Twilight of the Zombie Nukes – US Attempts to Keep Rickety Reactors Running Viewed in Geostrategic Perspective

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California’s Diablo Canyon – ecowatch.com                                             Michigan’s Palisades – mlive.com

By James Heddle and Marybeth Brangan – EON       Updated         Also posted on Substack    

Diablo and Palisades As Microcosms

A growing coalition of citizen groups is forming to contest extension of Diablo Canyon’s reactor operating licenses beyond their agreed-upon shutdown dates in 2024 and 2025. This is also happening at the national level to oppose resuscitating Michigan’s flat-lined Palisades nuclear generating station, and nuclear revivalist efforts in other states, as a moribund nuclear industry desperately fights, like a cornered rat, for its survival.

We believe it will be helpful to view these related nuclear revivalist efforts in the widest possible relevant geopolitical, constitutional and regulatory contexts.

Informed citizen resistance to the local California nuclear revivalist coup attempts in California, Michigan and elsewhere could well prove ineffective without committed citizen activists being conscious of these seemingly isolated microcosmic – but actually integrally related – ploys in their larger national, international and transnational perspective.

Foundational Inconvenient Fact: In rigorously demonstrable economic, technological and safety terms, the US nuclear power industry has been on its ass for some time.

Without massive tax-payer and rate-payer economic subsidies, and sacrifices – coupled with industry-captured regulatory agency malfeasance and misfeasance – it in danger of not surviving what Amory Lovins long ago termed “an overdose of market forces.”

Despite new construction projects – many typically far behind schedule and way over budget – the international picture is not much better.

Each year, The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2021 (WNISR) , edited by Mycle Schneider, gives an extensive assessment of the status and trends of the international nuclear industry.

Some key conclusions of the 2021 World Nuclear Industry Status Report included:

  • In 2020, nuclear power generation plunged by an unprecedented margin (>100 TWh), … while operational nuclear capacity has reached a new peak in mid-2021. More capacity, less output.
  • Non-hydro renewables—mainly wind, solar and biomass—out-performed nuclear plants in electricity generation on a global scale. Hydro alone has been generating more power than nuclear for most of the past three decades.
  • For the first time, non-hydro renewables generated more power in the European Union than nuclear, and renewables including hydro generated more power than all fossil fuels combined.
  • Net nuclear capacity addition—new startups minus closures—declined to 0.4 GW, compared to >250 GW for renewables alone. Nuclear is irrelevant in today’s electricity capacity newbuild market.
  • Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) get a lot of media coverage, some public money, but are so far unavailable commercially and will not be for another 10–15 years—if ever. Pilot projects in Argentina, China, and Russia have been disappointing.
  • The situation at Fukushima, onsite/offsite, remains unstable. Effects on health and well-being are significant. Cost estimates have risen, currently ranging from US$223.1 billion (Gov.) to US$322–758 billion (independent). Japanese courts have acquitted Government/TEPCO officials over disaster responsibility, but ruled against reactor operation in some cases elsewhere in Japan.
  • A first analysis shows that nuclear power has a low resilience against the most common climate change effects. Nuclear power’s resilience will likely further decline.
  • There is a real question about the exposure of the nuclear power sector to criminal activities including bribery and corruption, counterfeiting and other falsification, as well as infiltration by organized crime.

Zombie Nukes

Nevertheless, this year in the US and elsewhere, a zombie nuclear industry appears to be clawing its way out of its grave by cleverly using:

  • Climate change fears to advocate for ‘clean, green’ nukes;
  • The NATO-Russia proxy war in Ukraine and blockage of Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipeline to Europe as a reason to keep German nuclear plants going;
  • Fears of rolling blackouts in California to keep Diablo Canyon reactors operating past their agreed upon shutdown date;
  • Feared power shortages and the protection of “600 high-paying jobs at the plant and 1,100 additional jobs throughout the community,” as reason to reboot Michigan’s already shutdown Palisades plant.

The Hill reports that these moves follow, “…last September’s vote by the Illinois legislature to appropriate some $700 million to subsidize the continued operation of the Byron and Dresden nuclear plants in that state. Thus, over the past 12 months, four nuclear plants that were slated for permanent closure have been rescued from the wrecking ball.”

The Power-Weapons, Civil-Military Connections

Finally, in desperation – after decades of adamant denial – nuclear revivalists are now openly citing commercial nuclear power’s vital symbiotic, co-dependent connection with nuclear weapons production as their excuse to keep it going.

This is the long-declared American economic and military ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ supremacy agenda in action.

The Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), presided over by former US Energy Secretary Edward Moniz, issued a 2017 report titled, The U.S. Nuclear Energy Enterprise: A Key National Security Enabler, making clear the joined-at-the-hip symbiosis of the nuclear power and weapons industries. Moniz and the EFI are currently touting the nuclear-industry-friendly Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law last month by President Biden.

All this is in the context of the looming threat of nuclear war resulting from the escalating NATO-Russia confrontation in Ukraine.

As we noted in a previous post:

Another key aspect of the U.S. military’s Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine is the growing belief in some circles that “space nuclear is going to be the future.”

That statement comes from Alex Gilbert, Director of Space & Planetary Regulation at the Washington, D.C.- based Zeno Power. Karl Grossman reports that, in an August 4th webinar of the American Nuclear Society, Gilbert announced, “we are at a unique moment. I call it a space opportunity.” He went on, ““we could actually see exponential growth. Right now the space economy is around $400 billion globally. By the middle of the century it could be $4 trillion.”

His view was echoed by Kate Kelly, director for Space and Emerging programs at the Lynchburg, Virginia-based company BWXT Advanced Technologies. Kelly said that the use of nuclear power in space has arrived at an “inflection point.” She explained, ““Over the last several years there’s been this re-emerging interest and investment by the government in fission systems for in-space power and propulsion.”

In a prescient 2014 article titled The Pentagon’s Strategy for World Domination: Full Spectrum Dominance, from Asia to Africa, Bruce Gagnon, the Coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, described the likely outcome of the NATO strategy of encircling Russia and infiltrating Ukraine.

He wrote, “The entire US military empire is tied together using space technology. With military satellites in space the US can see virtually everything on the Earth, can intercept all communications on the planet, and can target virtually any place at any time. Russia and China understand that the US military goal is to achieve “full spectrum dominance” on behalf of corporate capital.

“Using new space technologies to coordinate and direct modern warfare also enables the military industrial complex to reap massive profits as it constructs the architecture for what the aerospace industry claims will be the “largest industrial project” in Earth history.”

Ukraine’s Reactor Fleet – mondediplo.com

The Zaporizhzhia Syndrome

Ukraine, now a hot battlespace, has 15 nuclear reactors with an average age of 32.9 years.

