Monthly Archives: November 2023

The Diablo Canyon Syndrome – A History of Nuclear Negligence at Diablo – Dan Hirsch

An EON Video Report by James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan

Déjà vu All Over Again & Again –
What More Do We Need to Know to Shutdown Diablo Now?

Daniel Hirsch lays out the long, sad history of PG&E and NRC nuclear negligence and incompetence at Diablo Canyon in this excerpted testimony before Senator Barbara Boxer’s Committee on Environment and Public Works, Dec. 3, 2014.

Hirsch heads and is a lecturer on nuclear policy at the University of California in Santa Cruz. His testimony shows that from Humboldt Bay to Bodega Head to Diablo Canyon PG&E has consistently chosen nuclear sites on earthquake faults and the NRC has consistently failed to enforce its own seismic safety standards.

Lest We Forget

This is a video and transcript of Hirsch’s testimony in a December 3, 2014 meeting of the U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, chaired by then California Senator Barbara Boxer re: Seismic Safety at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant.

Panelists included Hirsch, Dr. Sam Blakeslee, a geophysicist, former Republican California state senator, and former California Seismic Safety Commission member, and Anthony Pietrangelo of the National  Energy Institute (NEI), a nuclear power advocacy group. 

Dr. Blakeslee’s testimony is here

The full historic hearing can be viewed here

EON Graphic

The Boxer Legacy

During her decades of service in the U.S. Congress – first as a California Representative from 1983 to 1993, then as Senator from 1993-2017 – Democrat Barbara Boxer was an indomitable and consistent advocate for sane, safe, responsible state and national nuclear policy.

Hirsch’s historically detailed testimony in this hearing reveals the classic textbook example of PG&E’s and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s longstanding private-public partnership in the perpetual project of corporate regulatory capture. 

In a rational society, the patterns, events and conditions Hirsch describes should have been enough to cause the immediate shuttering of Diablo Canyon in 2014.

Their urgency is even starker today as attempts are being made to extend Diablo 2 aged, dangerously embrittled reactors’ operation for 20 more years beyond their scheduled shutdown dates in 2024 and 2025. 

Administration of Diablo’s operation has been stuck on stupid for a long time. 

It’s high time to hit the Off Switch.


Senator Boxer:           I’m just thrilled with this panel…. Dan Hirsch is someone I’ve worked with… is the word forever apt here? Honestly, I don’t know how far back it goes, but I think it was before I was in the United States Senate. We’re talking decades of… And I just think he is tremendous. He’s a lecturer, University of California Santa Cruz, and that doesn’t begin to describe his contribution to safety from toxics and the rest. I’m very happy you’re here. I’m very grateful to you for sticking around because I know this has been a long wait, but as you could tell from the first panel, these issues are matters of life and death and that’s why we took the time we took and I didn’t want to rush your panel. I have a lot of time here, so we’ll go back and forth. So Mr. Hirsch, do you want to please begin and we’ll give you six minutes….

Dan Hirsch:    I have a written statement…

Senator Boxer:           We will put in the record.

Dan Hirsch:    Thank you. Chairman Boxer, thank you so much for the invitation to appear here today. The Japanese parliamentary investigation into the Fukushima tragedy concluded that it was caused by a too cozy relationship between the reactor operator and its regulator that allowed the nuclear plant to be built to withstand only an earthquake and tsunami far smaller than actually occurred. These problems plague the American nuclear regulatory system as well. My testimony will focus on an examination of one case study, Diablo Canyon, that suggests the Fukushima lessons have not been learned here. This is particularly important in light of the extraordinary new seismic discoveries near the site and the inadequate response to them by the NRC. Unless the underlying dysfunctional nature of nuclear regulation in this country rapidly undergoes sweeping reform. A Fukushima-type disaster or worse can occur here perhaps on the California coast. Diablo was designed and permitted based on the claim that there were no active earthquake faults within 30 kilometers of the site.

            We now know, however, that there are at least four large active faults nearby, all capable of more ground motion than the plant was originally designed for. Each time there was a new belated seismic discovery at Diablo, however, the commission gave PG&E a pass. Rules were relaxed, safety margins reduced, public hearings denied. The most recent discoveries of increased seismic risk have met the same fate. At the construction permit hearings in 1970, the intervener asked for a few hours to present evidence of nearby faults. PG&E and the commission staff objected and the NRC refused to permit the matter to be heard. One board member-

Senator Boxer:           Say that one more time. That last point.

Dan Hirsch:    In 1970, interveners wanted a few hours to be able to present evidence of undiscovered faults. Both PG&E and the commission staff objected. The licensing board refused to permit the testimony. Tom Pigford, a member of committee of the board dissented saying, “Shouldn’t we find out before we pour concrete if there are earthquake faults?”

Senator Boxer:           Thank you.

Dan Hirsch:    He lost and they went ahead and poured the concrete and almost immediately was revealed that there was an offshore fault, the Hosgri fault, much larger than the plant was designed for. But instead of withdrawing the permit or requiring a full upgrade to deal with the new fault, the NRC waived the normal requirements of the license and granted an exception for the Hosgri. Only minimal retrofits were required but it didn’t end then. Within days of granting the operating license, NRC. Egg on his face had to rescind it because it turned out that PG&E had used the wrong blueprints for putting in the retrofits. Mirror image blueprints, placing the retrofits in the wrong places. They had to do it all over again, leading to a cost moving from $320 million to over $5 billion. The cost over end largely passed on to the rate payer.

            But, we were sure, don’t worry, we’re sure there can’t be any more faults out there. And then a few years later, the second and the third nearby faults were discovered, the Los Osos and San Luis Bay faults. Again, we were told, don’t worry, there can’t be any more surprises. And then in 2008, the US geologic survey found the fourth fault that wasn’t supposed to exist, the shoreline fault, coming within 600 meters of the plant. PG&E and NRC said, “Don’t worry. The three recently identified faults were well within the license limits,” but then something absolutely remarkable happened. Dr. Michael Peck, the senior resident inspector for NRC at Diablo actually went and checked the license and what he discovered was that all three of those faults, according to PG&E itself, had ground motions greater than the plant license allowed.

