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PG&E dogged over Diablo relicensing 

Members of the state’s main energy policy and planning agency spoke out against the decision by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to apply to renew the company’s operating license for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant before addressing their concerns.

The topic came up at a Dec. 16 California Energy Commission (CEC) hearing in Sacramento for the adoption of he 2009 Integrated Energy Policy Report, which outlines and analyzes energy-related issues affecting the state. CEC Vice Chair James Boyd chastised PG&E and contrasted their behavior with that of Southern California Edison Co., which operates the nuclear generating station in San Onofre. 

“I’m very disappointed … with what PG&E has done,” CEC Vice Chair James Boyd said at the hearing. “I think now it’s time to single out Edison for their statement of wanting to collaborate and cooperate on all the commitments while another utility has chosen to … kind of go around behind us.

“I can’t speak for Commissioner [Jeffrey] Byron, but I for one know there was great disappointment with that action,” Boyd said. “But we’ll address it in due time.”

On Nov. 24, PG&E held a press conference in Avila Beach to announce it had applied to renew its license with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the federal agency that oversees the safe use and storage of nuclear materials. The announcement came after the company recently wrapped up a feasibility study for the renewal, which cost $16.8 million between 2007 and 2009, according to PG&E spokesperson Jane Oliviera.

The findings of that study have yet to be released to the public or the state, raising questions of whether local concerns—including waste storage and safety in light of the recent discovery of a seismic fault less than a mile offshore from the plant—will be addressed.

According to Oliviera, the study findings will be released to the CEC and the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) early next year. Should the study not satisfy the state agencies, Byron indicated the CEC hasn’t given up the possibility of litigation against PG&E. What that litigation could be, however, remains unclear.

“So far, I have not heard specifically,” CEC spokesperson Susan Garfield said, “but the commissioners and staff are working together and discussing what the best steps are in moving forward with this.”

According to PG&E spokesperson Emily Archer, the CPUC in 2007 recommended that the company apply for the renewal up to 10 years before the deadline. Combined with the four years required for the NRC review process, Archer said PG&E is about right on schedule.

“It think it’s important to note that seeking a license extension is a multiyear process,” Archer told New Times. “I know CEC is concerned about safety, but the seismic safety is independent of license renewal because it’s something we look at on a continual basis.”

Members of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, a consumer watchdog group that predicted in a 2007 report to the CPUC that PG&E would use the feasibility study as a way to seek renewal without CEC and CPUC review, also attended the hearing. According to the alliance’s outreach coordinator, David Weisman, who spoke at the hearing, states’ rights are at the heart of the issue.

“People are perplexed and bewildered at this decision by PG&E,” Weisman told New Times after the hearing. “This just flies in the face of the CEC, and we’re wondering when, if ever, they will address these very legitimate concerns.”

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