For comparison, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), “At the end of 2021, the United States had 93 operating commercial nuclear reactors at 55 nuclear power plants in 28 states. The average age of these nuclear reactors is about 40 years old. The oldest operating reactor, Nine Mile Point Unit 1 in New York, began commercial operation in December 1969 [52 years].”

Ukraine’s 54 year old Zaporizhzhia power plant, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, has recently come under shelling, with both Ukraine and Russia blaming each other for what may even have been a false flag by a third party.

As Linda Pence Gunter points out in a recent article, “The extreme risks around Ukraine’s massive nuclear plant are the strongest argument yet for an end to the use of nuclear power.”

Gunter concludes, “Nuclear power is also a liability beyond the war zone. Study after study has shown that it is too slow and too uneconomic to contribute to climate mitigation and in fact gets in the way of needed action to minimize the worst effects.

The argument to keep reactors operating is contradicted by the reality that currently operating reactors now cost more to run than providing the same services by building and operating new renewables, or by using electricity more efficiently. Renewable energy can also reduce the same amount of carbon emissions faster and more cheaply than nuclear power.”

California’s San Andreas Fault Line – File image

California’s Fukushimas-in-Waiting – Double Jeopardy Squared

Potentially just as disaster-prone as nuclear reactors and waste storage facilities in war zones are nuclear reactors and waste storage facilities in earthquake and tsunami zones.

That description fits virtually all California’s reactor locations – including the long-shuttered Humboldt Bay with its aged waste storage facility – and especially both California’s Diablo Canyon and San Onofre nuclear sites.

California’s network of faults – Google earth image

San Onofre – located between San Diego and LA on what was once called Earthquake Bay – was shut down in 2013 after replacement steam generators failed. It is currently in the process of decommissioning, and still hosts a precarious seaside waste dump containing 123 canisters, each of which holds as much radioactivity as was released at Chernobyl.

San Onofre sits on the beach on land leased from Camp Pendleton, a geostrategic Marine Base that would predictably be a prime target in the nuclear war now being rumored as NATO and Russia are now being identified as the primary combatants in the escalating Ukraine conflict. The proud motto of the Pendleton Marine base, “No Beach is Out of Reach,” ironically points to the fact the site combines both military and seismic vulnerabilities. You don’t have to be a RAND war planning analyst to realize that even a ‘surgical nuclear strike’ on that target could wipe out California and prevailing wind patterns would blow the resulting fallout cloud across the United States and beyond.

Graphic: San Onofre Safety.org

According to a recent LA Times report, a new Harvard study shows the network of San Onofre faults could produce a quake as strong as 7.8. The article notes, “The difference may be only a few decimal points, but an earthquake’s energy is measured exponentially. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a magnitude 7.8 quake produces quadruple the energy of a magnitude 7.4.”

Though previously thought to be a ‘segmented fault,’ according to the Times, the new study, “suggests the system is connected, stretching 68 miles and running under southwestern Los Angeles County and the ports of L.A. and Long Beach and along the Los Angeles and Orange county coasts.” They also lie along the San Andreas fault line pictured above.

Equally worrisome is the fact that Diablo Canyon, the Golden State’s sister nuclear facility – now slated for an indefinite extended period of operation – also sits on a bay over an interlocking network of earthquake faults in a tsunami zone.

This slide, provided by Dan Hirsch of Committee to Bridge the Gap, gives the regional Diablo Canyon picture:

Graphic: CommitteeToBridgeTheGap.org

Redundant, Undependable Diablo

The California Energy Commission’s climate change-related blackout panic projections being used as the justification for extending Diablo’s operation are, like all computer projections highly dubious. A model is only as good as its hypothetical base assumptions. As the old cyber-geek aphorism goes, “GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out.”

For one thing, energy consultant Robert Freehling’s extensive data shows that, with efficiency, renewables, battery storage, rooftop solar and demand response, California has already added 3 to 5 times more available power than Diablo can produce. As the Mothers for Peace explain in detail, CA Doesn’t Need Diablo. This is because of three main factors: load reduction, expansion of renewables and improvements in energy efficiency. See: Media Briefing with Robert Freehling

Furthermore, systems analyst Donna Gilmore’s investigative research has shown that, with scheduled as well as unscheduled shutdowns, Nuclear Regulatory Commission reactor status data reveals that one or both of Diablo’s reactors were down 40% of the days in each of the last four years.

Graphic: Donna Gilmore – San Onofre Safety.org

Though touted as advantages in the face of climate chaos, nuclear plants are actually seriously vulnerable to its effects. A case in point is the fact that this July a heat wave sweeping across Europe boosted river temperatures, restricting the ability to cool France’s nuclear plants. Output was reduced to just 46%, which pushed up electricity prices.

And prices are still rising. The cause is the troublesome phenomenon of stress corrosion cracking.

As former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner, Peter Bradford explains, “Stress corrosion cracking is the same sort of cracking that has been found on one of the Diablo Canyon’s reactor pressure vessels. And it’s the same sort of cracking which plagues the entire nuclear industry.”

Bradford continues. “One key fact about stress corrosion cracking is that it is difficult to find, even more difficult to repair, and almost impossible to predict how quickly it will spread from a small problem to a catastrophic one.”

He adds, “Stress corrosion cracking also affects the thin-walled spent fuel canisters Diablo Canyon uses — the same kind used throughout the nuclear industry in America.”

France 24 reported this week that the “French electricity group EDF said Thursday that shutdowns of four nuclear reactors would be extended for several weeks because of corrosion problems, potentially putting more upward pressure on prices as winter approaches.”

Then There’s the Small Matter of Constitutionality

The rushed and ill-considered extension of Diablo’s operation approved by the California Legislature just after midnight on Sept. 1 in response to Governor Newsom’s request violates a 2016 contract agreement arrived at between citizen groups and PG&E. Friends of the Earth, Environment California and the National Resources Defense Council were among the signatories to that Agreement to shutdown Diablo Canyons two reactors in 2024 and 2025, respectively.

In an August 18, 2022 letter to the California Energy Commission, attorneys for those three organizations asserted that abrogation of that Agreement constitutes a violation of the US Constitution.

Their letter read in part:

The lawyers stated that, “…the Joint Proposal is a legally binding contract among PG&E and the other Signatory Parties – including NRDC, FOE and Environment California. All of these Parties have rights and obligations under this ongoing contract. The Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the State of California from impairing these rights and obligations by unilaterally imposing a material deviation from the terms of the Joint Proposal – namely, an extension of the Diablo Canyon operating licenses beyond 2024-2025.”

They pointed out that the joint proposal is an enforceable contract under familiar legal principles and went on to assert, “There is no reasonable basis for doubt that the Joint Proposal is a valid, binding contract, and that it is fully enforceable as among its Signatories. The subsequent history of the Joint Proposal, [which they summarized], …confirms that it remains an enforceable legal agreement under familiar principles of contract law.”

