Diablo Canyon: PG&E secretly used wrong design data for key safety equipment for 30 years

Press release from Friends of the Earth

Utility misled California PUC, seeks to pocket $133.5 million in ratepayer revenues

SAN FRANCISCO – Pacific Gas & Electric Co. used incorrect earthquake and accident data when building crucial safety equipment for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, according to information released by Senator Barbara Boxer. Friends of the Earth said the revelation suggests that PG&E has acted with gross negligence and that the twin-reactor plant on California’s Central Coast should be immediately shut down pending a public investigation.

Correspondence from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission — released by Sen. Boxer in a recent hearing and reported Sunday on Page 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle (PDF) — shows that since Diablo Canyon’s first reactor came online in 1984, PG&E failed to use updated seismic and loss-of-coolant-accident data, known as LOCA loads, for replacement equipment. Failure of such equipment in an earthquake could lead to a catastrophic release of radiation. PG&E should have used new data after a previously unknown fault, the Hosgri, was discovered during initial construction, but violated its federal operating license by failing to use the updated data in conjunction with loss of cooling accident data in designing and constructing replacement steam generators and reactor vessel heads for the reactors.

In 2011, PG&E notified the NRC of its decades-long negligence, but incredibly, the NRC failed to cite PG&E for any infraction. Instead NRC and PG&E worked together to secretly and illegally alter the plant’s operating license in September 2013. Friends of the Earth has a case pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals asking that the illegal license revision be thrown out and that Diablo Canyon be shut pending public review to determine whether or not the reactors can withstand the forces of newly identified earthquake faults that surround the plant.

Instead of addressing its malfeasance, PG&E launched an internal effort to try to show that despite using the wrong design data, the equipment it had installed was OK. PG&E has asked the California Public Utilities Commission for $133.5 million from ratepayers for what it calls a “Licensing Basis Verification Program.” The utility did not explain that they were asking to bill their customers for a paper exercise to cover up its negligence in the faulty design of well over $1 billion worth of equipment, also paid by customers.

Since the Hosgri Fault was discovered, new research has revealed that at least four faults surrounding Diablo Canyon are capable of causing earthquakes more powerful than the reactors were designed to withstand The plant’s former NRC senior resident inspector, Dr. Michael Peck, warned last year that the increased risks from earthquakes meant that the plant was operating outside of its license and should be shut pending review — a warning that came before the revelations about PG&E’s use of outdated safety data.

“This shows gross negligence by PG&E and a shameful lack of oversight by federal regulators,” said Damon Moglen, senior strategic advisor to Friends of the Earth. “It’s terrifying to think that for 30 years PG&E used the wrong numbers for vital equipment at the U.S. reactors most at risk from earthquakes.”

“No one would dream of putting nuclear reactors in that location today,” Mogen said. “Diablo Canyon should never have been constructed in the first place, and now it is clear it should not be allowed to operate another day. Diablo Canyon must be shut down now, and there should be both state and federal investigations into PG&E’s negligence.”

Dave Freeman, former head of the federal Tennessee Valley Authority, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, said PG&E’s negligence fits the utility’s pattern of cutting corners on safety, which led to the fatal gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno in 2010.

“There they go again,” said Freeman, now senior energy advisor to Friends of the Earth. “Just as with San Bruno, PG&E has again put profits before safety, has misused ratepayers’ money and misled state regulators at the PUC.”

Expert Contact: Damon Moglen, (202) 352-4223, dmoglen@foe.org

Communications Contacts: Bill Walker, (510) 759-9911, bw.deadline@gmail.com (West Coast)  Adam Russell, (202) 222-0722, arussell@foe.org (East Coast)

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http://www.foe.org/news/news-releases/2015-03-diablo-pge-secretly-used-wrong-data-for-safety-equipment#sthash.8DQl1ReI.dpuf

San Francisco Chronicle article:
http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/PG-E-overlooked-key-seismic-test-at-Diablo-Canyon-6
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U.S. utility regulators recommend nuclear power as clean and asks EPA to incentivize nuclear reactor construction

Today the professional association of public utility regulators in the U.S. — the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) – approved several resolutions during their annual conference in San Francisco.
http://www.naruc.org/Resolutions/14%201119%20NARUC%20Board%20Substantive%20Resolutions%20Packet.pdf

One of these resolutions is about nuclear power. This resolution advances the interests of the nuclear power industry.

Astonishingly, it states

“In the absence of a public safety or environmental concern, the premature shutdown of these valuable assets may cause economic, social, reliability and environmental harm to families and businesses”.

