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Inspector: Close California nuclear plant for quake tests

By: Barani Krishnan |

A federal nuclear inspector urged U.S. regulators to shut down a California nuclear power plant until tests showed its reactors could withstand shocks from nearby earthquake faults, according to the Associated Press and an environmental group.

Michael Peck’s call to close the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County was in a report he made to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2013, AP reported yesterday, a day after a strong earthquake shook California’s Napa Valley region.

Peck was the lead on-site inspector for five years at Diablo Canyon, which has two reactors designed to produce 18,000 gigawatts an hour of electricity annually, or 7 percent of California’s electricity use. It is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Peck’s report concludes that the nearby Shoreline, Los Osos and San Luis Bay fault systems are capable of producing ground motions that exceed the plant’s safe shutdown precautions, according to AP, which said it had verified the authenticity of the report.

According to Peck’s analysis, no one knows whether the facility can withstand strong shaking from those faults — the potential for which was realized decades after the facility was built, AP said, citing the report.

Continuing to run the reactors, Peck writes, “challenges the presumption of nuclear safety,” the AP reported.

Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that wants Diablo Canyon closed, posted what it said was Peck’s report on its website yesterday. It did not say how it had obtained it.

“The NRC knows that Diablo Canyon’s two reactors are the most vulnerable to earthquakes in the United States, but the agency has failed to heed Dr. Peck’s repeated warnings,” Friends of the Earth said. “Dr. Peck’s dissent argues that Diablo Canyon is operating outside the conditions of its license and should be shut down until PG&E can prove that the reactors can withstand potential earthquakes on these faults.”

Both the NRC and PG&E previously have said that Diablo Canyon complies with earthquake safety standards.

PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said the Diablo Canyon plant was built to withstand the largest potential earthquakes in the region and the NRC “has exhaustively analyzed this issue.”