Wednesday, February 21 , 2018, 10:48 pm | Fair 42º


Local News

County Supervisors Hear from NRC Experts on Safety of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

Representatives try to assure the board that the facility continues to meet all standards, but supervisors and the public express concern

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors held a special meeting Thursday to discuss safety at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in Avila Beach.

Experts from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission briefed the supervisors on their assessment of safety at the plant. The NRC is an independent federal agency that licenses and regulates civilian use of nuclear materials. While the panel of NRC experts stood behind the safety of the Diablo Canyon plant, some supervisors and members of the public remained skeptical.

Anthony Vegel, division director of reactor safety for Region IV, presented the NRC’s findings on the safety of the Diablo Canyon facility. He said that during 2010, the NRC performed more than 3,000 hours of inspection at the plant and found it to be running within safety standards.

Because of the plant’s proximity to several faults, the NRC requires a long-term seismic program to evaluate its ability to withstand earthquakes. The NRC is in the process of reviewing data, collected by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in 2008, that evaluates the nearby shoreline fault. Monitoring and 3-D mapping of nearby faults is an ongoing process by PG&E. Currently, Diablo Canyon is rated to withstand a 7.5-magnitude quake, and because of its location 85 feet above sea level, Vegel said it is also less vulnerable to a tsunami.

He also touched on the NRC’s actions in response to the disaster that occurred at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. After the catastrophic events at the Fukushima plant, Vegel said, the NRC performed two inspections of all plants in the United States to assess their ability to respond to similar major losses of function. The second of those inspections rated the Diablo Canyon plant’s capabilities in responding to accidents more extensive than for which they were designed.

“Following both inspections, NRC inspectors reported that overall there were no significant safety issues,” Vegel said, “and we feel confident that plants have available the resources and procedures needed to respond to catastrophic events and safely shut down the reactor.”

Vegel reported that after the inspections, the NRC remains confident that U.S. plants are safe, noting that critical functions would still be available even if a plant were not in normal working order. He added that NRC inspectors live near and work in nuclear plants, to ensure the plants are operated safely and maintain proper inspections.

Resident Jeff Bard defended the NRC and said having a “vendetta” against the Diablo Canyon plant is counterproductive.
Resident Jeff Bard defended the NRC and said having a “vendetta” against the Diablo Canyon plant is counterproductive. (Nick St. Oegger / Noozhawk photo)

“The bottom line is, there is no room for complacency, and we remain attentive and focused on protecting the public,” he said.

However, county Supervisor Salud Carbajal raised concerns about being able to trust the NRC’s evaluation, in the wake of what happened with Japan’s Fukushima plant. He suggested that a third-party evaluator, who could verify findings of both PG&E and the NRC, would do much to quell public fear of the nuclear facility.

Supervisor Janet Wolf emphasized that whatever happens at Diablo Canyon has a direct effect on Santa Barbara County. She noted that the NRC inspection found gas accumulating in a U connection at the plant, and that buildup of hydrogen gas had caused explosions at the Fukushima plant.

Vegel responded by noting that the gas buildup in the Diablo plant was a mixture of nitrogen and air — and, consequently, nonexplosive. He said the NRC found no violations that needed immediate remediation.

During public comment, some residents expressed concern about the dangers of the Diablo Canyon plant and the wasteful use of nuclear energy.

Brian Rosen suggested that Americans could erase the need for nuclear power with greater energy efficiency. He said the public’s opinion on nuclear power has not been respected.

“Some of the biggest demonstrations in the state have been against nuclear power, and we’re having it forced down our throats by big government,” he said.

Korean War veteran Ron Dexter shared similar thoughts. He said the nation as a whole is suffering from the cost of wars abroad, and that the nation can do without the added cost of nuclear power. He emphasized less reliance on “constant 70-degree temperatures” and smarter use of energy.

Not all public speakers were against the use of nuclear power.

Jeff Bard spoke of how he worked in an environment with radon gas and other chemicals, and trusted the safety standards put forth by his union to protect him. He empathized with those who suffer from illnesses caused by exposure to chemicals, but said that having a “vendetta” against Diablo Canyon would not help anyone.

Noozhawk intern Nick St.Oegger can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of his photography. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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