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Diablo Canyon: NRC Insider’s Dissent

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Several recent news articles covered a report filed by Dr. Michael Peck, an NRC engineer, within his agency. The Friends of the Earth (FOE) obtained the non-public report and posted it online.

NRC resident inspectors Tony Brown (left) and Michael Peck (right) examining an emergency coolant pump at Diablo Canyon on March 2, 2011. (Source: NRC)

NRC resident inspectors Tony Brown (left) and Michael Peck (right) examining an emergency coolant pump at Diablo Canyon on March 2, 2011. (Source: NRC)

Dr. Peck had been the NRC’s senior resident inspector at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California for several years. He was working for the NRC when Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) informed the NRC in late 2008 about the discovery of the Shoreline Fault just offshore of the site. His job assignments included evaluating the impact of this discovery on Diablo Canyon’s safety. Dr. Peck researched the history of earthquake protection requirements at Diablo Canyon and assessed how the Shoreline Fault fit into this picture.

As chronicled in my November 2013 report Seismic Shift: Diablo Canyon Literally and Figuratively on Shaky Ground, Dr. Peck found two kinds of problems:

(1) PG&E had not completely evaluated whether ground motion from an earthquake along the Shoreline Fault could damage vital plant components, and

(2) the evaluations PG&E had performed of other related issues used methods and assumptions that were unacceptable to the NRC.

Dr. Peck’s findings led him to conclude that the homework required for Diablo Canyon to continue operating safely had not been completed satisfactorily and therefore neither the company nor the NRC had adequate legal basis for the plant’s operation. He filed reports via two internal NRC processes—the non-concurrence and differing professional opinion (DPO) processes—to register his convictions and compel the agency to address them. The NRC is still assessing his latter DPO report, the one obtained and posted by FOE.

Peck Was Right

There is little doubt that Dr. Peck’s findings are correct. UCS obtained internal NRC emails and memos in January 2014 in response to our Freedom of Information Act request. These documents relate to the NRC’s review of a license amendment request (LAR) submitted by Diablo Canyon in October 2011. The company sought the NRC’s approval for its handling of the Shoreline Fault.

The documents indicate that the NRC’s reviewers found the request unacceptable and planned to reject it. For example, we obtained an NRC email dated February 8, 2012, about an upcoming call among NRC reviewers to discuss the company’s LAR. At the bottom of page 3, the NRC staffer wrote:

“c. Staff plans to reject in whole or in part the LAR on the following bases:”

“i. LAR does not meet the provisions in the new SRP [NRC Standard Review Plan]”

“ii. Reevaluation of the RCS [reactor coolant system] for the seismic and LOCA [loss of coolant accident] loads not yet completed”

“iii. Licensee has not provided a seismic PRA [probabilistic risk assessment]”

In October 2012, the company withdrew its license amendment request rather than have the NRC formally reject it.

Recall that Dr. Peck’s findings were that the company’s evaluation was incomplete and that the completed parts used methods and assumptions unacceptable to the NRC. The documents obtained by UCS by FOIA substantiate his findings.

That the company used methods and assumptions unacceptable to the NRC is not speculation. The company conceded this point in a document it submitted to the NRC in December 2011. That document detailed the departures in its license amendment request from the NRC’s accepted protocols. The company did not identify a difference or two—it sent the NRC over 300 pages with several departures per page. Hence, there are literally hundreds of departures from the NRC’s accepted standards in the company’s evaluation of the Shoreline Fault.

It is clear and undeniable that Dr. Peck’s findings are correct: the company’s evaluation of the Shoreline Fault and its implications on safety at Diablo Canyon is incomplete and does not use methods and assumptions accepted by the NRC.

Dr. Peck concluded, based on these findings, that Diablo Canyon lacked proper justification for continuing to operate. He focused solely on the NRC’s regulations as they applied to Diablo Canyon.

