News


This report includes classified photos and the schematics for Fukushima, as well as the ORIGINAL seismic records to support it's claims.

They are,

1. Reactor 3 is completely missing, which means the press and anyone who has claimed anything about pressures, temperatures, containment, ect at reactor 3 after March 14 is lying and people need to pay attention to it, because failure of the public to realize the massive extent of the lies about what is going on there will leave the door open to a repeat event.

2. Reactor 4 is Building 7, demolished by explosives. Reactor 4 had been defueled and was undergoing replacement of it's intern....
(links on the website all work)

14noscams (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2014 at 12:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Nuclear power like other 20th century power sources (Fossils too) have very unlikely, but highly catastrophic accidents.... Chernobyl, Fukushima, The Gulf, and last but not least... The Santa Barbara Channel... Questions? Why continue with this madness??

BondJamesBond (anonymous profile)
September 1, 2014 at 7:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The support for shutting down the Diablo Canyon Nuclear plant is growing! There are several petitions circulating to do just that. Please add your voice to the other signatories' and maybe something will happen to prevent this Fukushima-in-Waiting.

Call your representatives, too! Barbara Boxer, in particular, has been questioning the NRC about the sanity of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant...with some encouragement and support from us, she might actually be able to affect some change, before it is too late.




And here is a quick PBS special (run time 15 minutes) that was filmed BEFORE several other major fault lines were discovered in the area. But it is so informative and non-biased, illustrating the NRC and PG&E's long history of deceit about safety of Diablo Canyon..Pass it on! Together, we can do it. ->

DivineHammer (anonymous profile)
September 3, 2014 at 11:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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