            He said that it should be shut down until the problem was fixed. So PG&E proposed instead of fixing the plant, to amend the license to remove the provisions they were violating. But even that didn’t work because they couldn’t meet the criteria for license amendment. So they withdrew it, and that should have been the end of the matter. The plant should have been shut down until it was retrofitted. But instead, NRC allowed PG&E to in essence, amend the license without amending the license, all to avoid a public hearing. And then Peck took the gutsy step of filing the dissenting professional opinion, which this September as expected, the NRC rejected. But here’s where the story gets most troubling with developments essentially not reported to the public until today. On the very same day, NRC issued to the news media its denial of Dr. Peck’s dissent, PG&E released an 1800 page study required by the state of the seismic situation near the facility and they discovered that the Shoreline fault which they hadn’t even known about until a few years earlier, was twice as long as they previously thought. That a number of the faults are now estimated to produce larger magnitude earthquakes than they had thought just a few years ago. And that again, all of these are estimated to produce ground motions in excess, it was permitted in the license for all faults except the Hans Cree. It’s deja vu all over again. Repeat of the problem we’ve seen year after year. And unless we fix these problems, regulated entities pressing for weakening of safety requirements and of regulators viewing themselves more as allies of the industry rather than protectors of public safety, we will not have learned the lessons of Fukushima. And a Fukushima type disaster is just waiting to happen here. All it takes, just as that Fukushima, is an earthquake larger than the plant was designed to withstand. It could happen tomorrow.

Senator Boxer:           Thank you for your testimony. It’s quite riveting and you tell it in most straightforward way, and that’s what I know about you and what I’ve always admired. You just give us the facts and you let us understand the drama just by giving us the facts. And this is dramatic testimony and I’m very grateful. Can you please confirm to your knowledge, because you may not know this but I’m asking you, can you confirm that NRC has thus far always accepted estimates of how strong an earthquake might occur at Diablo Canyon that use questionable science to minimize the risk Mr. Hirsch?

Dan Hirsch:    That’s been the pattern over and over again. When the Hosgri was discovered belatedly, 80% of the plant was already constructed. And so, rather than require them to upgrade it to the shaking that you could get from that earthquake, they allowed them to use a bunch of fudge factors.

Senator Boxer:           Uh-huh.

Dan Hirsch:    Four different fudge factors so that they could in the end do almost no retrofitting. Commissioners Galinsky and Bradford on the commission at the time, dissented vigorously and said that this was carving out to the essential safety margins that were needed. What’s intriguing is that after the Hosgri was done and they created an exception for it, they’re now using even less protective assumptions now that these new faults have been discovered. And that’s why I was struck by the difference between the first panel and this panel. I wasn’t even sure which planet I was on. I was getting all these assurances.

Senator Boxer:           Well, welcome to my world, Dan.

Regulatory Capture as The Norm

Dan Hirsch:    Yeah. All these assurances that [they] were on top of it. But what I see by looking at the historic record, is that the NRC has been wrong every single time on Diablo and never seems to get embarrassed. Every time they claim there’s no additional fault, there’s a new one. Every time there’s a new fault, they say it can’t produce more shaking and then it turns out that it does. And what I’m most worried about is that you can’t make the earthquake go away by changing the input assumptions on a piece of paper. Nature isn’t going to cooperate with the fiction. That’s what happened at Fukushima. The regulator allowed them to build the reactor for a fictional earthquake and tsunami.

Senator Boxer:           Right.

Dan Hirsch:    Much less than could occur. And that’s what’s happening at Diablo and at many other plants around the country.

Senator Boxer:           Right. I would say when you say you thought you’re on another planet, if you took this question outside of this room and we just went up to a person on the street in any town near a nuclear power plant, not near nuclear power plant, and you said, “Do you think we should be building nuclear power plant near earthquake faults?” They would start laughing and say, “You mean to say you guys allow that?” I mean that is the biggest no-brainer known to mankind.

PG&E’s Rap Sheet

Dan Hirsch:    And Senator Boxer, look at the record in California for PG&E alone, they built a plant at Humboldt Bay which now has had to be shut down because of the discovery of an earthquake fault that they had claimed wasn’t active. They wanted to build one at Bodega Head and they actually dug the foundation for it. A huge hole called hole in the head by the locals and someone, seismologists crawled into it on a weekend and found a fault in the hole, right where the reactor was going to go. So that’s why there’s no reactor at Bodega Head. So then they turned their attention down to Diablo.

Senator Boxer:           Right. You just can’t manipulate like that. This is shocking. This is, in my view, unethical. This is dangerous and I just hope that what comes out of this today via the media who I hope will hear this point, is that we have new information about these earthquake faults and an inspector came in from the NRC and said, “PG&E is not operating Diablo Canyon in compliance with its license requirements because of these faults.” And he said, “The reactor should be shut down until PG&E comes back into compliance.” So I want to ask the three of you a yes or a no and hope you’ll be able to do that. Do you think that NRDC’s… I’m sorry, NRC’s decision to allow PG&E to study its seismic vulnerabilities for as many as four more years before any safety upgrades are required can substitute for NRC’s responsibility to ensure that licensees comply with the terms of their operating license? In other words, it’s a long question. They say you’ve got four more years before you have to make any upgrades as opposed to ensuring that they make them sooner, would you say now or four years?

Dan Hirsch:    Now. The earthquake may not wait four years.

Senator Boxer:           Good point.

Getting Beyond ‘Paralysis by Analysis’

Dr. Sam Blakeslee:     We are very familiar with paralysis by analysis and the threat now is unequivocally so great as a result of these new studies, that action is required immediately.

Senator Boxer:           Sir?

Anthony Pietrangelo of the National  Energy Institute (NEI):                      

Licensees should allow it to be continued to operate because there are measures in place to deal with beyond design basis, external hazards like seismic or flooding or rain or hurricanes. That was the response to Fukushima that the industry, as ordered by the NRC in 2012, implemented.

Senator Boxer:           Do you agree with that?

Dan Hirsch:    May I respond to that?

Senator Boxer:           Yes, please.

Dan Hirsch:    I sat through the licensing hearings for Diablo many years ago where the issue of the functioning of the emergency plan in an earthquake was raised. The intervener said that the freeway, the only way in and out is highway one and the one-on-one and the overpasses, could easily come down to an earthquake and you have to have a functioning emergency plan according to the law. And the NRC ruled, and I was stunned. I’ve never quite seen something with so much logic, it’s been twisted into such a pretzel. The NRC ruled that they didn’t need to have an emergency plan that would function after an earthquake because it was not credible, their term, that there would ever be an earthquake and a nuclear accident Diablo simultaneously. Well, no one that was ever talking about them being two separate events. We’re talking about an earthquake that causes an accident and then people can’t get out.

