The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday approved a full-power operating license for the second unit at the twin-reactor Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo.
The commission's 4-1 vote, the latest in a series needed to bring the controversial $5.6-billion plant to 100% production of electricity, was immediately assailed by the San Luis Obispo-based Mothers for Peace. The group served notice that it will go to court to block issuance of the license, just as it did last August when it filed suit challenging the commission's licensing of Unit 1.
Unit 1, which produces 1.1 million kilowatts of electricity for more than 1 million Pacific Gas & Electric customers in Northern and Central California, began commercial operation in May. Nevertheless, a hearing is scheduled Oct. 3 before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington on the Mothers for Peace petition contesting that license.
The environmental group has argued that the license was approved without a public hearing to determine how an earthquake could disrupt plans to evacuate the area in the event of a radiation emergency. The plant, situated on the coast at Avila Beach, is three miles from an active earthquake fault.
"We're in double jeopardy with two plants operating in full power," Mothers for Peace activist Sandy Silver said in a telephone interview following approval of the license for Unit 2.
"We feel that Unit 2 was licensed illegally, just as Unit 1. They've not only compounded their legal error but they have compounded the danger that we in the community have to live under," Silver added.
PG&E said it plans to begin 10 days of low-power tests on Unit 2 within the next two weeks, but no precise date has been set. Commercial operation of the second reactor is scheduled to begin late this year.
In Washington, where the commission met, PG&E Executive Vice President George Maneatis said, "I wish to assure the commission that Unit 2 is ready in every respect to receive its full-power license."
Commissioner James Asselstine, in casting the only vote against the license, said the commission should have first settled earthquake questions before giving the go-ahead.
Asselstine, who also opposed licensing the plant's first reactor a year ago, questioned the adequacy of various studies showing that the plant could safely withstand a large quake.
"It just makes things worse to have two units operating than just one," he said. "It's not the licensee's fault that those concerns have not been resolved; it's the commission's."
Jack Martin, head of the NRC's West Coast office, told the commissioners that as of June 30, there have been 1,720 allegations of irregularities received for the two units, and that 579 were still being processed.
"None were of types to demand investigation and resolution prior to decision making (on the license)," Martin said. He added that about a dozen problems serious enough to be reported to the NRC occurred at Unit 1, and two at Unit 2 since April.