March 21st State of California Senate Nuclear Safety Hearings

Dan Hirsch

Video index:

Video 1:

Hearing Intro Chair: Senator Ellen Corbett (D) San Leandro

Panel 1 Cal seismology & Tsunami
Panel 2 Cal Safety Issues
45:00  MIke Dayton – CalEMA
1:05:00  Howard Backer CalDPH
Panel 3 Cal Nuclear Reactor Safety
1:30:30  PG&E Steven David

Video part 2

1:32  Caroline McAndrews SCE
5:30  Dan Hirsch CBG
23:00 James Boyd CEC
38:19 Questions for panel
39:47 Senator Sam Blakeslee (R) SLO questions
1:03:50 Senator Keho (D) San Diego
1:20:20 Senator Malfa
Senator Wright(D)LA: worthless pro-nuclear
1:57:45 Wright ends
1:58:00 to end is start of Panel 4 Natural Gas Transmission

Video part 3 Natural Gas safety

Executive Summary from my notes:

The format appeared to be the usual government process with 4 panels with individuals representing state agencies , IOU’s and institutional professionals giving prepared statements followed by questions from Senators. The quality of questions from Senators varied.  There was a fairly large number of media outlets covering this, which was not the case with the 4-14 hearing.

The first panel had seismic experts from USGS doing an overview of the Tohoku quake and the State’s seismologist doing an overview of California’s seismic issues.  There were quite a few important factoids in this.  There were a few questions from senators, especially two exchanges from Senator Blakeslee asking Diablo and Fukushima related questions.  His question on Fukushima to the USGS Rep. about why the reactors failed because they hadn’t taken quakes into account going back a thousand years was of interest.  Hmm.  Maybe we haven’t either.

Senator Kehoe mentioned federal reviews requested by Boxer/Feinstein on nuclear/seismic safety that have been started.  Senator Malfa asked about the evolution of the science since the 1970’s, with the most important shift being instrumentation and ground motion knowledge.

The second panel was on the direct impacts from the Tohoku quake, focussing on the Tsunami that hit the state causing over $40 million in damages. The first panelist from the CALEMA was asked about nuclear evacuation planning, but Alquist  combined it with three other questions at the same time. He never answered the nuclear one. Note that CalEMA plays a key role in coordinating nuclear Emergency Response oversite at the state level.

The third panel was specifically about the state’s nuclear reactor safety.  This panel had 3 PG&E reps, 1 Southern Cal Edison Rep, Dan Hirsch and CEC’s David Boyd.

PG&E included a person who was in charge of their emergency planning operations, but she was never asked a question.  PG&E’s presentation (including a handout) focused on their claims that they could withstand an quake that could generate up to .75G of higher levels that hit at Fukushima. It should be noted that those reactors were 109 miles from the epicenter of the quake and over 50 miles from the ruptured fault zone.  Diablo is 2 miles from Hosgri and SONGS less than 10 miles. Both facilities contained over 15 billion curies of radiation at each facility several times that of Chernobyl, not to mention the spent fuel ponds also contain several times more the the reactors (Hirsch).  If you get the chance his presentation is worth watching.

The SONGS rep made a very short presentation that made the same claims that the reactors could withstand the maximum credible quake.

She was followed by Dan Hirsch who went after the Dept. of Public Health’s claim that the state was perfectly safe from Fukushima radiation bringing up a major controversy that less than half of the EPA’s monitors were operating as well as an administration order replacing them as the lead agency by the NRC.  It should be noted that UC’s nuclear engineering Dept. showed radiation levels (3-25) half the levels that spooked Tokyo that resulted in warnings to pregnant mothers (my note).

