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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Pacific Gas & Electric get criticized in Senate hearing 

An overly cozy relationship between the nuclear industry and regulators, manipulated seismic assessments, and a refusal to provide documents to Congress were among the many criticisms lobbed at Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) during a Dec. 3 hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Speaking specifically about the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said there is an obvious choice: “You can either fix up the plant or you can suspend operation.”

Boxer referred to the NRC’S former senior resident inspector at Diablo Canyon, Michael Peck, who claims the plant is not in compliance with its license for seismic safety, and should be shut down while PG&E seeks a license amendment. Boxer heavily criticized the outgoing NRC commissioner and chair, Allison Macfarlane, over the issue. The NRC has disagreed with Peck and asserted that Diablo Canyon is properly licensed and safe to operate. Macfarlane reaffirmed that PG&E is in compliance, the plant is safe to operate, and if new information indicates it’s not safe “we will shut them down.”

But two witnesses who testified at the hearing—Daniel Hirsch, a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz; and Sam Blakeslee, a former Central Coast state senator and assemblyman—said they believe the NRC continues to give Diablo Canyon free passes.

“What’s transpired over the past years, and has accelerated over the last five years, is that with each progressive discovery of a new threat, the calculations of shaking from an earthquake have systematically gone down,” Blakeslee said.

Hirsch claimed that all the NRC and PG&E have done over time is change the numbers to give the appearance of safety.

“You can’t make the earthquake go away by changing the input assumptions on a piece of paper,” he testified.

Another witness, Anthony Pietrangelo of the Nuclear Energy Institute, denied such claims, and said the nuclear industry proactively implemented new safety policies in response to the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said in a statement to New Times, “As, the NRC confirmed in the hearing today, Diablo Canyon is being operated safely and is in compliance with its seismic licensing requirements.”

Jones added that ongoing seismic evaluations and recently completed advanced seismic research indicate the plant is still protected from the largest potential earthquake and those studies are undergoing an independent review at the state and federal levels.

Boxer concluded the hearing by saying that she was “very suspicious when you tell me they have changed their analysis of how much the plant will shake.

“This is scary, and I don’t want to overstate what I feel … but I do want to say, there’s a lot at stake here,” Boxer said.

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