NRC Is Treating Diablo Canyon Differently

For our Seismic Shift report, I researched four decades of history when the NRC, and its predecessor the Atomic Energy Commission, faced similar situations. In all prior cases, I found that the NRC/AEC did not allow nuclear facilities to operate with similar unresolved earthquake protection issues. For example, in March 1979—two weeks prior to the Three Mile Island accident—the NRC ordered a handful of nuclear power reactors to shut down and remain shut down until earthquake analysis and protection concerns were corrected.

Thus, Dr. Peck’s findings are irrefutable and his conclusion consistent with nearly four decades of precedents.

What is not clear is why Diablo Canyon continues to operate with inadequately evaluated protection against known earthquake hazards.

The NRC’s job is to establish and then enforce safety regulations to protect public health. It is simply not getting that job done at Diablo Canyon.

 

Posted in: Nuclear Power Safety Tags: , ,

About the author: Mr. Lochbaum received a BS in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Tennessee in 1979 and worked as a nuclear engineer in nuclear power plants for 17 years. In 1992, he and a colleague identified a safety problem in a plant where they were working. When their concerns were ignored by the plant manager, the utility, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), they took the issue to Congress. The problem was eventually corrected at the original plant and at plants across the country. Lochbaum joined UCS in 1996 to work on nuclear power safety. He spent a year in 2009-10 working at the NRC Training Center in Tennessee. Areas of expertise: Nuclear power safety, nuclear technology and plant design, regulatory oversight, plant license renewal and decommissioning

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  • Dr. John Miller

    Perhaps the NRC only does the right thing if you file your complaint on a Tuesday. Thus Dr. Peck erred if he filed his disagreements on any of the other 83% of the days, Wednesday through Monday. Silly boy.

  • Richard Solomon

    As a California resident who used to live about 90 miles from Diablo Canyon I am very concerned about the NRC’s lack of diligence in dealing with Diablo Canyon/PG&E more actively. I plan to forward this info to Senators Feinstein and Boxer in order to urge them to get more involved.

    Along with local residents, UCS, and other organizations Sen Feinstein refused to agree to San Onofre’s plan to re-open until it had fixed its problems with steam pipes that kept corroding very quickly. I hope she will do likewise with Diablo Canyon.

  • Hot and Dry in CA

    I generally find Mr. Lockbaum’s reviews to be sustantive,. In this case I believe he has written a drama, using his UCS paid platform in a manner that is inconsistent with the desire to resolve issues in a scientific, deliberative manner. For example, his FOIA request email ‘evidence’ is simply a peer summary of questions to be raised. For him to foist this as a fact and conclude that safety is in question is clearly inappropriate. Additionally, as I’m sure he is aware through his scrutiny of 4 decades of seismic deliberations, this is a evolving field with complexity well beyond the grasp of the average american liberal arts major. But having to expalin all that in blog posts is not conducive to generating donations.

    • NorskeDiv

      It’s not about substantive dangers. It’s about increasing demand for fracking gas. That’s it. Everything else is a smoke screen. Every nuclear plant shut down increases demand for natural gas. Notice that the nuclear fleet was stable during periods of high natural gas prices during the mid 2000s, now that the price is depressed the fracking industry is desperate to increase demand and will do it any way possible.

      • peakchoicedotorg

        The fracking industry is near or at peak for natural gas / shale gas, due to physical limits. Barnett shale near Fort Worth is past peak. Haynesville in LA / Ark. is past peak and on a sharp downslope. Fracked wells don’t last as long as conventional wells. It’s very unlikely that fracked gas flows can be increased, even if environmental considerations are ignored.

        Reactors are getting old and brittle. The best uranium ore in the USA has been mined (they’re going after lower quality ores for many minerals – “low hanging fruit”).

  • Denniswingo

    There are very few places in the U.S. that does not have an earthquake fault. The issue is whether or not it is currently active or could reasonably become so.

  • NorskeDiv

    More noise from the natural gas/fracking industry. Amazing you can even sleep at night. Just go ahead and switch us all over to gas and coal as Germany is doing, i’m tried of this slow drip drip. Get it over with already.

