Rochelle Becker is skeptical about the timing of PG&E’s application for a license renewal request. Photo by Arianna Puopolo.
Rochelle Becker is skeptical about the timing of PG&E’s application for a license renewal request. Photo by Arianna Puopolo.

What do nuclear power plants, activist mothers and corporations have in common? The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant License Renewal Process Overview Meeting.

The meeting consisted of a five-member panel of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) representatives and a sixth NRC representative over the phone, fielding questions regarding the plant’s potential license renewal and operation.

The plant, which has been producing nuclear power since 1985, provides electricity to more than 1.5 million homes in California. Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) operates two 1,100-megawatt reactors in Avila Beach.

After submitting an application for license renewal more than 15 years prematurely, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), who manages the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, was met with resistance by San Luis Obispo community members. The license renewal would grant the plant a 20-year extension in operating time.

San Luis Obispo community member Lindy Owen has concerns about the renewal of the DCPP operating license. Using an analogy between the plant and her 1963 Volkswagen, Owen concluded that even the things we’re most eager to try to preserve sometimes have to be laid to rest.

“The plant is getting too old to be safe,” she said.

Owen fears renewing DCPP’s operating license is careless. “It doesn’t make sense with all the danger and with the expense,” she said.

In addition to conscientious objections to the production of nuclear power and safety concerns in light of the plant’s age, opponents of the license renewal are concerned with the proximity that recently discovered fault lines have to the plant.

Annie Kammerer contributed her expertise as a Ph.D. in geotechnical earthquake engineering over the phone.

Kammerer delved into personal ties to her work when one audience member expressed concern about the potential damages earthquakes can cause, and skepticism about the panel’s assurance that the fault lines do not pose a significant threat.

“I am in this field because I was in Loma Prieta and saw the damage that earthquakes can do firsthand,” Kammerer said. “I thought that was something I could do with my life — prevent something like that from happening.”

Kim Green, a nuclear engineer, is the project manager responsible for application safety review. Green denied that panel members allow their positions on nuclear energy to factor into decision-making.

“It’s not my job as a nuclear regulator with the NRC to promote nuclear energy,” she said.

Furthermore, the panel promised that even if the plant’s license were to be renewed, the NRC would shut the plant down if regulations were not met.

Rochelle Becker, executive director for the Alliance for Nuclear Resposibility (ANR), caught the attention of the panel and the audience when she took the floor, ready with a slew of hard-hitting questions.

Becker advocated for the ANR’s request to have PG&E’s relicensing application put on hold.

“This is a reasonable, responsible request,” she said.

Becker’s skeptical, critical, and sometimes condescending facial expressions said the rest.

The Northern Chumash Tribal Council (NCTC) brought another issue to the table because the DCPP was built on a Chumash ancestral burial ground. Fred Collins, the NCTC’s tribal administrative spokesperson, said the plant’s location has serious implications for the spirituality of his tribe.

“The building of that plant was a tremendous loss to my culture,” he said.

Collins ended his commentary with a warning to the panel.

“If you’re a warrior on a trail and you see signs of a bear, you take caution,” he said. “You see signs of two bears, and you get out of there.”