            And so, to say that there are good systems for dealing with this, if there’s a “beyond design basis event,” which means something occurs that they didn’t design for, really begs the question that is the whole problem. Fukushima wasn’t designed for the earthquake that could occur.

Senator Boxer:           Mr. Hirsch, your written testimony describes numerous instances in which the NRC used irregular licensing and other processes to find a way to allow Diablo to be built and operated. Could you once again just summarize that? In other words, there’s been a parade of these things over the years and I know and you’ve done it but if you could summarize all the, if you will, errors in judgment the NRC has made leading up to this point?

The NRC Rap Sheet

Dan Hirsch:    One of the best ways of telling whether the five commissioners who testified here earlier today really have it under control is to empirically look at the track record of how well the NRC has done. So let’s look at that record for Diablo. They built it claiming there were no earthquake faults that were active within 30 kilometers. They said you only have to design the facility for a ground motion of 0.4 g. Then the Hosgri was discovered and they said, you don’t have to use the normal assumptions for the Hosgri. We will let you use four different fudge factors that take the estimated ground motion from 1.15 g, which is what USGS said would be the normal figure, and reduced it down to something less than 0.6. They used pencils and erasers to try to lower the estimated ground motion rather than deal with the ground motion that was there.

            But then they made an actual finding, the licensing board, that is highly unlikely that there are any more faults that we haven’t discovered. And we’re absolutely certain that the Hosgri fault is not connected to the San Simeon fault and that there’s high quality assurance of how the plant is being built. And then the day that the utility people were flying back from Washington with their operating license, it was discovered that they had put the retrofits in all the wrong places. And then they said there can’t be-


Senator Boxer:           Explain what you mean by that, they put them in all the wrong places? Mean, physically and-

Dan Hirsch:    The two units at…

Senator Boxer:           Yeah.

Dan Hirsch:    Diablo units one [and] unit two.

Senator Boxer:           Yeah.

Dan Hirsch:    And they were built to mirror image blueprints of each other. So when they got into going into one unit to put the retrofits in, they used the wrong set of blueprints. The ones that were the mirror image of the unit they were putting it in. So the pipe snubbers and the whip restraints were put in the wrong places and they had to go back and do it all over again. Complete breakdown in quality assurance. But they said, “Don’t worry, we’re fine now. There can’t be any more faults.” Then they found the San Luis Bay and Los Osos were active and they said, “Don’t worry, those can’t cause more ground motion than in the license. They can’t cause more than the 0.4 g.” But then Dr. Peck went and actually looked at PG&E’s estimates and they were estimating those three new faults, shoreline, Los Osos and San Luis were producing from 0.6 to 0.7 g. Anyone knows that’s a lot higher than 0.4. They were way over the level.

            So now they’re doing, as Dr. Blakeslee indicates, it’s the same thing. They’re sharpening the pencils again and they’re saying, let’s change the assumptions and let’s reduce the safety margins further and drive our estimate of the ground motion down further rather than upgrade the plant. And look in real terms, you either fix the problem or you try to use your pencil to make it pretend to go away but nature doesn’t let things disappear. It was a 9.0 quake at Fukushima. The plant wasn’t built for it. There was a massive tsunami. It wasn’t built for it. And let me make one last point here. The chart that you showed so effectively of the 12 recommendations that haven’t been carried out.

Senator Boxer:           Yeah.

Dan Hirsch:    Those are tiny steps they were supposed to take to deal with Fukushima. The baby steps, and they haven’t done them.

Senator Boxer:           Right.

Dan Hirsch:    What they haven’t done are, even thought about the big steps. Reactor containment in this country are not required to be designed to withstand a meltdown accident. The evacuation plan isn’t required to work in the case of an event that requires it. You don’t have to have offsite power that will stay in place long enough to keep the fuel cooled over the long periods as we saw at Fukushima. The big problems they aren’t even thinking about and the small problems they’re not fixing. And they’re just hoping that we get lucky. And that’s the problem with earthquakes, it’s just tossing dice.

Senator Boxer:           Right.

Dan Hirsch:    When will one of those faults move? It’s not up to the NRC.

Senator Boxer:           Right.

Hiroshima Times 1000

Dan Hirsch:    It’s not up to the Nuclear Energy Institute or PG&E. Nature’s going to decide when that fault moves. And the question is the plant going to be ready for it? And right now, it’s not. One more point back there a thousand times the long-life radioactivity of the Hiroshima bomb in each of those reactors.

Senator Boxer:           Say that again.

Dan Hirsch:    1000 times, the long-life radioactivity of the Hiroshima bomb is in each of the diablo reactors and 10 times that in the spent fuel pools. And the only way it stays in place is if the cooling isn’t lost. And an earthquake, as we’ve seen at Fukushima, can destroy the cooling. And it’s not just the 500,000 people within the immediate area, you could wipe out for practical purposes, a substantial portion of our state. That radioactivity has to stay inside those domes and the only way that happens is if the reactors are built to withstand the worst thing that can happen.

Anthony Pietrangelo (NEI):     Can I correct Mr. Hirsch for a moment? I mean that-

Senator Boxer:           Let me just finish and yes you can, sir. You can have your time to give your perspective on it but please finish. And while you’re at it, Mr Hirsch, do you happen to know how many of the rods were permitted for those pools and whether were over those rods as it was designed-

Dan Hirsch:    Again the problem: they built the pools to handle only a few fuel rods, and then they kept re-racking and re-racking, making them more and more compact. So the National Academy of Sciences has indicated that under some loss of coolant events, you could not only have the fuel in the pools lose their cooling but they could catch fire because the zirconium cladding tends to burn when it gets hot in the presence of air. It doesn’t happen for every accident sequence but can happen for some. And that, as I say, there’s 10 times more long-lived radioactivity in the pools than there are in the reactors. You have to prevent there being an event that the systems can’t withstand.

Regulatory Fictions

            I have seen for decades of watching the NRC, that they basically, at industry urging, create regulatory fictions. One example, Governor Brown, when he was governor the first time in California, was an intervener in the Diablo proceeding. And his experts said that you needed to have a security plan that could protect against 12 attackers. PG&E and NRC said, “Absolutely impossible. There’ll never be an attack involving more than three people in the United States.” 9/11 was 19. So over and over again, they’ve been wrong and the reason is because it’s cheaper to pretend that a smaller threat can exist.