This clearly opens the extension to serious litigation challenge, especially by parties with standing.

Serious Regulatory and Logistical Hurdles

Notwithstanding the Legislature’s approved Bill SB 846’s illegal attempts to sideline several regulatory agency’s statutory oversight authority, as well as exempt the plant’s operating extension from review under the rigorous California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), expert witness Arnold Gundersen, Chief Nuclear Engineer at Fairewinds Energy Education, has presented a litany of regulatory and logistical impediments to the Bill’s successful execution.

Diablo was designed, says the seventy-two-year-old Gundersen, when he was in high school and engineers still used slide rules.

A PDF of Gundersen’s full presentation outline is here. Some salient points that complete the picture sketched out here include:

  • NRC does not issue 5-year licenses – approving a new license means that Diablo Canyon would be issued another 20-year operating license;
  • Most importantly, this new 40-60 year license is not a commitment to make the plant meet modern criteria, nor is it a commitment to replace aging Instead, this license would only be a commitment to establishing monitoring programs to determine the degradation of the facility;
  • Buying fuel for continued operation has to be budgeted ahead and ordered ahead with a potential long order fulfillment lag-time. [Since this has not been done, lack of fuel could long delay Diablo’s unplanned extended operation.];
  • The 8” thick solid metal vessel can shatter like glass because its metal is so embrittled;
  • After all, they used the wrong The nuke industry discovered Vessel Embrittlement in the 1970s while Diablo Canyon was still under construction;
  • PG&E could have fixed the issue before Diablo was started in 1986 and chose not to;
  • Any earthquake that would hit the Diablo Canyon area would be so significant that all infrastructure – roads, bridges, gas lines, electric lights, , and hospitals in San Luis Obispo and outward would fail…;
  • The current design of Diablo radioactive spent fuel storage has no room for more highly radioactive fuel onsite, which is where it must stay until it cools

Any questions?

=============

James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan co-direct EON, the Ecological Options Network a tax-exempt, non-profit organization.  The EON feature documentary SOS The San Onofre Syndrome is now in post-production and will be released later this year.

 

 

America’s Growing Fleet of Jalopy Nukes

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A Model T at the White House circa 1918: File photo

 


















Countering the Perilous Myth of Immortal Nuclear Reactors

By James Heddle – EON – Cross-posted on Substack

Tin Lizzies of Yesteryear

When I was a boy, way back in the ancient 1950’s, my grandfather Charlie kept his first car, a Ford Model T, in his garage as a memento of his own fondly-remembered boyhood.

Affectionately nicknamed the Tin Lizzy, Henry Ford’s classic Model T’s were the first mass produced, affordable cars and they made travel possible for many middle-class Americans, defining an era. The popular cars came off the assembly lines from 1908 to 1927, so, by the mid ‘50’s, Granddad’s beloved car was already over 30 years old.

Every once in a while Granddad would (literally) crank Lizzy up and we’d go for a rattling, sputtering spin around the neighborhood, to the great amusement of the neighbors – ‘how quaint,’ they would laugh, pointing at the spectacle. Finally, sometime in the ‘60’s, no amount of cranking could any longer awaken Lizzy from her terminal slumber.

Twin Jalopies – Ford’s Model-T and PG&E’s Diablo Canyon

Tin Lizzies of Today – Atomic Nuclear Model T’s

Just past mid-night, after a hasty, superficial discussion in the hectic closing hours of its session, large majorities in both houses of the California Legislature voted to extend the operation of the state’s last 2 operating seaside nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon for an indefinite period of 5 to 20 years past their currently scheduled shutdown dates in 2024 and 2025.

The rush-to-judgment decision was based on computer projections purporting to show Diablo’s output would be necessary to prevent future electric grid blackouts.

In a radio interview earlier that day, Attorney Loretta Lynch, former president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) observed, “If it’s true that we need Diablo Canyon, we should take more than three days to debate that, look at the facts, and make the decisions so that the ratepayers don’t pay excess billions of dollars in this rush to judgment….those billions add up on top of the outrageously high rates that PG&E customers already pay, and I’m concerned about the state of the California economy if you’re going to pay platinum prices for this nuclear jalopy.”

The eleventh-hour license extension in California is part of a national pattern. As far back as 2005, the Nuclear Monitor reported, based on U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission data, that nuclear reactor license extensions were already projected to extend the fleet’s operation into the 2030’s and ‘40’s.

Now, extensions are being contemplated even beyond 2050.

Poster Child Atomic Jalopy Diablo

Construction of the Diablo Canyon reactors began in 1968. Nearly 20 years later, after many mistakes and a redesign caused by the discovery of a nearby earthquake fault, the reactors came on line in 1985 and 1986, respectively. So, by now in 2022, Diablo is about the same age Granddad’s Tin Lizzy was back in the ‘50’s.

What is being proposed, then, with talk of keeping PG&E’s beloved Diablo Tin Lizzies running another 5, 10 or even 20 years, is essentially like Grandpa keeping his 1915 Model T on the highway well past its use-by date.

It will be like me dreaming of still driving my parent’s ’57 Chevy in to the 2050’s, when both of us will be centenarians.

A ’57 Chevy on a program (like Diablo) of minimal maintenance: OldRides.com



















Antique Reactor Enthusiasts

Like a club of antique car collectors, nostalgic jalopy nuke devotees want to keep reactors designed and built in the middle years of the last century operating far into this one.

According to a 2011 AP story, ““Regulators contend that the 40-year limit was chosen for economic reasons and to satisfy safety concerns, not for safety issues. They contend that a nuclear plant has no technical limit on its life.”

But, au contraire, the story goes on to say, “…an AP review of historical records, along with an interview with an engineer who helped develop nuclear power, shows just the opposite: Reactors were made to last only 40 years. Period.”

Nevertheless, an NRC webinar on January 2, 2020 was held to garner public input on the advisability of extending the licenses of U.S. nuclear plants for 100 years. A subsequent report noted, “Ultimately, public opinion was not in favor of the idea of 100-year plant life. Combined with the need for further research, the issue was essentially closed for now.” [Emphasis added.]

It’s the last highlighted phrase that should give us pause. The NRC – the poster child for captured regulator status – does not seem shy so far of granting ailing, aging reactors up to 60-year operating license extensions.

The clearly nuclear-industry-captured Biden Administration has just cast a life-preserver to ‘distressed’ nukes with its Inflation Prevention Act, and Presidential Aspirant-in-Waiting California Governor Newsom is the first to grab ahold on behalf of PG&E and Diablo Canyon.

In practice, that means that most of the U.S. jalopy nuke fleet will continue to imperil all life on earth many generations into the future.

