PG&E Loses Nuke Battle 

A judge rules that the public utility can't pass on to ratepayers the costs of relicensing Diablo Canyon

California may be one step closer to becoming a nuclear-free state. Last week, a California Public Utilities Commission judge ruled that PG&E may not use ratepayer funds to finance the mandatory federal relicensing process of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The operating licenses for the two reactors at Diablo Canyon will expire in 2024 and 2025. Because relicensing is a time-consuming and costly process, the utility had hoped to shift it entirely onto customer's bills.

Two years ago the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility (A4NR) filed suit against PG&E pointing out that the utility was flouting a 2006 law that directs the California Energy Commission to assess the vulnerability of the state's nuclear power plants to a disaster due to a major seismic event or plant aging. Because these seismic studies will not be complete until 2015, PG&E must now effectively abandon the option of passing the buck on to ratepayers.

"PG&E has known all along what our state expected them to do, and has flaunted those orders, wasting time and money in the process," said Rochelle Becker of A4NR. "We'd already know by now whether the seismic footing at the Diablo Canyon site was secure. Instead, it took the unavoidable public scrutiny that arose after PG&E's San Bruno explosion and the Fukushima meltdowns to shed light on their inaction."

The threat posed by earthquakes and tsunamis was made obvious by Japan's Fukushima disaster. Authorities now predict it will take forty years to "clean up" the Fukushima Daiichi plant, a disaster that must permanently be managed, costing Japan many hundreds of billions of dollars.

The issue of seismic risk at Diablo Canyon is just as much about economic security as it is about public safety, said David Weisman, the outreach coordinator of A4NR. "When the CPUC granted PG&E their original funding permit in 1967, nobody checked or verified the seismic assertions made by PG&E or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and as a result, ratepayers later forked over billions of dollars for costly seismic retrofit blunders at the reactors," Weisman explained. "We can't afford that again."

What's known today is that one fault capable of delivering a magnitude 7.5 quake sits 2.5 miles offshore of Diablo Canyon. Experts had said for years that the Hosgri Fault is no danger, even though it was discovered well after Diablo Canyon's permitting, and the start of construction. In addition, the Shoreline Fault was discovered in 2008 just a mile offshore from the power plant.

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