NRC Didn’t Need Diablo Quake Hearing, Court Says

From Times Wire Services

A divided federal appeals court ruled Friday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not have to hold a hearing on the danger from potential earthquakes before issuing a license to operate the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant on the central California coast.

“The probability of any size earthquake occurring in San Luis Obispo in any given year is about one in 50,” said the majority opinion by Judge Robert Bork affirming a lower court decision. “The probability that the two events (an earthquake and nuclear accident) will occur contemporaneously in a single week during the life of the plant is approximately one in 6.5 million.”

Claim Rejected

The 5-4 majority of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said there is no merit to the claim by Mothers for Peace, a San Luis Obispo group that has led a 10-year legal challenge to the plant, that the organization was illegally denied a hearing on the issue. The court said “the NRC was not required by its regulations to consider the potential complication effects of earthquakes on emergency planning in its decision to license Diablo Canyon.”


Diablo Canyon, fully licensed and operating since last year, is built on the coast near San Luis Obispo, only 3 miles from a major offshore earthquake fault. The plant has two units in operation, but the second unit was not involved in the court case.

A dissent written by Judge Patricia Wald criticized the majority for ignoring the need to prepare for the unlikely when drawing up emergency plans. “Under the majority’s view, the commission can avoid the public commitment it made in its regulations simply by declaring that the probability of any accident occurring is too low to bother with,” she wrote.

Quakes ‘Not Important’

In San Luis Obispo, Sandy Silver of the Mothers for Peace group said the ruling meant that in the court’s eyes, “earthquakes are not important to California.”


The court declined to review transcripts of a closed session of the commission on the earthquake question, saying this would represent “an extraordinary intrusion into the realm of the agency.”

Silver said the documents would have provided “clear evidence that the commission realizes that the earthquake (fault) was a significant problem to the utility and their major concern was the financial disaster this would bring to PG&E; if they didn’t license this plant.”