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Critics allege the Diablo Canyon seismic studies lacked proper review 

Local ratepayer advocacy group the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility has asked the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to partially deny Pacific Gas and Electric's (PG&E) request to recoup $7 million from ratepayers for seismic studies of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

According to an opening brief filed Oct. 3, the alliance accused PG&E of sidestepping an Independent Peer Review Panel (IPRP) that was formed to review the ongoing seismic studies at Diablo Canyon. Alliance attorney John Geesman requested in the 40-page brief that the CPUC not allow PG&E to recoup more than half of the $7 million from ratepayers, and split the cost between ratepayers and company shareholders.

“The incorrigible quality of PG&E’s efforts to evade regulatory compliance, and the culture rot that pervades so many of its interactions with the Commission should give all Californians pause,” Geesman concluded. “ … Adequate evaluation of the seismic hazard at Diablo Canyon requires the robust engagement of the IPRP, and the Commission’s decision in this proceeding should reflect that commitment.”

On Sept. 10, PG&E publicly released the findings of its ongoing seismic studies, which concluded that Diablo Canyon is “built to withstand the strongest potential earthquakes in the region.” The company has been accused of releasing the information as a public-relations maneuver, both because of the nearly simultaneous release of a favorable report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and because the company released its findings without giving the IPRP prior review.

The alliance alleges that PG&E effectively dropped the IPRP from the later process of the seismic studies—citing email exchanges between company officials—and released its studies without giving IPRP members the two months prior review they had anticipated. Additionally, the alliance referred to the ongoing scandal involving email exchanges between PG&E and CPUC officials following the San Bruno explosions, and alleges those emails indicate a wider corporate culture that is dismissive of regulatory oversight.

“Faith has been so shaken now that any attempt at obfuscation of oversight … just deserves every measure of citizen and ratepayer oversight that can be mustered,” Alliance Outreach Coordinator David Weisman told New Times.

PG&E, however, has balked at claims that it subverted the IPRP, and company officials have drawn a clear line between the gas division of PG&E involved in criminal prosecution and the nuclear division.

“PG&E is following the established review process for the research as set forth by our regulators,” PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said in a statement to New Times and other media. “The research will now be peer-reviewed by the Independent Peer Review Panel. This panel weighed in on how the studies would be performed and now—per the state’s direction—will review the findings.”

He added, “Making the seismic studies report public is aligned with PG&E’s commitment to keep the community informed on important issues. Publishing this report does not conclude our efforts to continuously study and update our understanding of the seismicity surrounding Diablo Canyon.”

Eric Greene with the CPUC Energy Division said the IPRP will review PG&E’s findings over the next six to eight months. The IPRP is scheduled to hold a public meeting on Oct. 23, beginning at 1 p.m. in San Francisco.

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