Senator Boxer:           Well, it’s all follow the money. And 500,000 people, one of them sitting in front of me who’s living in a circumstance where if I don’t do my job and NRC doesn’t do its job, there could be a terrible situation. Now, if you’re conservative, you want to do the conservative thing. And it seems to me a pretty straightforward thing. You either suspend operation until you’ve retrofitted the plant in the right way and fix it and start it up or that’s it. Those are the two options. You can either fix up the plant or you can suspend operation. So it seems to me that what the NRC has apparently done which is to give them four years, and what they’re doing to change science which we’re used to around here, give people’s views of scientists and climate they change, they pronounce what they want about it. But I don’t, I listen to the scientists and I am very suspicious when you tell me that they have changed their analysis of how much the plant will shake just to, by happenstance, meet the levels that are allowed in the license.

            This is scary, and I don’t want to overstate what I feel because I don’t want to impugn people but I do want to say, there’s a lot at stake here. I’ve gone through some horrific things in California including an explosion of a pipeline where people died and it turned out they weren’t inspections, they weren’t upgrades. I’ve gone through a traumatic experience with San Onofre where they made an upgrade, but it was faulty. And there but for the grace of God, that place is shut down and it’s clear to me what the options are. I just want to say to all three of you, you’ve been terrific, all of you. I think the fact that there was a little give and take, that way, this way, is always good. And I think that what for me, is the critical piece here is the safety of that little daughter.

            And yeah, that’s it. That’s why I’m here. I’m not here for any other reason. There’s no other reason I’m here. And I will continue to push hard on this but I also want to say to the two of my constituents, how important your work is back home. What you did to get the information about the new earthquake and Governor Schwarzenegger, then signing that, congratulations. What if we didn’t know about it? I mean, you can only be as good as the information that you have. So I want to thank all three of you. This has been a really long day for us here to get to this but I think when it comes to the safety of 500,000 people, if we have to do this again, although I must admit I won’t have this anymore and won’t Mr. Petrangelo be excited when this gavel goes over to my buddy Jim Inhofe who sees things a bit differently.

But you know what, I still have a role, a voice, and we’ll still continue to work together.

Thank you very much. We stand adjourned.


Outraged yet?  Sign Mothers for Peace Petition

Demand safety inspections at Diablo Canyon nuclear plant!

Nukes Built on a Weak Foundation Cannot Stand, Oh No!


James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan are co-founders of EON – the Ecological Options  Network.  The EON production SOS – The San Onofry Syndrome: Nuclear Power’s Legacy received it’s World Premier at the Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA October 10, 2023, where it won the Grand Jury Award for feature documentary.  SOS was co-directed by Heddle, Brangan and Morgan Peterson, who also served as editor.

From Global Nuclear Risks to a Solar-Hydrogen Economy

S. David Freeman interviewed by Mary Beth Brangan and James Heddle

S. David Freeman – EON photo

The late S. David Freeman was a legendary public utility administrator, who was a committed advocate of a solar-hydrogen economy credited with holding the lifetime record for the number of nuclear reactors shut down on his watch. He was a major force in the negotiation of the scheduled shutdown agreement of Diablo Canyon which is now being contested at the instigation of California Gavin Newsom at the behest of a nuclear industry threatened by an overdose of market forces.
This is an interview excerpted from our 1992 documentary PUBLIC POWER – From Energy Crisis to Solar Democracy . At that time he was the Administrator of SMUD, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which terminated nuclear power generation in response to a popular vote.



The government has subsidized all of the supply side sources, the fossil fuels as well as nuclear. Nuclear, I think stands out for its hypocrisy more than the others because the nuclear people are now coming along and saying, “Hey, we’ve got the answer to global warming and all we want is a market-oriented energy policy.” This is what the Bush administration is saying. And yet, if you know anything about the subject, you know that Wall Street has rated nuclear power too risky to use. You can’t get it insured. And the government is providing free insurance. It’s subsidizing the technology in the most fundamental way. It couldn’t be used if you didn’t have the Price-Anderson Act. So how can anybody with an IQ of over 100 and a straight face say that nuclear power is something to be used in a market-oriented energy policy?

I’ve had the misfortune of probably having had as much experience with nuclear power as anyone else since I came to the Tennessee Valley Authority. They had 14 large reactors under construction, and we shut eight of them down. And then I came here to SMUD and found that another reactor had just been shut down. I think that as the years have gone on, the analysis of the nuclear technology becomes clearer and clearer and could spend this country’s most expensive technological failure thus far. I think the bottom line is that this technology was advertised as too cheap to meter, and it’s turned out to be too expensive to use. In order to make it safe enough, it becomes uneconomical.

The visit to Chernobyl in April distilled a lot of things that were floating around in my mind. The safety issue tends to be sloughed off and brushed aside. And then you go over and see that there’s millions of people whose lives are essentially wiped out and an area the size of Northern California is contaminated forever, or at least for thousands of years, and the enormity of the accident hits you, where you’ve got hundreds of thousands of people contaminated. We can keep the lights on without running that kind of risk. I mean, you’re talking about the gene pool of the world. Why do you want to pursue something that is inherently capable of providing a nuclear hell for large parts of this world? It just doesn’t make sense, except that there’s all this money.

The opposition grew and grew and grew, and it was because the people didn’t play a role or wasn’t even consulted or had no part in the development. And one of the problems with nuclear power is it’s inherently a centralized technology that requires a very strong central government. It requires a very large police force. And of course the solar option, and people should realize this, they keep sloughing away at solar power, but this is very important. The solar option is a complete alternative to the fossil fuels. And the reason I say that is, I know there’s not much sun in North Dakota or Maine, but solar power can take ordinary water and break it into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen can be moved in a pipeline just like natural gas is moved in a pipeline. So we can have a solar hydrogen energy economy that completely satisfies all of our energy needs.

And hydrogen, when it’s burned, has a byproduct. Water. So there’s no pollution and it can be used in fuel cells, ideally, and the fuel cells may power cars. So the technology for a cleaner and more economical energy economy is there.


