Friday, September 7, 2012

Seismic testing background

Sam Blakeslee proposed the law, [AB 1632, 2008], when he was serving in the State Assembly. He is now a State Senator. He's got the technical background, bachelor's and master's degrees in geophysics from University of California, Berkeley. Furthering his education, Senator Blakeslee earned a Ph.D. from University of California, Santa Barbara for his research in seismic scattering, micro-earthquake studies, and fault-zone attenuation. He worked for Exxon and got a patent in exactly this specialty, an innovative technique that used medical cat-scan technology to create detailed images of geologic formations, according to his official bio.

AB1632 does not mention seismic testing of the kind being proposed. Its actual wording includes:
"the [California Energy] commission shall perform subsequent updates as new data or new understanding of potential seismic hazards emerge." and
"(8) (A) Compilation and assessment of existing scientific studies that have been performed by persons or entities with expertise and qualifications in the subject of the studies, to determine the potential vulnerability, to a major disruption due to aging or a major seismic event, of large baseload generation facilities, of 1,700 megawatts or greater."

Seismic testing is related to relicensing of Diablo Canyon. Its license to operate expire in 2024 and 2025. A report on decommissioning the plant has been done. It's pretty much focused on the loss of jobs and property taxes the plant pays, $27 million. That makes it important and attractive to the county. The report assumes that only fossil fuels can replace nuclear power. That's a position open to debate.

In the meantime, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has suspended relicensing until issues surrounding spent waste storage are resolved, a problem they've been working on unsuccessfully for decades.

From World Environmental News: The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) directed its staff on Thursday to start an environmental review into the temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel, following a court ruling that led the agency to stop issuing new reactor licenses.
The NRC did not say when it would start issuing new reactor licenses again.
The NRC has more than a dozen reactor operating license renewal applications and a dozen new reactor license applications pending.
The NRC said it told its staff to develop an environmental impact statement and a revised waste confidence decision and to rule on the temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel.
The environmental statement and rule, which are in response to a June 8 ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, are to be completed within 24 months, the NRC said.
The Appeals Court ruled that the NRC should have considered the potential environmental effects in the event a permanent repository for disposing of spent fuel - like the long-delayed Yucca Mountain proposal - is never built, among other things.
"Resolving this issue successfully is a Commission priority," NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane said in a statement.
"Waste confidence plays a core role in many major licensing actions, such as new reactors and license renewals," she said.
The NRC said "waste confidence" means that spent nuclear fuel can be safely stored for decades beyond the licensed operating life of a reactor, without significant environmental effects. It enables the NRC to license reactors or renew their licenses without examining the effects of extended waste storage for each individual site pending ultimate disposal.
On August 7, the Commission issued an order that the NRC will not issue licenses dependent on the waste confidence rule - such as new reactors and renewal of existing reactor operating licenses - until the Court's demand is appropriately addressed.

New NRC chair Allison Macfarlane has placed geologic issues at the top of her agenda. In a report from Hearst's Washington Bureau
Allison MacFarlane, the new chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is a geologist — the first to lead the commission. And she views that as a fortunate thing for the commission and the industry.
Unsurprisingly, after Fukushima made plain the intersection of geology and the nuclear industry, MacFarlane is determined to reexamine earthquake risk and preparedness within the industry. “Geology is dynamic,” she said Tuesday, pointing out that knowledge of geology is constantly changing. For instance, she said, until the quake that caused the devastating Indonesian tsunami in 2004, scientists had not thought “megaquakes” were a big risk in subduction zones — something we now take for granted.
What does that mean for the relicensing of plants with potential seismic issues, like New York’s Indian Point? MacFarlane refused to speculate, saying only that “Geology matters,” and one of her four immediate goals as chair of the commission is to use knowledge of geology to make plants safer.
MacFarlane’s comments came at a press conference at the National Press Club sponsored by IHS Energy Daily.
Read the rest of the article here.

While earthquake safety is primary, the romance with technology and 3-D seismic images comes at the expense of the marine environment. AB1632 makes is easy to make the case for seismic testing as the State of the Art technology but that conflicts with state laws such as California's Marine Life Protection Act, which only in June joined all areas along California's coast in protection, and the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Abandoning the protections of these laws in favor of another is unacceptable.

If Diablo Canyon can't withstand an earthquake, fortify it or decommission it. Get data on earthquake faults other ways. Technology is always improving. We can and must do better.

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