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Diablo Canyon Emergency Plans Plagued with Problems

Security fences and parked cars could prevent workers from responding to an emergency

Parked cars, broken equipment, and a security fence could prevent emergency workers from responding quickly to a disaster at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, federal regulators informed PG&E Friday.

Inspectors from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission identified more than 20 problems during an April 11 visit to the plant. By contrast, an April 29 inspection of Southern California Edison’s San Onofre facility, the only other major nuclear power plant operating in California, revealed just a handful of minor deficiencies.

The NRC inspected the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan severely damaged the Fukishima Daiichi nuclear power plant and resulted in a nuclear meltdown.

Some of the problems at Diablo Canyon identified by the NRC inspectors appear to be serious.

According to an NRC report sent Friday to PG&E, the building that houses the plant's fire trucks could collapse in an earthquake. Inspectors also found that power plant operators had failed to participate in required training exercises with on-site firefighters and other regional first responders. And inspectors discovered that new security fences prevented emergency hoses from reaching a water reservoir.

But the NRC declared Diablo Canyon safe, as it did for the 103 other facilities it inspected, despite uncovering long lists of problems at the nuclear plants.

“The inspection of Diablo Canyon did not identify any issue that we think would undermine our confidence in their ability to operate the plant safely,” NRC’s Western Region spokesman Victor Dricks said Monday.

Friday's report followed the March revelation that Diablo Canyon operated for 18 months with some of its emergency systems accidentally disabled.

The April 11 inspection report revealed flaws in the design and implementation of PG&E’s disaster plan.

The plant’s back-up generators might not be usable during a disaster, because PG&E had not considered how to turn them on under adverse conditions. The generators are all stored in the same spot, which could make them “susceptible to a common made failure because of the similarities in design and location,” the report stated.

Current emergency procedures require workers to enter areas that could become inaccessible owing to high levels of radiation in a disaster, according to the report.

PG&E spokesman Paul Flake said the company was already aware of many of the issues raised by the NRC inspectors, because they were identified during a company inspection in February.

PG&E has fixed some of the problems identified by the NRC, according to Flake, and he said the plant disagrees with some of the agency's findings, including the finding that a new security fence prevents fire hoses from reaching the reactors

"We put fence there as part of a security project at the plant, but we can still use a hose either under or over the fence," Flake said.

Flake said PG&E has not been formally asked to fix all of the issues raised by the NRC inspectors, but the company continues working to improve safety at the facility.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not actually asked or ordered Diablo Canyon to do anything at the plant based on these inspections, but we continue to look for ways to make Diablo Canyon safer and more secure," Flake said.

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