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New Times / News

The following article was posted on December 24th, 2013, in the New Times - Volume 28, Issue 22 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 28, Issue 22

Capps grills NRC head over Diablo safety and transparency

BY MATT FOUNTAIN

Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps expressed some very pointed concerns about seismic safety at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to the head of the facility’s federal regulator.

What she got in response was essentially a “we’re looking into it.”

On Dec. 12, the Subcommittees on Energy & Power and Environment & the Economy held a joint hearing entitled “Oversight of NRC Management and the Need for Legislative Reform.” It was both a general oversight hearing, but also a review of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s new “Reorganization Plan.”

Capps brought up Dr. Michael Peck, the NRC’s former resident inspector at Diablo Canyon, who in June discussed with New Times his dispute with the agency over discrepancies in how the NRC was assessing Diablo’s safety standards in light of new seismic information (“Calculational garbage,” June 27). The agency has since disagreed with Peck’s assertions, which were filed in a non-concurrence report.

“Chairman Macfarlane, in light of Dr. Peck’s expert opinion, what is the NRC doing to ensure that the reactor is in compliance with the seismic safety requirements of its operating license?” Capps asked.

“The NRC’s view is that Diablo Canyon is in compliance,” Allison Macfarlane responded.

She added that the agency also assessed the newly discovered Shoreline Fault and found that the ground motion from a possible earthquake originating on the fault was within the design basis for the plant. The NRC has also mandated that all U.S. nuclear plants re-evaluate their seismic safety standards by March 2015, and that process at Diablo Canyon is ongoing.

Capps told Macfarlane that her brief responses to her concerns were “rather troubling,” in light of recent changes in NRC’s transparency policies, which limit the amount of access members of oversight committees have to sensitive agency documents.

“I am very troubled by these new policies that really preclude transparency from members of a committee with oversight to be able to ask directly for information,” Capps said. “I find the policy to be unacceptable.”

“I want to be clear here, we haven’t significantly changed our policy,” Macfarlane told Capps. “We will be as responsive and transparent as we ever were and certainly when you have concerns about a reactor in your district, we are going to respond as completely as possible.”

When Capps took Macfarlane to task on the policy, asking if she could read Peck’s non-concurrence report, Macfarlane responded, “I’ll have to check on that.”