When Dr. Michael Peck was the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) senior inspector at California’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant, he filed a report (pdf) that said the facility should be shut down until its operators can prove it is able to withstand a strong earthquake.
The document, written a year ago, was made public on Monday by the environmental group Friends of the Earth after the Associated Press (AP) wrote about it. It turns out a lot of people are interested in reading it. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) said the Environment and Public Works Committee, which she chairs, will hold hearings on the report. “The NRC's failure to act constitutes an abdication of its responsibility to protect public health and safety,” she said.
Diablo Canyon is the state’s last nuclear power plant and supplies 7% of California’s electrical energy. The twin reactors are owned by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and are designed to annually generate 18,000 gigawatts at hour. It is located near Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County.
Diablo Canyon has been splitting atoms for 30 years. The recent discovery of another earthquake fault nearby has put its already shaky survival in question. Peck wrote that the Shoreline, Los Osmos and San Luis Bay earthquake faults, all within 3,000 yards of the facility, are capable of rocking the plant harder than it was designed to take and PG&E knows it.
Peck filed a formal objection to Diablo Canyon’s operation in 2012 after PG&E’s own research indicated that any of the faults were capable of generating more shaking than it had been built to absorb. The AP said that the NRC gave the facility a clean bill of health within a few weeks, but didn’t mention Peck’s objections.
Peck filed an objection again in 2013, generating an NRC review. He has not publicly commented on the document, entitled “Differing Professional Opinion,” but AP said it has been authenticated. The report provides an “alternate view” in counterpoint to the “prevailing staff view” on a series of issues.
The report maintains that the utility is violating NRC safety standards and should be cited. It argues that if the plant isn’t shut down, the NRC should acknowledge the shortcomings and grant PG&E exemptions. Otherwise, it is setting a precedent that could be problematic down the road.
“The prevailing staff view that ‘operability’ may be demonstrated independent of existing facility design bases and safety analyses requirements establishes a new industry precedent. Power reactor licensees may apply this precedent to other nonconforming and unanalyzed conditions.”