Citing public and industry concerns stemming from the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) on Monday said it will suspend a relicensing effort for its Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant along the central California coast, pending the completion of updated seismic tests.

PG&E asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to delay final action on its license renewal application until after the combination utility submits the findings from seismic studies. Critics of the plant have been urging this action for months, even before the Japanese disaster.

The seismic characteristics, and thus the calculated risk of a major earthquake on or near the Diablo Canyon site, have been of intense interest since the late 1960s when plans for the nuclear plant were first developed. Two major earthquake faults were found within a mile or so of Diablo Canyon after it began operating in the mid-1980s, and some critics have alleged that the San Francisco-based utility helped suppress those geological findings until after the plant was built.

In the wake of the Japanese plant’s meltdown from an unprecedented earthquake and tsunami, “we…want to know more about the seismic characteristics surrounding the Diablo plant,” said PG&E Chief Nuclear Officer John Conway. “Because we live in a seismically active region, PG&E takes care in all its operations, especially at Diablo Canyon, to analyze and address seismic risks.”

Conway said the utility is working with governmental authorities to accelerate Diablo Canyon’s “advanced seismic research.”

In now seeking to complete the 3-D seismic studies and provide results to the NRC and state regulators, Conway said PG&E is trying to be responsive to concerns from various parts of the community, particularly the long-standing environmental and anti-nuclear activists centered in the San Luis Obispo area not far from the Diablo Canyon facility.

PG&E is one of the only utilities in the nation to employ a full-time seismic staff of experts. That team, while working with the U.S. Geological Survey in November 2008, discovered a new shoreline fault zone, and the utility evaluated whether this presented a new safety risk to the plant. The findings, concluding that PG&E has “adequate safety margin” to withstand maximum ground motions, were submitted to the NRC.

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