James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan are co-founders of EON – the Ecological Options Network. The EON production SOS – The San Onofry Syndrome: Nuclear Power’s Legacy received its World Premier at the Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA October 10, 2023, where it won the Grand Jury Award for feature documentary. SOS was directed by Heddle, Brangan and Morgan Peterson, who also served as editor.

Clear & Present Dangers AND Opportunities at Diablo Canyon

An EON Interview with Mothers for Peace Spokeswoman Linda Seeley

Why are they trying to start up old reactors that are already shut down and build SMRs on the sites that are already down? I know it’s the weapons. It’s the revamping of our nuclear weapons system. – Linda Seeley

By Mary Beth Brangan and James Heddle

[Editors’ Note: The San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace was organized in 1969 and has been steadfastly advocating for local and national nuclear safety ever since.]

Linda Seeley – EON photo

The Current State of Play – A Slim Window of Opportunity

Heddle: So give us the current state of play. How does the situation shake out now? What should informed and vigilant citizens be aware of here?

Seeley: We have several different things going on at Diablo Canyon right now. Number one, at this very moment, the unit one reactor is offline for refueling. It’s a planned outage. And in this particular very precious amount of time that we have right now until they want to start it up again, Mothers for Peace has filed a petition at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which they rejected offhand, by the way. And we knew that they would do that because that’s what they always do. But we had to do it anyway to establish paper trail, if that’s what you want to call it.


If there were, God forbid, say an earthquake or an error by one of the control room people or several of them, or a cascade of events or an unanticipated attack or any number of different things that could happen at a highly complicated nuclear power plant, and if, God forbid, they had to turn the unit one reactor off quickly, the way they do it is by pouring water, cold water into the reactor vessel to make it shut down.

But unfortunately, the unit one reactor vessel is brittle. And it’s just like if you had a steaming, hot boiling cup of water and you pour ice into it, it cracks. And the same thing could happen to the unit one reactor vessel. And there is no backup safety system for that. If it cracked and shattered like that, it would be literally a worldwide catastrophe on the level of Fukushima. And we are completely unprepared to deal with it. There is no way to deal with it.

The NRC and PG&E say, “No, it’s fine. The reactor vessel is fine.” And so what happened is that several years ago, we found a document that was actually related to the Palisades plant in Michigan, and they had a community meeting. And at that community meeting the NRC listed the various reactor vessels that were embrittled, and on that list was the Diablo Canyon unit one.

We tried to explore that, but we’re not technical, we’re not trained as scientists, as material scientists. But we had a community member here who’s also a member of the Diablo Canyon Decommissioning panel, who is an engineer, not a nuclear engineer, but he started looking after I mentioned at the decommissioning panel that we thought that the unit one reactor vessel was brittle. He started investigating and he started reading all of these papers that were technical and indecipherable to a normal person. And he read 4,000 pages of material over a period of about a year.

And he became very alarmed, and he came to me and he said, this is bad. We need to figure this out because it looks like the reactor vessel of unit one really is going to fail if they must shut it down in an emergency.

So, Mothers for Peace had kind of a miracle in a way because we had been looking for a materials engineer. All the materials engineers work for the nuclear industry, and you can’t hire them because if they work for you, they’re kaput. They can’t work anymore.

So, Michael Keagan out in Michigan sent us a notice about this reactor, or two reactors, I think it was, in Belgium that were embrittled and went offline. And I sent for a report about it, and I started reading this report and it was like, wow, that sounds really like unit one at Diablo Canyon.

And so, we checked the author and it turned out to be a very highly esteemed material scientist. His name is Digby McDonald. He’s elderly. He’s a faculty member at UC Berkeley, and he’s written over a thousand papers. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in chemistry. This year, he’s nominated for the Enrico Fermi prize. He is a brilliant man, and he agreed to work for Mothers for Peace. We still don’t know why. He was interested. For him, it was a matter of intellectual curiosity. Why are these people yelling about embrittlement? And he had already worked on embrittlement in Belgium and had written a report about it and found that they were embrittled, those reactors. They’re down now.

And so, we started sending him information about it. It took him a while to understand the gravity of the problem, because he is not anti-nuclear. He is pro- nuclear, and he doesn’t want the nuclear industry to get a bad name by allowing a dangerous equipment to be used. So, he started reading through all the documents just as our community panel member had done, and he was aghast, frankly, at what had happened.

Not Collecting Coupons

And here’s what had happened. According to the rules of the NRC, you’re supposed to remove a thing called a coupon out of the interior of a reactor vessel once every 10 years and test it and that coupon is made of the same stuff that’s inside the reactor vessel. The coupons are different. Not all of them are made of the same stuff. The stuff that’s really … Well, it’s all important, but the most vulnerable is the metal that’s made of the weld material inside, because where the welds are, that’s where it’s most vulnerable. So, they had the weld material from unit one back in 2002. They sent it for analysis at a lab, came back, “Oh wow, this reactor vessel is going to not be safe after about 2023, 2024.” So, in all their wisdom, guess what PG&E did? They said, “That’s not valid. We’re going to use a different test.” So, they got some samples from a different reactor vessel, and they used that test. It was very similar to this unit one reactor vessel. So why not use that?

Brangan: Wait, was this a reactor vessel that was at the same location?

Seeley: No, it was a reactor vessel from I think Michigan. It wasn’t even from the same location. It was not subjected to the same conditions. Then they used mathematical equations to prove that the reactor vessel was fine. They have not removed a capsule from the unit one reactor vessel since 2002, even though according to the rules, they’re supposed to do it every 10 years.

Right now, that reactor is down for maintenance and refueling, and Mothers for Peace in our petition to the NRC said, “Hey, you need to order them to take a capsule out and test it and get the results back before you can turn that back on.”

Heddle: That’s according to law, is it? Regulation?

Seeley: The NRC’s own regulations. But the problem with the NRC is if you make the regulations, you can also bend the regulations. I think that’s their motto. Regulations were meant to be changed or made easier for the industry because that’s what they do.

Heddle: Or granted an exception?
Seeley: Grant all the exceptions, yeah.

No Ultrasonic Inspection of the Reactor Vessel

Seeley: And then there’s also another issue, it’s called the ultrasonic inspection of the belt line. The belt line is the part of the interior of the reactor vessel that is under the most heat, stress, and neutron bombardment; it’s the most vulnerable part of the vessel. And so, every 10 years, they’re supposed to inspect the interior of that with ultrasound. That has not happened for 15 years. That’s the other part of our demands on this petition – inspect it, get the results back, let the public know.