Dan then brought up the history of Diablo Canyon and how PG&E intentionally ignored seismic concerns of the community.  Not mentioned in his statement is the fact that in 1925 Santa Barbara was devastated by a major quake on the Hosgri that destroyed the 700 foot long Sheffield Dam north of the city.  He mentioned attending the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board’s 1984 non-public hearing that claimed that there was no credible evidence that an earthquake could cause an accident, requiring the need to evacuate the public. He also mentioned the 1982 CRAC II report that the NRC was forced to reveal to the public showing that the worst case SONGS accident could kill 130,000 people, result in 300,000 cancers and cost well over $100 billion

Dan was then followed by James Boyd of the California Energy Commission who’s presentation was also excellent.  He pointed out that the CEC had no regulatory authority but had made numerous requests for years to try and get both Diablo and SONGS to do advanced seismic studies.  Note that Senator Blakeslee entered into the record on the 4-14 hearings a letter from PG&E to the CPUC stating that they would not be doing seismic studies as part of their relicensing because the NRC wasn’t requiring that they do so.  He mentioned several major concerns about the Shoreline fault as well. On 4-22 the CEC sent out a major data demand to the IOU’s wanting extensive responses on many major nuclear issues as part of their semi-annual IEPR process.  A copy of that data request is located here:

After their formal testimony came questions/comments from the senators that lasted nearly 40 minutes (2nd video 38 minutes).  Again, there was no questions on evacuation planning, which at the start of the hearing Chairperson Corbett mentioned that there would be a 2nd hearing in a month that would cover readiness…. Let’s hope that this wasn’t the 4-14 hearings, which also had nothing on evacuation planning.  This of course is the most tragic part of what has happened in Japan after the quake and tsunami as several hundred thousand people have not been able to return home.  There are also major concerns about the horrible NRDC report implying that to date only there would only be 84 excess radiation related deaths from the disaster.

The last panel was on Natural Gas transmission safety issues, which is not reviewed but probably has some very interesting materials.

This was an important event.  Sadly, by 4-14 it was quite clear that the Senate was no longer nearly as interested.  During the hearing only one senator Wright (D) LA was clearly there pushing nuclear energy and was the last senator in the 3rd panel.

Senator Blakeslee from SLO was clearly very engaged, focusing on Diablo seismic safety issues.  All presenters had handouts, some additional written testimony like Boyd from the CEC.  Just to add a bit from the 4-14 hearings as well as here, there were attempts to claim that only the tsunami was to blame for the seriousness of the accident.  Yet it was quite clear that most Senators are very uncertain as to how real this claim is and will likely be waiting for the reports expected by the NRC, WHO and IAEA that have all been announced, but won’t be ready for a long time.

Pragmatically speaking the media which did a fair job of factual reporting during the peak of the crisis has completely shut down any serious attempts to do more than mouth the Obama administration’s nuclear PR spin.  The Chernobyl spin in 1986 was far more vicious, and with this being a twin of GE’s reactors at Vermont Yankee, not to mention some 22 GE reactors in the US, we can be assured that the general public is going to get millions of dollars of carefully developed hit pieces starting fairly soon.

The movement took a nasty hit with the Democracy Now debate between Helen Caldicott and George Monbiot from UK Guardian newspaper.  The public, as expected, is poorly educated on a whole range of issues especially the horrific radiation standards culture that has been a wholly owned subsidiary of the nuclear industry from the outset.

The industry had mostly lost any Wall Street financing due to the 2008 financial meltdown, leaving Exelon’s man in the Whitehouse as their shining —– night in armor.  Probably one of the most angles that will be evolving will be the Japanese response to the nuclear mess.  It will be one angle the industry just won’t have an answer to, not to mention Germany’s prominent reversal back into the no-nukes pasture.  Clinton’s behind the seen push for reactor development in Chile has backfired and needs to be exposed.

There will certainly be a substantial number of other angles that can be hit like Obama’s horrific START II deal that reduced old weapons in exchange for spending hundreds of billions of dollars to redesign the nuclear weapons infrastructure.  Both the front and back ends of the fuel cycle are in freefall as well as at least two adverse  reactor decisions (Unistar & NRG) already, with a campaign to block Obama’s $36 Billion in subsidies.

There have been many excellent articles calling the NRC hardly more than a captured salesman for the nuclear industry, but will we see any major media post debate that doesn’t look at the issue closer? That is yet to be seen, and there are still months yet before Fukushima is clearly put under a protective fabric.  A Tepco claim that just over 30 workers have been exposed to levels of radiation beyond safety criteria will be a key story to monitor. The #3 spent fuel pond which miraculously survived considering the scale of the damage of the building will be very important to watch.

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