NRC whistleblower reveals agency covering up US reactors vulnerability to earthquakes: FOE petitioning NRC for closure of Diablo Canyon
Michael Peck was the chief safety inspector for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) at the California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant for five years. The federal official made headlines when the Associated Press published internal NRC documents revealing Peck's warning that Diablo Canyon should be immediately shutdown pending an investigation into significant safety vulnerabilities to a large magnitude magnitude earthquake. More to his credit, Peck has been blowing the whistle for more than a year on what amounts to NRC malpractice where he witnessed the federal agency not enforcing its own earthquake safety requirements for code violations at the nuke. According to Peck, NRC staff and management have circumvented their own prescribed safety review process with an “alternative” analysis to OK inadequate earthquake qualification for the vulnerable reactors. The two-unit nuke is located near four known major earthquake faults and just 45 miles away from the San Andreas Fault. Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PGE) Diablo Canyon has led this country’s nuclear-earthquake controversy since its construction permit was issued in 1968. These concerns are significantly magnified by Japan’s March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed safety systems and caused the meltdowns of three of units at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
But Michael Peck’s “Differing Professional Opinion” filed with the NRC in July 2013 carefully documents that Diablo Canyon’s earthquake safety concerns became much bigger much earlier in 2008 with the discovery of a previously unidentified fault line that runs as close as 300 meters from the reactors’ safety-significant cooling water intake structure. The new seismic data projected earthquake scenarios for the Shoreline Fault and later the San Luis Bay Fault and the Los Osos Fault that are each capable of producing ground shaking forces greater than what Diablo Canyon safe shutdown systems are designed for. The San Luis Bay Fault analysis indicated that the nuke could experience vibratory motion that is 75% greater than Diablo Canyon’s design basis. These identified design non-compliances covered important reactor systems, structures and components that are required to maintain and contain reactor coolant, systems to safely shutdown the reactors following an earthquake, then keep the shutdown reactors cool to prevent a meltdown and other vital systems necessary to recover the reactor from earthquake damage without massive uncontrolled releases of radioactivity into the environment.
As described in his grievance on the dangerously inadequate action thus taken by the NRC, Inspector Peck’s findings led him to conclude, “The new seismic information resulted in a condition outside of the bounds of the existing Diablo Canyon design basis and safety analysis. Continued reactor operation outside the bounds of the NRC approved safety analyses challenges the presumption of nuclear safety.”
“The staff failed to enforce plant technical specification requirements to shut down the Diablo Canyon reactors,” said Peck. As the NRC's on-site inspector, Peck repeatedly tried to get the agency to take enforcement action to hold PGE accountable for submitting “incomplete and inaccurate information” to the agency on the vulnerability and for failure to meet “operability” requirements (failure to meet quality technical specifications and comply with safety regulations, codes and standards) contained within its licensing agreement, the Current Licensing Basis. NRC staff and management failed to follow the agency’s prescribed license amendment process for addressing licensee safety non-compliances and proposed fixes and changes. Without doing that required review, NRC dismissed Peck’s findings and reassigned him from his duties at Diablo Canyon. Peck is now pressing his grievances with NRC itself citing that the “NRC has failed to enforce quality requirements (Part 50, Appendix B) that required the licensee to take prompt action to correct the nonconforming safety analysis.”
The evidence now on record is sufficient enough to require the NRC to take enforcement action by ordering PGE to promptly make expensive retrofits at Diablo Canyon to bring the nuclear power plant up to the codes and standards contained within its operating license agreement. However, Inspector Peck has revealed that his agency is more interested in protecting PGE's financial bottom line than taking up the public safety frontline on the off chance the next large earthquake won't be under Diablo Canyon.
The NRC's first and primary obligation is to assure the safe operation and reliable shutdown capability of the nation's reactors, not extending the industry's production agenda or protecting its finances. The DPO carefully details the agency's deliberate effort to avoid executing its safety mandate at the earthquake prone and vulnerable Diablo Canyon reactors in order to protect PGE from exorbidently expensive repairs that will economically force plant closure.
Friends of the Earth (FOE) is circulating a sign-on petition to NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane requesting her to promptly shut Diablo Canyon.