Mothers for Peace, if it turns out that that reactor vessel is hunky-dory, well, phew, yay, we would be very happy about that. But we know that it isn’t and we want to get those results back.

Seismic Thrust Faults

Seeley: There’s another part that’s worrisome too, which is the seismic issue at

Diablo Canyon.

In our filings with the California Public Utilities Commission, we decided that it would be wise for us to hire an expert witness, a seismologist, to review all the literature that’s available about the seismic conditions at Diablo Canyon. And he is again, highly respected. His name is Peter Bird. He’s from UCLA, very highly respected seismologist.

And he reviewed of all the history of Diablo Canyon seismic inspections or analysis, and by the way, he’s one of the authors of the prior level three seismic hazard analysis, so he knows about Diablo. What he says is that during the past 10 years since they did any seismic studies at Diablo Canyon, the technology has changed a lot, and there’s a lot more available to analyze what we already know. There are a lot more tools available to analyze. And he says that there’s a very good likelihood that the fault line that runs right under the plant is called a thrust fault, meaning that instead of moving sideways, it moves up and down if it goes off.

And if you have one that moves up and down, the ground motion is a lot bigger than it would be with a lateral fault, and it goes right under the plant. And so, he is requesting, and Mothers for Peace is requesting a level three seismic hazard analysis. The NRC is the one that orders that. They could order it for Diablo Canyon for this license extension. They won’t.

“Fool Me Once…” Overextension – Will Duped Legislators Respond?

Seeley: This is a complicated thing we’ve got going here. Right now, I think the future of Diablo Canyon rests in our state legislature. They’re the ones who were duped into voting for extending the life of it back in August of 2022. A lot of those legislators who were duped are now regretting their choice.

Brangan: How do you know that?

Seeley: We’ve talked to them privately and others have talked to them privately, and they understand that we don’t need Diablo Canyon. I can’t attribute with certainty any motivation to Gavin Newsom. Maybe he sincerely believes that we need Diablo Canyon to keep the lights on, but I don’t think so, and that’s my personal opinion.

But we know that Diablo Canyon, if there were an accident there, that it would completely ruin the economy of California. I mean, that’s the thing they’re the most interested in, I think. For us, it would totally ruin our lives, and it would ruin our food, and it would ruin the ocean, and it would ruin our rivers and streams, and it would ruin the animals, and it would ruin the whole entire ecosystem. And it would be like the most ridiculous tragedy that ever happened for no good reason, because of the egos of some corporate managers or Gavin Newsom. I don’t know. But it would be a tremendous tragedy.

And when you think that we don’t need it, and yet we’re putting two and a half billion dollars into keeping it open and it’s dangerous, why on earth would we pursue such a path? It is insanity to do that.

And so that’s what people can do. People can call their own state legislators and they can say, “Look, this has gone too far. This is a ridiculous situation that we’re in.” There are off ramps. They’re called ‘off ramps’ to SB 846, the law that made Diablo Canyon stay online.

And by the way, this law says that they’ll extend the life of Diablo Canyon for five years. Don’t believe that for a second. PG&E is applying for a 20-year license extension.

Extension Means More Nuclear Waste Stored On-Site

Seeley: With this possible extension of the license at Diablo Canyon, there’s a whole other issue that they haven’t addressed at all, which is the storage of the nuclear waste. Right now, we have 58 casks that are on these pads that are like the size of two football fields. Okay? The casks are each about, I think about 24 feet tall and about 20 feet in diameter. The canister inside the caskets is five eighths inch thick, stainless steel.

Seeley: Each cask that’s there of the 58 holds about the equivalent amount of radiation as was released at Chernobyl. It’s shocking when you think about it. Now what they’re doing at Diablo Canyon is filling the spent fuel pools. They’re packing them very, very tightly. If they continue to operate, there won’t be enough space because they only have space on these pads for 131 casks, and they will fill that.

They were planning on the plant shutting down in 40 years, so they have enough space for that amount of waste. It’s like a parking lot that holds X number of cars. They only have X number of spaces for the nuclear waste when at the end of 2024 and 2025, those waste lots will be full. Okay. Imagine, if you will, huge parking lots. Instead of being filled with cars, they’re filled with casks of radioactive waste.

They are sitting on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean. Okay? They are visible to any aircraft that might come over there. I don’t even want to talk about the possibilities of what could happen there. So, at the end of 2025 they will be filled, but they want to continue operating. So, what are they planning on doing with the new waste that they will be making? Well, PG&E says they will keep it in the spent fuel pools for 20 more years because then they will have a place to move it to, they say, which is completely insane as we know, because there is no place to move it to.

The terrain around Diablo Canyon, it’s jagged. There is no flat land there. To make flat land there, you have to blow up a mountain. So, if they want to put a new pad in to make room for new spent fuel, they must blow up a mountain and flatten it out and get down to the bedrock, because you can’t store and spent nuclear fuel on anything but bedrock. Of course, the bedrock could crack in an earthquake, but who’s looking at that? Nobody. So that’s our situation with the spent fuel. It’s insane.

A Timebomb In Place

Seeley: That’s another generation with it sitting on the coastline with six and a half million pounds of nuclear waste that’s stored out in the open. And a lot of it in the spent fuel pools to generate electricity that we don’t need on 13 earthquake faults. What could possibly go wrong with a nuclear vessel that will crack if you try to shut it down fast? I mean, it’s the height of insanity and absurdity, and yet we’re living with it. And if things, God forbid, go wrong, we’ll pay the price forever. So, it’s not worth it.

Successful Litigation Despite Regulatory Capture

Seeley: But I want to talk about our other lawsuit that we have going in the Ninth Circuit Court. In 2022 the state passed the law to keep it open for another five years. There’s a rule at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission called the Timely Renewal Rule.

What it says is that if a nuclear power plant wants to continue operating beyond its 40-year license, that they must apply for that license extension at least five years before the old license runs out. And the reason for that is… When you think about a nuclear power plant running for 40 years, well, think about your car, okay? I had a Volkswagen 40 years ago. I would no more get in that Volkswagen today and drive it down the freeway at 80 miles an hour than I would jump out of an airplane without a parachute. We have two nuclear reactors that are approaching 40 years old. They want to continue operating for 20 more years.

