DIABLO CANYON UNIT #1 MUST BE TESTED BEFORE REFUELING



DIABLO CANYON UNIT #1 MUST BE TESTED BEFORE REFUELING
Harvey Wasserman for PG&E Shareholders for Diablo Safety (PSDS)
[ also posted on LA Progressive ]

PG&E Shareholders for Diablo Safety (PSDS)

We ask that critical safety tests be done during the upcoming refueling outage at Diablo Canyon Unit One, currently scheduled to start February 3, before new fuel is loaded into the core.

This shutdown provides the perfect opportunity to examine the facility without unduly halting operations. We do not ask that the reactor be permanently closed – only that it be tested to prove it is safe to restart, The proposed insertion of a new fuel rod assembly at Unit One will cost PG&E an estimated $50-100 million. 

If tests prove the Unit unsafe, this expenditure will waste millions to which, by law, creditors and catastrophe victims now have claim in bankruptcy court. Before Unit One is reloaded with nuclear fuel, the key evaluations must be finished and subjected to public hearings.

The final restart decision must be made by the state. 

The state, CPUC, unions, local community and some environmental groups recently made a deal with PG&E that it would not seek license renewals for Units One & Two in 2024-2025, thus guaranteeing the plant would then shut.  PG&E agreed to retrain many of its workers, and admitted that the power could be replaced with renewables.

Here are several key issues that arise with this refueling outage:

1. EMBRITTLEMENT:  In 2005 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission warned that Diablo Unit One was among the five most embrittled reactors in the US.  Because the internals of all atomic reactors are subjected to intense intense heat, pressure and radiation, critical metals and welds can lose their resiliency.  Should cold water be poured in to contain a runaway reaction, embrittled components can shatter, leading to catastrophe.  The degree of embrittlement at Unit One can be easily and cheaply tested while it is down for refueling using “coupons” (bits of metal inserted into key parts of the reactor for precisely this purpose) for destructive analysis.  Note that Unit One was built with an inordinate amount of copper, which may make it more vulnerable than most to embrittlement.  The test results must be made public and subjected to a public hearing. 

2.   COMPONENT CRACKING:  All reactor pressure vessels and other key components can develop cracks under the high temperatures, pressure and radiation involved in a fission reaction.  Unit One’s age makes it imperative that ultra-sound devices be deployed to inspect the reactor’s internals.  Such tests can be done relatively easily and cheaply while the reactor is shut.  Again, the findings must be made public and subjected to open hearings. 

3.  DEFERRED MAINTENANCE:  Since perhaps as early as 2010, PG&E has been deferring key repairs and component replacements on the assumption that Diablo would close no later than its 2025 license expiration.  It’s imperative the state, bankruptcy court and public see exactly what PG&E has not done and does not plan to do in the six years remaining on its license.

4. WASTE MANAGEMENT:  Cracking and mishandling of dry casks and other issues at other nuclear sites, including San Onofre, make essential a full evaluation of waste management issues at Diablo.  In particular, it appears PG&E plans to store Diablo’s extremely radioactive spent fuel arrays in Holtec casks that are less than one inch thick.  By contrast, Germany stores its spent fuel assemblies in casks that are 19 inches thick.  This demands public scrutiny. 

5.  SEISMIC VULNERABILITY:  A dozen earthquake faults have been discovered surrounding Diablo since Unit One was designed.  NRC site inspector Dr. Michael Peck, in residence at Diablo for five years, has warned the reactors might not withstand a credible quake.  Dr. Peck’s initial memo was buried by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and he was transferred to Tennessee.  However, he has written publicly about his concerns.  Note that Diablo is half the distance from the San Andreas fault as was Fukushima from the epicenter of the quake that destroyed it.  Dr. Peck must be publicly debriefed and the seismic issues at Diablo subjected to an open hearing before Unit One is reloaded.

6. PG&E’S COMPETENCE:  PG&E is entering bankruptcy while implicated in eight deaths in San Bruno, unimaginable destruction in northern California, and much more.  The company’s financial and managerial abilities to operate a large nuclear facility like Diablo are in serious question. The imminent $50-100 million installation of  a new fuel rod assembly must be stopped, at least until there is proof Unit One is safe, to protect the legitimate claims of the bankrupt utility’s shareholders, creditors, and catastrophe victims.

The company must now depend on the state for massive legal and financial assistance. In return, the state has every right and responsibility to take charge of the safety challenges at Diablo, and to make the final decision as to whether it is safe to re-start after the upcoming outage. 

The above-mentioned issues do not relate to whether one supports or opposes nuclear power.  They simply address the mechanical ability of the state’s largest power generator to operate safely. 

7. USEFUL?  At this point California is awash in electric power supply and probably does not need Diablo’s capacity.  Nor is it likely the electricity produced at Diablo can economically compete with the onrush of renewables.  In fact, PG&E has admitted all Diablo’s power can be replaced with available renewables.  Furthermore, because it cannot easily shut and restart to meet fluctuating demand, Diablo’s presence on the grid can be a burden, resulting in the shutdown of renewable facilities from time to time.

Before Unit One is re-loaded with fuel, the state and bankruptcy court must hold public hearings to evaluate whether there is any economic need re-start Unit One.

We have written Governor Newsom with these concerns, and are contacting other elected officials, the California Public Utilities Commission, state commissions, the bankruptcy court and others.

The decision on loading new fuel into Diablo #1 must be made by the public and its representatives in a way that best serves all of our long-term interests.  We are dedicated to making that happen.

Harvey Wasserman for PG&E Shareholders for Diablo Safety (PSDS)
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