World Leader

The United States has the largest nuclear power plant fleet in the world.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports, “At the end of 2021, the United States had 93 operating commercial nuclear reactors at 55 nuclear power plants in 28 states. The average age of these nuclear reactors is about 40 years old.”

According to the EIA, “With the bulk of the existing nuclear fleet licensed before 1990, nearly all existing reactors will be more than 60 years old by 2050.”

Map created by Crystal Mercedes – cnbc

Timebombs-in-Place from the Past Threatening the Present and the Future

The battlespace now surrounding Ukraine’s six Zaporizhzhia reactors and vulnerable spent fuel pools has focused world attention on the dire dangers of nuclear plants in a warzone. In fact, the full current Ukraine battlespace includes all of the country’s 15 nuclear power facilities, as well as the sarcophagus-covered, still-smoldering wreckage of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster – which, be it noted, occurred in ‘peacetime’ – with its surrounding 1,000 square mile ‘exclusion zone,’ still too dangerous for human habitation.

You don’t need a surrounding warzone to make nuclear power plants dangerous. To get a sense of the scope of the risks involved, just draw a 1,000 square mile ‘exclusion zone’ around your nearest nuclear power plant and note where your present home neighborhood lies in relation to it.

Nuclear Welfare Program

The United States is spending billions of dollars on nuclear power plants that are losing money based on the assertion that it needs ‘emission-free energy’ to meet its decarbonization goals.

Despite nuclear revivalists’ denials, there is nothing ‘emission-free’ about nuclear power plants. Even without an accident, ‘permitted radioactive routine emissions’ occur daily in normal operation. Radioactive particles and gases are released into the surrounding air and water causing documented environmental damage. Studies from Europe show an elevated occurrence of leukemia in children living within 5 kilometers of nuclear plants.

One of the routine emissions is radioactive carbon-14, an inconvenient fact that belies claims of ‘decarbonization.’

According to CNBC, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law President Joe Biden signed into law in November includes a $6 billion program intended to preserve the existing U.S. fleet of nuclear power reactors – even though they are all losing money. Again, the rationale includes ‘decarbonization’ and is based on dire, but legitimately scientifically disputable computer model projections of impending catastrophic climate change.

Aging Degradation Cover-Up

What’s wrong with this picture is that nuclear plant components, including non-moving parts, degrade with age. According to Beyond Nuclear’s Paul Gunter, there “are 600 miles of electrical cable in a typical nuclear power plant.” These components, along with miles of pipes and many pumps, are subject to long and constant exposure to radiation exposure as well as extreme temperatures and vibration. Then there are the impacts of embrittlement of the concrete and metal in the pressure vessel and containment structures.

In Karl Grossman’s invaluable December 2020 report, Gunter reveals that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is actively suppressing investigation of these widespread aging degradation effects in the country’s elderly reactors.

The NRC commissioned the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to do a report titled “Criteria and Planning Guidance for Ex-Plant Harvesting to Support Subsequent License Renewal.”  Gunter reports that the resulting document, published in December 2017 on the Laboratory’s website, as well as those of the Department of Energy Office of Scientific and Technical Information and the International Atomic Energy Commission’s International Nuclear Information System, “report raised many significant issues regarding extending the operating licenses of nuclear plants.”

But the NRC subsequently ““wiped all three websites of the report” and republished a version which, ““scrubbed clean of dozens of references to safety-critical knowledge ‘gaps’ pertaining to many known age-related degradation mechanisms described in the original published report.”

Gunter continues that, ““The NRC revision also scrubbed Pacific Northwest National Laboratory findings and recommendations to ‘require’ the harvesting of realistic and representative aged materials from decommissioning nuclear power stations—base metals, weld materials, electric cables, insulation and jacketing, reactor internals and safety-related concrete structures like the containment and spent fuel pool—for laboratory analyses of age degradation. The laboratory analyses are intended to provide ‘reasonable assurance’ of the license extension safety review process for the projected extension period.”

According to Gunter, the original version of the report stated, “A key challenge will be to better understand likely materials degradation mechanisms in these components and their impacts on component functionality and safety margins. Research addressing many of the remaining technical gaps in these areas for SLR may greatly benefit from materials sampled from plants (decommissioned or operating). Because of the cost and inefficiency of piecemeal sampling, there is a need for a strategic and systematic approach to sampling materials from structures, systems and components in both operating and decommissioned plants.”

When the NRC extends nuclear power plant licenses, it also allows plants to be ‘uprated,’ which means they can burn fuel hotter and longer to generate more electricity, thus increasing the risks of accidents. This practice, known as ‘high burn-up’ also produces ‘spent fuel’ that is thermally hotter, more radioactive and more difficult to contain.

A corroded and cracked reactor pressure vessel at Diablo Canyon – Photo: Mothers for Peace

Stress Corrosion Cracking

One of the most alarming challenges to nuclear utilities’ so-called ‘aging management programs’ has been brought to light by the investigative research of independent systems analyst Donna Gilmore of SanOnofreSafety.org. Termed stress corrosion cracking, it is a condition afflicting both reactor components and radioactive waste storage containers.

As former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner, Peter Bradford explains, “Stress corrosion cracking is the same sort of cracking that has been found on one of the Diablo Canyon’s reactor pressure vessels. And it’s the same sort of cracking which plagues the entire nuclear industry.”

Bradford continues. “One key fact about stress corrosion cracking is that it is difficult to find, even more difficult to repair, and almost impossible to predict how quickly it will spread from a small problem to a catastrophic one.”

He adds, “Stress corrosion cracking also affects the thin-walled spent fuel canisters Diablo Canyon uses — the same kind used throughout the nuclear industry in America.”

It is worth noting that, according to the NRC, Diablo Canyon’s Unit 1 is rated among the country’s four “most embrittled” reactors. Expert witness nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen calls it “the most dangerous reactor in the U.S.”

The Commercial/Military Connection

Ever since the heady days of Atoms for Peace and the dream of ‘energy too cheap to meter,’ nuclear proponents have been at pains to pooh-pooh any necessary connection between commercial nuclear power and nuclear weapons production. But recently, nuclear power advocates like former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz have reversed course and are now arguing that a commercial nuclear power infrastructure and trained labor force are vital to the maintenance of America’s nuclear navy and its proudly published military doctrine of Full Spectrum Dominance (FSD).

Moniz is the President and CEO of the Energy Futures Initiative. The EFI issued a 2017 report titled, The U.S. Nuclear Energy Enterprise: A Key National Security Enabler, making clear the joined-at-the-hip symbiosis of the nuclear power and weapons industries.

Moniz and the EFI are currently celebrating the nuclear-industry-friendly Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law last month by President Biden.