The NRC says, “Well, wait. We need to go through all these problems, all the wear and tear, all of the parts that need to be replaced, all that stuff. We need to review that. And that takes a long time. That takes five years to do that.”

Well, the NRC granted an exemption a couple of times to nuclear plants down to three years prior to that. Outrageous, right? How could they go through all that paperwork, review, etc. in only three years? But they did it.

But now at Diablo Canyon, PG&E’s application for relicensing Diablo Canyon is going to be submitted to the NRC 10 months and two days before the expiration of unit one and 20 months before the expiration of unit two. That is unheard of!

So, Mothers for Peace filed an objection to that, a petition with the NRC. The NRC rejected it, which we expected. So, then what did we do? We filed it with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and that’s where it is right now. We’ll be having a hearing on that in the Ninth Circuit Court. I think it’s in early January if I’m not mistaken. Our lawyer just filed a reply brief on Thursday to PG&E’s and the NRC’s lame, I must say, explanation of why they actually don’t need to have five years or even three years before their license runs out. So basically, if they prevail, we will have Unit one being given a green light to operate without a license with this unchecked cracked reactor vessel. What could possibly go wrong? It’s insane!

We have racked up huge bills with our expert witnesses, but we needed to do it in order to be able to have a solid case at the CPUC. We have a tremendously excellent lawyer at the CPUC. And the CPUC is going to make the decision about whether Diablo Canyon can continue to operate. We know the NRC will say the CPUC can’t, but the CPUC could say no.

The CPUC, the California Public Utilities Commission, are the ones that make the prudent decisions about whether or not our California rate payers’ and taxpayers’ money is worth putting into a certain project.

And this particular project is horrendously expensive because number one, back in 2016 when they decided to shut down Diablo Canyon and came to a deal, the state of California labor unions, environmental groups, et cetera, made a deal.

Okay, we’re going to shut down Diablo Canyon at the end of its license term in unit one, 2024. Unit two, 2025. Okay, so we’re going to do that.

In the meantime, now we’re in almost 2024 now, right? Back then in 2016, you have an old Volkswagen, you are going to put it in the used car lot pretty soon. Well, you do not spend a lot of money on putting repairs into it. You try to limp along until you get rid of it. That’s what they’ve been doing for the past six years, seven years now They have all this undone maintenance that they are trying madly right now to catch up on to get ready to relicense the plant. So, they’re sinking tons of money into it.

Of course, they got a whole bunch of money from the state, and they’re getting the money from the feds, so they’re flush. And for any capital projects where they put build something or do something significant, not just maintenance, that does not come out of PG&E’s pocketbook. That comes out of the rate payer’s pocketbook with a guaranteed 10% return rate for the investors who are invested in the utility. This is like a gravy pot for PG&E. They are loving it.

They’re also getting all these bonuses for the workers out at Diablo Canyon – 25% per year bonus to their salary. And they’ve been getting that since 2016. And they are continuing to get that. Now they are well paid, let me tell you.

Heddle: But that was premised on the idea that it was going to fade out and they were going to lose their job.

Seeley: That’s right. But now, no. The reason they were getting a 25% bonus was to keep them working there so they didn’t quit and go somewhere else until the plant shut down. So now with the plants not going to shut down, supposedly, unless Mothers for Peace prevails, they’re going to continue to get this 25% bonus. I mean, talk about a money trap. It is the biggest money trap that ever existed in this county, I’ll tell you.

Brangan: I am so surprised you could challenge an NRC decision in federal court.

Seeley: Yeah, we’ve done it before and won. We won back in 2010, I think. When they were building the spent fuel facility, the dry cask storage, we filed a lawsuit about a dry cask storage facility, and our contention was that it was vulnerable to terrorist attack, and then it needed to be guarded better with HOSS, Hardened On- Site Storage. Right. And we won that case that it is vulnerable to terrorist attack in the Ninth Circuit Court – the Ninth Circuit court ruled in our favor.

And then what did the NRC do? Squat. Nothing. They didn’t change their rulings at all because they said, “Well, the possibility of a terrorist attack, we have done the analysis on it, and it is so remote that we don’t even need to take that under consideration in our ruling.” Isn’t that something? They’re a captive agency. It is amazing. And the longer I work in this, the more I understand that. I used to hear the term captive agency and think, huh? What exactly does that mean? What it means is they are under the absolute control of the industry that they are supposed to be regulating. That does not work.

Heddle: Regulatory capture.
Seeley: Right.
Brangan: It’s because they get paid by the industry.

Seeley: Right. 80% of their budget comes straight from the industry. And that was the deal that Congress made, which is insane. It should be independently funded by the taxpayers, and it should be an agency that actually regulates. This is the most toxic substance in the whole history of the world here that they’re dealing with and trying to regulate. And well, if they regulate it, they’ll lose their jobs because they’ll shut down the nuclear plants. But don’t get me started.

Diablo’s Surplus Power Blocks Renewables

Seeley: Then there’s another issue, which is the fact that we don’t need Diablo Canyon to make enough electricity to keep our lights on. And that … I mean, this was sold to us or to the legislators by Gavin Newsom as the reason for keeping Diablo going, “Oh, if we don’t have Diablo Canyon, we’ll have blackouts.”

No, we won’t. The battery storage is coming on so strong right now, the solar – no matter … they’re trying to squelch it. But the solar and the wind and the hydro storage and all of the different flexible sources of electricity are there. And all Diablo Canyon does is prevent renewables from coming online. It’s a behemoth. It’s a dinosaur. We don’t want it. We don’t need it. And the reason … I mean, I don’t know exactly why they want to keep all these nuclear plants going the Department of Energy, especially having granted $1.1 billion to PG&E to keep this monstrosity going along with our $1.4 billion from the state of California. I mean, that’s quite a gift to PG&E.

Diablo Canyon is sitting there with these transmission wires that can be used for offshore wind. I know that’s controversial, but they’re planning on putting in 40 miles offshore giant wind turbines. And if those come online, they would, I think it’s 14,000 megawatts that they’re planning on putting online, which is four … No, seven times as much as Diablo Canyon produces. Diablo Canyon is 2200 megawatts. Wow. I never even thought about that. But they’ve got the transmission lines at Diablo Canyon to carry that power. And if it’s all clogged up with nuclear, it can’t be used for anything else, including solar. And then we have a lot of battery storage coming online right now, a tremendous amount in California. And even though the governor is fighting community choice energy, along with the utilities, community choice energy is going to prevail.

