California's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant reacts to Japan's disaster

For many, 2011 will be remembered as the year of Fukushima.

On March 11, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck Japan. The powerful quake coupled with a large tsunami that followed overwhelmed the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, crippling four of its six reactors, causing radiation releases and leading to the evacuation of 80,000 people near the plant.

The accident left many residents of San Luis Obispo County wondering whether a similar accident would be possible at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, located along California’s earthquake-prone Central Coast. It also greatly intensified calls for PG&E to suspend plans to renew the plant’s two operating licenses until a thorough seismic investigation of the earthquake faults around the plant is completed.

In June, the utility and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission bowed to the pressure, and the relicensing request was suspended, pending completion of the seismic studies. Now, December 2015 is the earliest Diablo Canyon could be relicensed.

Similarly, the state Public Utilities Commission has closed a request by PG&E to recoup $85 million from ratepayers to pay for relicensing.

“We can now focus on making sure the seismic studies are well designed and independently peer-reviewed at every step of the way,” said Rochelle Becker of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, which urged the Public Utilities Commission to close the request rather than just suspend it.

PG&E has finished two of three years of intense seismic fieldwork focusing on the four major faults around the plant — the Hosgri, Shoreline, San Luis Bay and Los Osos faults. Two-dimensional onshore and offshore surveys have been completed.

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