As the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) reports, “The IRA has an estimated $100 billion or more in provisions that fund and incentivize nuclear power. These provisions steal resources from real climate and environmental justice solutions and perpetuate the polluting, corrupt status quo.  The entire nuclear fuel chain still relies on fossil fuels, contaminates communities across the country and around the world, and generates forever-deadly waste.” The NIRS analysis of the IRA is here.

Up, Up and Away – Nukes in Space

Another key aspect of the U.S. military’s Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine is the growing belief in some circles that “space nuclear is going to be the future.”

That statement comes from Alex Gilbert, Director of Space & Planetary Regulation at the Washington, D.C.- based Zeno Power. Karl Grossman reports that, in an August 4th webinar of the American Nuclear Society, Gilbert announced, “we are at a unique moment. I call it a space opportunity.” He went on, ““we could actually see exponential growth. Right now the space economy is around $400 billion globally. By the middle of the century it could be $4 trillion.”

His view was echoed by Kate Kelly, director for Space and Emerging programs at the Lynchburg, Virginia-based company BWXT Advanced Technologies. Kelly said that the use of nuclear power in space has arrived at an “inflection point.” She explained, ““Over the last several years there’s been this re-emerging interest and investment by the government in fission systems for in-space power and propulsion.”

So, it becomes clear that the over-arching context for the current nuclear revivalism craze is that commercial and military nuclearism are mutually co-dependent and, in fact, joined at the hip.

That is the perspective required to understand the push to extend the life of PG&E’s embrittled nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon in California, as well as the current drive for putting jalopy nukes on life-support, and the related attempt to spawn a whole new generation of so-called Small, Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNR’s). If these plans succeed, they will further perpetuate the production of radioactive waste.

The Only Thing Immortal About Nuclear Power is Radioactive Waste

The Age of Nuclear Power began in the 1950’s. If a generation is 20 years, commercial nuclear reactors have so far been in operation for less than 4 generations, less than our lifetimes.

Paleontologists estimate that creatures, recognizable as human beings, have existed on this planet for about 7,500 generations.

Despite the nuclear revivalist religious belief that “that a nuclear plant has no technical limit on its life,” no jalopy reactor will last forever. But the radioactive waste it has produced will.

1 Generation = 20 Years

1 Lifespan = 80 Years

5 Generations = 100 Years

12 Generations = Duration of US

40 Generations = Duration of Roman Empire

75 Hundred Generations so far on earth

50 Thousand Generations =1 Million Years

100 Thousand Generations = 2 Million Years

100 Thousand Generations = Half-Life of Cesium-135

35 Million Generations = Half-Life of Uranium–235

If current plans to keep the U.S. jalopy reactor fleet running through 2050 are successful, a century of operation will have produced millions of metric tons of radioactive waste that will remain deadly to all living things and virtually impossible to isolate from the environment for millions of years – far longer than human beings have yet inhabited the earth.

That is the threatened eternal legacy of the evanescent Age of Nuclear Power.

Democracy Now & Then – Pushback Furthers – Litigation Works

However, resistance to this dire scenario is growing as awareness of it spreads. Last February, a legal appeal filed by Beyond Nuclear to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) yielded a landmark decision that threw at least one boulder in the path of the nukes forever agenda.

Historically, standard operating procedure at the NRC seems to be, “If utilities can’t or won’t comply with an inconvenient or profit-limiting existing regulation, (1) give an exemption or (2) change the regulation.

But, if the regulation or statute is not subject to NRC purview or authority, but that of some other agency, accommodation to industry desires is not so easy.

That’s the situation with NEPA, the National Environmental Protection Act, which requires all Federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of proposed major Federal actions prior to making any decisions.

In some cases, there may be more than one federal agency involved in the proposed action. This complexity can and should be used by citizen organizations in litigation contesting industry-friendly rule-making or rule-breaking. The ruling is an encouraging and empowering case in point.

Beyond Nuclear reported that their appeal had yielded a landmark 2-1 decision rescinding NRC’s policy on issuing 20-year operating license renewal for US reactors potentially extending them into 60 to 80-year periods. The ruling rescinds already-granted 60-80-year extensions and will now subject renewal applications to NEPA review of nuclear environmental risks compared to those of renewable energy sources.

A Beyond Nuclear news release explains that the “decision now requires plant owners and the agency’s staff to go back to the drawing board and update their review of the potential impacts of a worsening climate crisis, such as rising sea levels, and to provide an updated analysis of age-related degradation of the reactor systems, structures and components before approving…extreme license extension requests.”

Beyond Nuclear’s winning attorney Diane Curran called the decision, “a tremendous advance for nuclear reactor safety and environmental protection, because it commits NRC to evaluate the unique risks of renewing reactor licenses for a second term.”

The jalopy nukes agenda is not necessarily a done deal.

===========

James Heddle co-directs EON, the Ecological Options Network with Mary Beth Brangan, who contributed research and ideas for this article. The EON feature documentary SOS – The San Onofre Syndrome will be released later this year.

The United States of Exception

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Covid, Climate Change and the Rise of Techno-Bio-Fascism

Graphic Credit: kpulawandsociety.wordpress.com

By James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan – also posted on Substack

“In early March of 2020… a global pandemic was announced – Covid. In the immediate wake of the announcement and narrativization of that pandemic, most of the elements of a locked-in, 360-degree totalitarianism have been put into place in most of the countries of the West, including in what had been robust democracies. It all happened very quickly and comprehensively.” – Naomi Wolf – 2021

“On April 15, 2021, by Executive Order 14024, I declared a national emergency pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701-1706) to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by specified harmful foreign activities of the Government of the Russian Federation.  On March 8, 2022, I issued Executive Order 14066 to expand the scope of the national emergency declared in Executive Order 14024.  On August 20, 2021, March 11, 2022, and April 6, 2022, I issued Executive Orders 14039, 14068, and 14071, respectively, to take additional steps with respect to the national emergency declared in Executive Order 14024.” – Notice on the Continuation Of The National Emergency With Respect To Specified Harmful Foreign Activities Of The Government Of The Russian Federation –   JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR. – THE WHITE HOUSE, April 13, 2022.

“…[T]he voluntary creation of a permanent state of emergency… has become one of the essential practices of contemporary states, including so-called democratic ones.” – Giorgio Agamben – State of Exception – 2005

“Fear is a market…. Anxiety-driven people are easier to rule.”
- Gerd Gogerenzer – Max Plank Institute for Educational Research

Using the Law to Nullify the Rule of Law – Suspending the Constitution in Order to Save Democracy

The declaration of a national state of emergency, as Naomi Wolf has observed, is historically the tenth and final step in the imposition of all totalitarian regimes.