    • peakchoicedotorg

      We can’t increase nat. gas and coal for electricity even if we wanted to. Conventional nat. gas peaked in the USA in 1973. Coal combustion peaked in 1999. (In Pennsylvania, where coal use started, it peaked in 1920.)

      Fracking for nat. gas is near or at peak. Two of the three top areas for shale gas fracking have peaked, one is on a plateau the other is in sharp decline. Marcellus in Penn. has not yet peaked. Fracked wells deplete much faster than conventional wells.

      Germany’s use of coal peaked in the early 1940s.

      We will be using less electricity, efficiency and learning to live with less are our future.

  • Chuck from PDX

    Playing Russian Roulette with nuclear power plant safety is not what the nation expects of its nuclear watchdog agency. The NRC leadership and staff should be ashamed of their lack of integrity in this case. It may be politically uncomfortable for them to order a shutdown of the Diablo Canyon reactors until PG&E can prove that they meet earthquake standards, but that is exactly what they should do.

    The natural gas industry did not create the earthquake and tsunami that precipitated the accident in Fukushima, Japan three years ago. Blaming natural gas for nuclear power’s safety difficulties is a slight of hand trick that Californians won’t fall for – especially after the snafu in San Onofre. Nuclear power is not the answer to prevent climate change, as we now see in Japan which went from 29% nuclear for electricity generation in 2011 to zero today.

    • Chuck from PDX

      “sleight of hand trick” – dang those homonyms!

  • peakchoicedotorg

    It’s nice to see this, but it’s not a new story that Diablo Canyon is a “faulty” idea.

    Shut down or melt down.

    A meltdown at Diablo would contaminate the agriculture of the San Joaquin valley, one of the most productive food growing places in the world (at least during rainy years).

  • Joyce Agresta

    What is not clear is why Diablo Canyon continues to operate with inadequately evaluated protection against known earthquake hazards“.
    What is clear Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is a clear and ever present danger to the world. Any which way the wind blows. Helter Skeltor Power Plant Cover up>
    Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power plant .
    Always at the mercy of the next big one here in California always misinformed by the NRC we can only guess as to the reasons why. The NRC’s actions seem less predictable than the earthquakes of California.

    Bring in the three wise men when a remedy is more important than a scapegoat.

    There’s just no clear answer as to why the NRC torments California but the do, they have for decades. Right or right California feels nuclear power ,the waste and weapons it produces are detrimental to mankind. You know we get a bad vibe from all things Nuclear.
    One guess is the Nuclear industry sees the potential of the earthquake at Diablo Canyon as an opportunity to provide answers to what they don’t know about melt downs. Experiments perhaps even some nuclear triple point experiments similar to those now being conducted at Fukushima. How many 5000% probes does one need to cook a continetnt? or Inhabitants near the bulls eyed Diablo Canyon as human test subjects. It was going on yesterday and will be going on tomorrow. Ever wonder what’s in the catacombs of these monstrosities ?
    Californians have been educated in such a way that we don’t want need or desire Nuclear energy to feed the peace keeper bombs in any which way at all. Californians may well be a target of the Nuclear industry as we promote cleaner safer energy and show others the way of a nuclear free energy. Our sister state Nevada is also under constant threat of ruin by the nuclear industry. This is a Psychologically difficult life as one may imagine. Starts early. All the little kids better run run run … but where to?NRC chairman offered false make testimony in the bizarre historical congressional oversight committee early this year. Jan 30 2014 on this matter. Directly ignoring the verbal warnings of the honorable Senator Barbara Boxer. .. Any how the NRC lied to congress and peoples of the world on the matter in public hearing. The NRC and US Nuclear industry have rightfully lost credibility with the world.

    The history of Diablo Canyon plant being what it is some still veiled could only end well with immediate decommissioning.
    Keywords : Missing Cypriots 1974. Window 17 enigma