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Nuclear advocates, key stakeholders respond to Diablo Canyon inspection failures

Flickr/Tracey Adams

A report out Monday on safety inspections at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County identified failures by inspectors from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to appropriately identify several issues at the facility.

Now nuclear energy advocates and regulators are responding to the report.

One of Diablo Canyon’s nuclear reactors was shut down for eight days in July of 2020 at the same time as a leak occurred in the backup water cooling system, which has since been fixed.

The Office of Inspector General for the NRC then launched an investigation to understand the cause of the leak, which led to the findings in Monday’s report. It shows that facility inspectors failed to identify degraded piping insulation on the plant’s auxiliary feedwater system in April of 2020, which led to the leak three months later.

PG&E Spokesperson Suzanne Hosn told KCBX News the leak was repaired and the system returned to service after thorough inspection. She said the plant has a long-standing record of safe operation.

Still, Central Coast Congressman Salud Carbajal is calling this oversight “unsettling and unacceptable.”

“The negligence detailed in this report will erode the public trust and confidence in those who are tasked with keeping everyone safe,” Carbajal said.

The report said Diablo Canyon does meet regulatory requirements and continues to operate safely.

In a statement to KCBX News, the NRC’s Senior Public Affairs Officer Victor Dricks said they are reviewing the report and will take appropriate action if needed. He said public safety was never endangered because of this incident.

Heather Hoff works at Diablo Canyon Power Plant and founded the nuclear advocacy group Mothers for Nuclear in 2016. The group is working to keep the plant open past its planned decommissioning in 2025.

Speaking on behalf of Mothers for Nuclear, Hoff said the report comes at a sensitive time in the debate over nuclear energy and, although it sounds alarming, the leak was never a safety issue.

“Any time you say, ‘Oh there was a leak at a nuclear power plant,’ that sounds scary," Hoff said. "So we have to acknowledge that — and it’s a right to have that emotion —but scary and dangerous aren’t the same thing.”

Hoff said she believes nuclear is a safe and clean energy source, and she hopes people look at what she calls the big picture.

“Small failures like this really don’t have an impact on the overall reliability of Diablo Canyon as a power plant,” Hoff said.

A representative from the American Nuclear Society confirmed that a leak like this is not an immediate public safety concern, given the redundancy of the systems.

Congressman Carbajal is urging the NRC to hold its inspectors accountable for “breaking protocol.” He also plans to formally ask NRC leaders to detail what went wrong during the inspections and how they will enforce safety regulations until Diablo Canyon closes.

Note: KCBX News updated this story to clarify that Heather Hoff's statements are made on behalf of the nuclear advocacy group Mothers for Nuclear. She is not a representative of Diablo Canyon Power Plant's operator PG&E.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.