The National Emergencies Act, passed in the US in 1976, states that, if declared by the President, a state of emergency suspends laws and constitutional protections and permits the government to act in ways otherwise prohibited as unlawful.

According to Wikipedia, “As of April 2022, 79 emergencies have been declared; 37 have expired and another 42 are currently in effect, each having been renewed annually by the president.” [Emphasis added.]

We live, like fish unaware of the water they swim in, in a permanent, normalized ‘state of exception.’

It’s on its way to becoming even more all-enveloping.

The Real ‘New Normal’

Prof. Giorgio Agamben is an Italian philosopher and prolific author of ten books preceding the publication of his slim 2005 volume, State of Exception. Translated by Kevin Attel for the University of Chicago Press, the book traces the emergence and modern development of the legalistic doctrine named in its title through the centuries since the French Revolution.

Applied in virtually all the European combatant countries in WWII – including nominally ‘neutral’ Switzerland – the doctrine has now apparently reached its most advanced stage of evolution so far in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave with the passage by the U.S. Senate on October 26, 2001 of the USA Patriot Act.

Agamben observes, “What is new about President Bush’s order is that it radically erases any legal status of the individual, thus producing an unnamable and unclassifiable being. Not only do the Taliban captured in Afghanistan not enjoy the status of POW’s as defined by the Geneva Convention, they do not even have the status of persons charged with a crime according to American laws. Neither prisoners nor persons accused, but simply ‘detainees,’ they are the object of pure de facto rule, of a detention that is infinite not only in the temporal sense but in its very nature as well, since it is entirely removed from the law and from judicial oversight…in the detainee at Guantanamo, bare life reaches its maximum indeterminacy.”

Agamben goes on to point out, “And it is significant that though this transformation of the constitutional order (which is today underway to varying degrees in all Western democracies) is perfectly well known to jurists and politicians, it has remained totally unnoticed by the citizens. At the very moment when it would like to give lessons in democracy to different traditions and cultures, the political culture of the West does not realize that it has entirely lost its canon.”

This morphing from parliamentary to executive governance structures is especially visible in the case of the European Union (EU), that is now essentially governed by a small cadre of unelected executive technocrats in Brussels, Belgium on behalf of banking and financial interests.

European Commission in Brussels, Belgium. Editorial credit: glen photo Shutterstock.com

A Nuclear State of Exception?

Last Thursday, in literally the eleventh hour of its 2022 session, both houses of the California Legislature were stampeded by predictions of climate-change-triggered-electrical-blackouts into passing SB 846. The last minute bill was opposed by only one in the Senate, and three in the Assembly, with only a handful of abstentions in either house.

Introduced by California’s Governor Gavin Newsom’s office – presumably at the behest of the nuclear industry – the bill extended the operation of both the Pacific Gas & Electric Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors for what amounts to an indefinite extension beyond their scheduled shutdowns in 2024 and 2025 respectively.

The bill, as approved, not only violates a constitutionally legally binding contract agreement signed in 2016 between PG&E and a number of environmental groups and approved by this same legislature, it exempts the operating extension from review by the state’s powerful California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and sidelines a number of the states’ other regulatory agencies and commissions empowered by law with oversight authority. It hands hegemonic regulatory power to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), a body that its former president Loretta Lynch has termed a “rogue agency.”

This is the same agency currently under fire for proposing a ‘solar tax’ that would, in effect, fine California homeowners for installing solar panels on their roofs. Just part of the on-going nuclear attack on renewables.

Graphic credit: LeafScore.com

Nuclear Utilities Can’t Survive Without (Deadly) Government Life Support

In April, the Biden Administration launched a $6 billion effort to save ‘financially distressed’ nuclear plants osstensibly as ‘a defense against climate change.’

Critics point out that the approved nuclear plant operating extension in California would net PG&E a 319% increase in profits in just three years. 

But, not satisfied with that, SB 846 also seeks to clear the path for PG&E to apply to the Department of Energy’s “Civil Nuclear Credit Program,” a Congressionally mandated program aimed at rescuing nuclear utilities suffering, as Amory Lovins put it long ago – from an overdose of market forces.

As California’s only remaining nuclear power utility after the 2013 shutdown of Southern California Edison’s San Onofre reactors, PG&E is a serial felon corporation that was recently rescued from bankruptcy with the aid of Governor Newsom. Its still evolving rap sheet is here.

It was convicted and fined for its role in causing the deaths and damage suffered in the infamous San Bruno 2010 gas explosion. In 2020 it was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for 84 victims in the Camp Fire that burned the city of Paradise, Ca. to the ground.

As California’s last nuclear utility standing, PG&E may only qualify as a company faced with ‘insurmountable economic competition,’ because to date it has lost 50% of its customer base to Community Chooce Agencey (CCA’s).

Diablo Extension: Exactly the Wrong Answer

And, as Eric Veium and Robert Freehling demonstrate clearly in their recent study, the two brief outages during an August 2020 heat wave that are now being used as the panicky justification for extending Diablo Canyon actually point to nuclear reactors’ total inappropriateness for blackout backup.

They explain, “A large nuclear power plant is not the right tool to meet our reliability needs because it is inflexible and ordinarily runs all the time at high capacity.”

They continue, “The 2020 event showed a need for flexible electricity resources that can rapidly be brought on-line during a few hours in the early evenings of summer. The proper resources to meet this need are demand response and battery storage….”

Diablo’s dominating presence on the grid also actually crowds out and prevents the build-out of transmission connections to more flexible, decentralized, publically owned and democratically managed renewable power sources. Nuclear power is a quintessentially totalitarian technology.

A Climate Change Cover Story?

As we argue elsewhere, the real underlying motivations for the push to rescue uneconomic and unsafe commercial power with rate-payer and tax-payer dollars is to maintain a civil nuclear labor force and the industrial infrastructure to support U.S. Full Spectrum Dominance military objectives on land, at sea and in air and space.

Then there’s the ‘public health emergency’ cover story.

The WHO logo Editorial credit: ricochet64- Shutterstock.com.

WHO’s in Charge Here?

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a branch of the United Nations (UN) based in Geneva, Switzerland. Now moving through the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) toward a planned finalization by 2024, is the proposed WHO “Pandemic Treaty.” Tied to a; planned universally imposed global digital passport and digital ID system, once enacted the ‘convention’ would give WHO’s Director General the unilateral authority to declare a ‘public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC)’ giving WHO virtual totalitarian control over individual national governments.

