From Mothers for Peace
February 13, 2023
CALIFORNIA GROUPS TO PG&E: YOU CAN’T CUT CORNERS ON DIABLO CANYON EXTENSION
Following Successful Petition For NRC To Deny Request to Resume Diablo Canyon Renewal Application, Environmental Groups File New Response Asserting PG&E Request for Exemption to Operate Past 40-Year Lifespan Must be Denied.
SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA – FEBRUARY 13, 2023 – On January 24, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) denied a formal request by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to resume reviewing a 2009 license renewal application to extend the operating life of Diablo Canyon’s twin nuclear reactors, which the company withdrew in 2018. In conjunction, Petitioners San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (SLOMFP), Friends of the Earth (FoE), and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) today filed a new petition demanding that the NRC finish its legal obligation to keep Diablo Canyon on schedule to close its twin units in 2024 and 2025 and repudiate PG&E’s recent request for exemption from the “Timely Renewal Rule.”
According to the petitioners, PG&E has no lawful path to continued uninterrupted operation of the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors after its operating licenses expire in November 2024 (Unit 1) and August 2025 (Unit 2). Granting an exemption from this rule would force the NRC to cram the three-year safety and environmental review process and offer a public hearing into a mere ten months. The catalog of issues the NRC staff must review is so extensive that to cram a complex government review into the short ten-month period between the submission of the license renewal application and the expiration of the Unit 1 license would be difficult if not impossible. Completion of the NRC’s review process, including public hearings, is essential to assure that continued operation of the reactors will be safe for the public and the environment.
Diane Curran, legal counsel for Mothers for Peace, said: “There is absolutely no precedent for the exemption requested by PG&E. The NRC has never allowed a reactor to operate past its license expiration dates without thoroughly assessing the safety and environmental risks. And it must do so in this case too.”
Further, Curran observed that “it would be irrational and irresponsible for the NRC to permit PG&E to operate aging and deteriorating reactors encumbered by aging equipment risks, seismic risks and environmental impacts without a thorough environmental and safety review.”
“NRC’s recent decision to reject PG&E’s request to renew its outdated, withdrawn license renewal application gave us hope that the law is being properly and thoroughly applied to this risky decision,” said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director for Friends of the Earth. “An operating permit extension for any nuclear power plant has major implications for people and the planet. With Diablo Canyon receiving only minimal – if any – safety updates in decades, PG&E’s push to reduce the NRC’s review from several years to several months creates an especially deadly equation. Today’s filing clearly outlines why NRC must proceed with the utmost care and caution, as mandated by a federal law.”
Caroline Leary, an attorney for EWG, said: “PG&E argued to the NRC that its request for an exemption from federal regulations was necessitated by the California Legislature’s vote in favor of extending Diablo’s operation. But nothing in S.B. 846, the law passed by the Legislature, calls upon NRC to relax its safety or environmental regulations for the purpose of extending Diablo Canyon’s operation. In fact, the law relies on the NRC to ensure that if Diablo Canyon continues to operate, it will not put the public or the environment at risk.”
Just as the NRC stood its ground and upheld its own policies by denying PG&E’s request to resurrect its 2009 license renewal application, it should also deny PG&E’s request for an exemption of the timely renewal rule.
The NRC’s January 24 decision  affirmed recent arguments in the earlier petition by San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (SLOMFP), Friends of the Earth (FoE), and Environmental Working Group (EWG) that resuming review of PG&E’s withdrawn license renewal application would be unlawful. The organizations demanded successfully that the NRC deny PG&E’s October 31, 2022, request to resume review of the application.
The decision prevents PG&E from circumnavigating NRC regulations that require the company to file a new and up-to-date license renewal application, which would take 3-5 years. PG&E previously admitted that the application was severely outdated and could not be updated or completed until late 2023 – a year before the Unit 1 license term expires. It now appears that PG&E may have to close Diablo Canyon when its licenses expire in the fall 2024 (Unit 1) and spring 2025 (Unit 2) and keep them closed unless and until the NRC approves a new license renewal application.
Read the full letter here.