The public utility commissioners ignored all the safety issues and problems from these plants. That is shocking. Was the accelerating Fukushima disaster even mentioned in their deliberations? What about the harm from not shutting down these plants and from the new ones they plan to build?

This resolution, directed to the Environmental Protection Agency, now represents the official position of the utility regulatory commissions in the United States.

For more information on this conference, here is the conference schedule of workshops and presenters
http://www.narucmeetings.org/MeetingPrograms/2014AnnualProgram.pdf
and the list of attendees
http://annual.narucmeetings.org/registrants.cfm?orderby=3

Though these are state officials supposedly working for the public, the conference is almost exclusively a conference of the commissions and the industry.

For an article on this conference –
http://smartmeterharm.org/2014/11/16/u-s-public-utility-regulators-in-san-francisco-nov-15-19-for-annual-conference-with-industry/

Note: “Baseload power” is an energy industry term for energy that is dependable and constant “all-the-time-on” power. Currently, that comes from coal, natural gas, nuclear, oil. To flip on a light switch and have the light always turn on requires baseload power. Wind and solar power are not baseload, because they are variable and undependable.

EL-1 Resolution Recognizing the Importance of Nuclear Power in Meeting Greenhouse Gas Goals

WHEREAS, Reliable, clean and affordable electricity is vital to local, State, and national economic growth, jobs, and the overall interests of citizens; and

WHEREAS, As demonstrated during the Polar Vortex of 2014, maintaining reliability and fuel diversity; while ensuring compliance with proposed carbon reduction rules, are common challenges for our States and we jointly recognize the need to maintain the existing, baseload nuclear generation fleet; and

WHEREAS, Nuclear power plants provide approximately 20% of the nation’s total electricity generation, and can provide carbon-free electricity for decades into the future; and

WHEREAS, On June 2, 2014, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued proposed regulations for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan, in which EPA identified the avoidance of the retirement of existing nuclear capacity as one of the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER) methods;[i]1and

WHEREAS, EPA states in its proposed regulations that policies “that…discourage premature retirement of nuclear capacity could be useful elements of GHG reduction strategies and are consistent with current industry behavior;” [ii] and

WHEREAS, Nuclear energy has played a substantial role in the achievement of existing GHG State or regional emission reduction goals to date, and continued operation of nuclear power plants is vital to States’ ability to economically meet new federal regulations, and provides an essential tool to manage risks associated with potential GHG emissions reduction requirements; and

WHEREAS, In the absence of a public safety or environmental concern, the premature shutdown of these valuable assets may cause economic, social, reliability and environmental harm to families and businesses; and

WHEREAS, The United States Department of Energy, grid operators, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) commissioners have cautioned that the premature shutdown of nuclear power plants could jeopardize both the nation’s electric reliability and the ability to timely address climate change; and

WHEREAS, The EPA’s proposed GHG regulations for existing power plants would lower a State’s allowed GHG emissions rate by counting approximately 6 percent of its nuclear capacity as being “at risk” and including this zero-carbon energy in the goal-setting formula, leading to lower (more stringent) emission rate targets for States that have nuclear power plants; and

WHEREAS, The EPA’s proposed rule treats new nuclear power plants under construction as though they are already operating, and uses their output in the rate-setting formula, which drives down the States’ emission rate goals, and

WHEREAS, State commission actions to approve the uprating of existing nuclear power plants or the siting of new nuclear power plants have and will play a substantial role in GHG emissions reduction goals; now, therefore be it

RESOLVED, That the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, convened at its 126th Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California, urges the EPA, to the extent it regulates carbon from existing power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, to adopt final GHG rules and regulations that: 1) will encourage States to preserve, life-extend, and expand existing nuclear generation; and 2) remove the generic approximately 6 percent at-risk nuclear and nuclear under construction from the calculation of State-specific emissions targets; and be it further

RESOLVED, That, to the extent the EPA regulates carbon from existing power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, that States may include in compliance plans and thus receive emissions credit related to all output of new nuclear capacity (including uprates of existing plants) that begins operating after the issuance date of the proposed rule.

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Sponsored by the Committee on Electricity

Recommended by the NARUC Board of Directors November 18, 2014

Adopted by the NARUC Committee of the Whole November 19, 2014

 

[i] ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, 40 CFR Part 60, [EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602; RIN 2060-AR33, Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units, June 2, 2014, at p. 114.

 

[ii] Id., at p. 151-152