As the Brownstone Institute explains, “…it will aim to shift governing authority now reserved to sovereign states to the WHO during a pandemic by legally binding member states to the WHO’s revised International Health Regulations. In January of 2022 the United States submitted proposed amendments to the 2005 International Health Regulations, which bind all 194 UN member states…” [Emphasis added]

Substack author James Rogluski points out in his article, “Ten things everyone should know about the WHO’s ‘Pandemic Treaty’:

  1. What has often been referred to as the “Pandemic Treaty” is now being referred to as the WHO CAII: Convention, Agreement or other International Instrument.
  2. A framework convention or agreement can be adopted under Articles 19-20 and require a 2/3 vote, regulations can be adopted under Articles 21-22 and require a simple majority and recommendations can be adopted under Article 23 of the WHO constitution.
  3. The Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) is meeting Monday, July 18, 2022 to Friday July 22, 2022 to discuss the WHO CAII.
  4. There were over 36,000 written public comments submitted back in April 2022 and the majority of those comments opposed any form of agreement.
  5. The WHO cancelled a previously scheduled public comment period in June 2022.
  6. The INB published a working draft document of the WHO CAII on July 13, 2022 (see below).
  7. The WHO is focused on a concept referred to as “One Health” that seeks to control every aspect of life on earth.
  8. People should pay specific attention to Part 4, specifically Section 13 (control of information) and Section 14 (financing) of the working draft.
  9. Also of note is what is missing from the working draft: there is no evaluation of what went wrong over the past 2.5 years; there is no ban on gain of function research; there is very little focus on health treatments and therapies; there is no patient bill of rights; and there is no support for enabling doctors and patients to make their own decisions.
  10. Organized opposition to the WHO is needed.

There is a Pattern Here

Both the imposition of Covid ‘medical martial law’ to the profit of serial felon Big Pharma companies, and the increasing exclusion from regulatory control of the many serial felon companies comprising the internationally moribund nuclear industry, are ultimately based on hypothetical computer models that are in turn based on hypothetical and possibly fictitious and fraudulent sets of assumptions designed to ‘prove’ pre-established desired conclusions.

This looks like a technocratic, totalitarian take-over on steroids.

If the proposed WHO ‘Pandemic Treaty’ being pushed at the UN is brought into effect superseding national governments, all the countries of the world will be brought together into a United States of Exception.

Time to wake up, get informed, and be persistent in our resistance.

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James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan co-direct EON, the Ecological Options Network a tax-exempt, non-profit organization.  The EON feature documentary SOS The San Onofre Syndrome is now in post-production and will be released soon.

We Do Not Concede to this Corporate Coup Attempt!

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Banner by Laura Lynch – EON Photo

Now our resistance must move from the legislature to the courts… and the streets.

Despite the California vote to extend operating the dangerously old and unmaintained reactors at Diablo Canyon nuclear power station, we at EON are not giving up.

In the last weeks, as public awareness has increased around this issue, we have been encouraged by what we see as a rekindling and re-invigoration of California’s powerful, but recently dormant nuclear free movement.

We will persist in our efforts to educate and warn about the severe, long lasting risks this decision to extend Diablo means to our gorgeous state as well as to the entire planet. 

We will continue to promote the truth about the various viable alternatives to this backwards turn of California energy policy.  Decentralized, flexible energy sources on micro grids provide the answer for reliable energy in turbulent times.

We will also be releasing our documentary soon about the enormous problem of radioactive waste: The San Onofre Syndrome .


Senate final vote on Diablo extension

Assembly final vote on Diablo extension


Blackout Fear Porn Carries the Night

September 1, 2022
The fix was in.  Just past midnight this morning, gormless legislators in both the state Senate and Assembly fell to their knees at the feet of a serial felon corporation, leaving no doubt as to who rules California, and confirming Gavin Newsom as PG&E’s Sock-puppet-in-Chief.

The scripted talking point on many legislators’ lips, “We have no choice,” is the familiar lament of compliant subjects in a totalitarian dictatorship. Nuclear power is the quintessential totalitarian technology,  joined at the hip with nuclear weapons and radioactive waste.

Extending Diablo’s operation is dumb, dangerous and tragically irresponsible:

  • PG&E has not maintained inspections and repairs at Diablo for several years since shutdown has been scheduled 
  • Its components are degraded and one reactor rated as the nation’s most embrittled 
  • Its 2 reactors sit on multiple intersecting earthquake faults 
  • An earthquake would likely exceed the aged plant’s seismic design limits 
  • Diablo does not meet ‘once-through cooling’ legal requirements & is deadly to sea life
  • Diablo routinely releases radioactivity during normal operation into the ocean and air 
  • The Diablo site has no space to store additional spent fuel from extended operation
  • The current method of storing the lethal radioactive waste onsite is totally inadequate
  • Producing tons more of intensely radioactive waste lasting millions of years is outrageously immoral
  • Reversing the shutdown process at this late date would be very high-risk and expensive 
  • After decades of denial. Nuclear Revival Cultists are now admitting – actually as a selling point – that the commercial nuclear power infrastructure and its trained workforce are vital to preserving nuclear weapons production.

Remember
Pessimism without certainty
Optimism without denial
Cultivation of expectation of pleasant surprise

Onward…

James Heddle, Mary Beth Brangan – EON – the Ecological Options Network

Bruce Severance – Diablo Decommissioning Engagement Panel Member Presentation – 8-24-2022

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Bruce Severance speaks at a Diablo Decommissioning Engagement Panel Meeting. Screen grab

A Voice of Reason


Bruce Severence is a member of the Diablo Decommissioning Engagement Panel.

He has recently spoken out in informed critiques of the push to extend the extension of Diablo’s operation in an article and a presentation to his colleagues:


Let’s Be Reasonable about Diablo Canyon and
Research Our Options Before Legislating Disaster


Proposed Nuclear Plant Extension is Unsafe and Far More Costly

and Financially Riskier than Other Grid Stabilization Options.


See also:

Diablo’s long goodbye 

Diablo Decommissioning Engagement Panel Presentation

My name is Bruce Severance. I’m one of the panel members. I want to summarize some of Senator Laird’s comments that were given on the August 12th California Energy Commission and Governor’s Office presentation as a number of the panelists felt that they were extremely relevant and concise. So following that, I’m going to give a few additional comments.

First from Laird’s comments, can we complete the deferred maintenance in time? These are quoted from his excerpts from his script. Bottom line is that we are now faced with a situation where everything that would have been done to renew Diablo Canyon’s operation beyond 2025 during the last six years is now being collapsed into a three-year window.

Item 2, safety requires experienced staff. This issue has been raised by Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee and requires full diligence by the state, including support for training and retention so the skilled workforce needed to deliver plant safety can be assured for years to come.

Item 3, who pays? The existing rate system puts major costs on rate payers in a manner that stresses lower and middle-income rate payers and who are already shouldering the cost of the state’s climate efforts. How will we know who pays and how much before we make a commitment to go forward on the extended life of the plant?

