Homer Simpson Moment at Diablo Canyon?

Safety Regulators Find Issue with Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) found that operators at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in Avila Beach failed to comply with technical specifications when loading spent nuclear fuel into 19 storage casks. NRC spokesperson Lara Uselding said the casks do not pose a safety issue and that preliminary information indicates heat levels within them have not exceeded allowable maximums. Activists with Mothers for Peace questioned how so many of the dry storage tanks could have been loaded improperly.

Blair Jones, spokesperson for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), said the specifications relating to spent-fuel loading are without technical basis. He noted that the company manufacturing the casks applied for ​— ​and received ​— ​a license amendment from the NRC in 2004 dispensing with such requirements. Even so, those requirements still apply to PG&E. Jones said the company would be seeking a similar amendment for Diablo Canyon. He also noted that it was PG&E that detected the problem and reported it to the NRC. He characterized the transgression as “administrative in nature, not safety related.” David Weisman, spokesperson for Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, said PG&E’s failure to comply with existing rules posed serious procedural concerns. “Who are the Homer Simpsons here?” he asked, referring to the hapless cartoon character who happens to work for a nuclear power plant. “This is a ‘D’oh!’ moment,” he added.

PG&E is licensed to operate 138 spent-fuel storage casks ​— ​15-foot-tall concrete and steel structures eight feet in diameter weighing 360,000 pounds ​— ​designed to hold intensely hot radioactive material. Given initial concerns about the heat of spent-fuel rods, technical specifications were adopted about loading protocol to minimize the risk of internal melting and leakage. Uselding said there was no danger that the lids of the tanks had been “dislodged,” nor were they “at risk of leaking radioactive material.”

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