Item 4, spent nuclear fuel storage. The existing facility on site at Diablo Canyon where the spent nuclear fuel is stored is large enough to accommodate the waste generated by the plant until 2025. The capacity question must be answered now as there is today no other place that can accept Diablo’s radioactive waste.

Item 5, seismic concerns. Serious questions have been raised in the community about the completeness of existing seismic studies and their possible lack of full review by neutral third parties. We need to explore the state of existing seismic analyses and get answers as to where there may be gaps and whether retrofitting is required to reduce risk if the plant’s life is extended.

Item 6, once-through cooling. Diablo Canyon is permitted to use once-through cooling technology only until 2025. That technology either needs to be replaced or the right to continue using OTC would have to be extended. If an extension is in order, it needs to be done in a manner that adequately mitigates for the significant environmental impact of releasing warm water into the marine environment over an extended time.

Item 7, permitting. There would likely not be sufficient time to complete permitting before the plant life would be extended. Yet, the engagement process that involves stakeholder involvement and agreement on the previous decision to decommission would only happen around possible extension if environmental processes are completed. There’s a fine line between overriding processes and speeding them up.

Item 8, community transition funding. The state legislature passed SB 1090 shortly after the settlement agreement was completed which allowed $85 million for community funding to ease the transition away from Diablo Canyon’s revenue and labor base. Assurances are needed that those funds, much of which have already been spent, will not need to be returned to Sacramento, and further, that additional mitigation will be available in future years when the plant would close.

Item 9, Diablo Canyon lands. The community has fought hard for the conservation of and public access to the Diablo Canyon lands which were expected to be transferred away from PG&E upon Diablo Canyon’s closure in 2025. This process need not be delayed. It is not only good for the community, it implements the governor’s 30×30 Biodiversity Initiative in one of the richest ecological regions in the state.

Item 10, retirement date certainty. The uncertainties regarding Diablo Canyon’s future causes significant anxiety and interferes on many levels with sound planning in San Luis Obispo County. For this reason, I believe there must be a date certain on the final closure date if the life of the plant is to be extended.

Item 12, offshore wind. San Luis Obispo County will be opened to offshore wind development. One of the allures of this location is the existing transmission lines from Diablo Canyon. How do we ensure that an extension of the life of the nuclear power plant does not hinder the ability to onboard and transmit new, renewable power on the grid using local transmission?

That ends our summary of Senator Laird’s comments at the August 12th joint Energy Commission and Governor’s Office presentation. The following are additional concerns not raised by either Laird or the CEC CISO governor’s presentation.

Reactor vessel embrittlement. The reactor vessel of Unit 1 was found to be among the most embrittled in the nation in 2002. Although the NRC has allowed continued operation and waived further testing, embrittlement could inhibit rapid shutdown of the reactor in an emergency and should be evaluated by the Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee as well as other independent experts.

Second item, incomplete contamination and monitoring records. There was a historical site assessment published by PG&E which cites numerous likely contamination points at the plant that should be routinely checked for radioactive contamination, but PG&E did not make records available to fully complete the report with actual monitoring data. Any further discussion of an operations extension should be predicated upon access to these records and a properly completed historic site assessment. The public deserves to know.

Item 3, rate payer and taxpayer equity. Proposed legislation seeks to offer a $1.4 billion forgivable loan from the state’s general fund to PG&E to fund the cost of license extension and deferred maintenance and continued operations. Costs will also be transferred to community choice aggregators, also known as CCAs, statewide. This will affect both, place a disproportional burden on low-income families as well as undermine the efforts and financial solvency of CCAs that are the primary competition to investor-owned utilities and are run by local government agencies to speed the transition to 100% renewables on the grid. PG&E has suggested that CCAs should pay the additional operating costs through the PCIA. That is a power charge and difference assessment.

20-year license extension. PG&E has suggested, although not confirmed, that they may apply for a 20-year license extension. This is in direct conflict with the governor’s plan to extend the life of the plant for five to 10 years. There’s a very low probability that a five to 10-year life extension would make economic sense given the level of investment needed to operate the plant safely. There doesn’t seem to be a low capitalization alternative to allow continued operation for the few years between 2025 and 2029, during which the projected shortfall on the grid is anticipated. We’re stuck making a 20-year investment to solve a five-year problem.

Item 5, further discussion of the grid shortfall is needed. Senator Laird suggested that there should be further discussion about whether there will, in fact, be a periodic shortfall of power in the 2025 to 2030 time frame and that other options for meeting resource adequacy should be explored. I would suggest reexamination of Loretta Lynch’s study of the August 2020 blackouts which suggests that CISO had the capacity online but was contractually obligated to export it to other states. This would suggest that better modeling and projections and possibly a higher resource adequacy requirement may have solved the problem.

Item 6, peak demand is intermittent. Diablo is a constant source of power. There is an inherent mismatch in the strategy to solve a periodic peak demand problem with large continuous generation. Peak demand is driven by residential HVAC, and exceptional peak demand events are driven by heat waves that occur once in five years. There seems to be an obvious mismatch between the problem and the proposed solution. A further indication that continuation of DCPP operations cannot be more cost effective than other strategies that are suited to address the intermittent problem.

 

Item 7, study is needed. Economics, safety issues, and alternatives should be fully explored before this legislature elects to mandate life-extended operations at the plant. There are better technological solutions to provide grid stability. For example, electric vehicle batteries feeding into the grid during peak demand hours would have prevented the 2020 blackouts. Hydrogen peaker plant turbines with flexible fuel that can run on both natural gas and hydrogen are now commercially available and can facilitate gradual decarbonization of gas peaker plants. This would solve all long-term grid storage problems and harmonize renewables on the grid while avoiding all possible stranded asset scenarios that pose a much larger economic risk with continued Diablo Canyon operations.

Senator Laird calls for a Marshall Plan for California energy, and we feel that further steady is needed before Diablo Canyon extension is approved. If PG&E rushes headlong into applying for license extension, we may face consequences that will not serve a higher public good.

Chuck (11:11):

Thank you, Bruce.

Speaker 3 (11:13):

Chuck, could I just ask for some clarification?

Chuck (11:16):

Yes.

Speaker 3 (11:16):

In reference to these other concerns, just for the House and also for the general public, it would be good to state where these other concerns came from or who they’re actually representing. I know there’s been a lot of discussion.

Bruce Severance (11:32):

I said that they were my additional concerns that were added to Laird’s, but I did work on those in collaboration with some of the other [inaudible 00:11:39].

Speaker 3 (11:39):

And the last statement, as far as “we,” who are “we”?

Bruce Severance (11:45):

That’s a really good point. I meant to take “we” out, and I apologize if I left it in. I did take it out one other place. So I should correct that now for the record and say “I” instead.

Speaker 3 (11:57):

Thank you.

Chuck (12:00):

Thank you very much.