And in community choice, we use renewable energy. And this lie about nuclear power being a solution to a climate change because it’s carbon free, that is one of the most ridiculous arguments that I’ve ever heard in my life.

The Myth of ‘Emissions Free’ and ‘Carbon Free’ Nuclear Power

When you look at the nuclear fuel chain from the beginning, from mining and milling and enrichment and transportation and all that, just with the uranium. And then you get to the building with hundreds of millions of tons of cement and pipes and electrical wires and all that stuff – all that is horribly intensive with carbon. And then for a while, it doesn’t produce a lot of carbon, although it does produce radioactive carbon called Carbon 14, and it produces radioactive isotopes that go into that are in the steam that come out of it, and it heats the water because of the oceans and the rivers that it’s next to.

So, it contributes to warming because nuclear power is hot. It’s 5,000 degrees. That’s hot. And if you have something boiling at 5,000 degrees for 40 years, don’t tell me it hasn’t contributed to global warming. Right? And then you get to the point where you’ve got to tear the thing down and you have to haul out everything that’s been there, all the cement, all the wires. And the bonus is, it’s all contaminated with radiation! So, you have to find a place to put it, and there’s nowhere to put it. It’s insane. That’s all I have to say.

Why the Frenzied Push for Zombie Reactors and Unproven New Nukes?

Heddle: So finally, why do you think this orchestrated campaign for revival of

nuclear energy enthusiasm is going on?

Seeley: I think it’s about the weapons. I think it’s about the plutonium, because that’s where they get the plutonium from the nuclear plants and they need it to make more nuclear weapons and the depleted uranium bullets or shells, those horrible things, and they want to enhance our nuclear weapons. I think they’ve dedicated over a trillion dollars to revamping our nuclear weapons in this country, which is like, I don’t know. It’s enough to make you want to puke to think about the real motivation for this.

Brangan: There’s a connection between weapons and energy? Seeley: They started it.
Brangan: The commercial energy production?

Seeley: Well, yeah. That’s why they started commercial energy production. They started commercial energy production for the purpose of being able to harvest the plutonium and the highly enriched uranium, and I don’t know what other materials out of nuclear power plants in order to create this horrendous arsenal of nuclear weapons that they now want to enhance. They want to make the strategic nuclear weapons and the small nuclear weapons that will only contaminate 20,000 people instead of a million people. But you get enough of them, you can contaminate the entire world. It’s outright evil. Unfortunately, the Biden administration is 100% behind it.

Heddle: Nuclear weapons and nuclear energy are codependent?

Seeley: You can’t have one without the other. Yeah. Nuclear energy and nuclear weapons are married, and they have taken a vow. They can’t get along without each other. And so, this nuclear energy consortium that is pushing so hard right now, and it’s not only in the US, but also all over the world – they are in it for the weapons. It’s terrifying.

Heddle: So, the Mothers For Peace come full circle, right? You started out opposing the weapons and now you’re back.

Seeley: And we’re back. We’ve come full circle in the Mothers for Peace because we started as an anti-Vietnam War group. And then being posed with this Diablo Canyon plant here, we’ve been focusing for the past 40 years on Diablo Canyon. And now here we are again looking at the world’s situation and understanding even more deeply how connected nuclear weapons and nuclear power are. And we realize, and the anti-weapons people are also realizing what an integral part nuclear power plays in this. And so, we are coming together, and I think what’s happened is that we’ve all been so busy trying to squelch our own fires that we haven’t realized that our fire is dependent on their fire and vice versa. And so, we really have to come together during these next few years to help the public understand how deeply connected these things are.

A Call to Action. What Can Readers Do?

Heddle: So what needs to happen now, and how can people support that happening?

Seeley: Well, they can donate money to us for one thing. We have a donate button on our website at Mothers for Peace really needs donations. We have hired a raft of consultants. I’ll tell you the experts we’ve hired. We have hired our seismic expert. These are all fantastic people, and our materials engineering expert, who has been absolutely a treasure for us. We’ve hired someone who was the head of the Midwest Independence Systems Operator, analogous to California Systems Operator, which analyzes the energy needs, who is articulate and certain about this, that we do not need Diablo Canyon as part of our energy mix. In fact, it hurts our flexible energy supply in California.

We’ve hired experts, and they’re great experts. And we have our attorneys too, who give us a great rate, but it’s still super expensive. So, we have a donate button on our website, and we are grateful for every single donation that we get.

Brangan: Yeah. You’re doing this for everybody.

Seeley: We are. Oh, the other thing about Mothers for Peace is that we’re not paid. We are an all-volunteer organization. We don’t even have an office. And we work because we’re Mothers for Peace, because we want to protect the future generations. And we know that with nuclear power and the nuclear waste that’s produced with nuclear power, that it’s a threat to all the future generations.

Folks need to contact their state senator and their state assemblyman and assemblywoman. I think you should also get in touch with your local government, your city council, your board of supervisors, because we’re all downwind from Diablo Canyon.

And the local officials need to know that their constituents are concerned about this death threat. The government is interconnected, and they have relationships with the local assembly members and local senators too. So, I think that’s a good point of pressure that could be made.

Letters to the editor, those help those inform. Op-eds, there was a fantastic op-ed in the Santa Barbara independent this past week, just brilliant. Our local paper doesn’t tend to run op-eds that are disparaging or questioning PG&E and Diablo Canyon, though they run an occasional letter to the editor to keep it balanced, but you don’t see many op-eds about it.

What people can do is get in touch phone calls and letters to their state representatives, their assembly members, and their state senators – their local representatives, their board of supervisors, their city council. Go to the Mothers for Peace website. It is filled with information. It’s absolutely chock-full

Ed. Note:  A seismic assessment report is now on-track to be completed by January 2024, with details of the findings expected to be available for the public and the NRC around the first quarter of 2024. In a recent California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) meeting on Diablo Canyon, Linda Seeley raised the following question: “If the seismic assessment report isn’t going to be submitted until the end of the first quarter in 2024, how can we make a rational judgment now about extending the life of Diablo?”
That question still hangs in the air...

James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan are co-founders of EON – the Ecological Options Network. The EON production SOS – The San Onofry Syndrome: Nuclear Power’s Legacy received its World Premier at the Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA October 10, 2023, where it won the Grand Jury Award for feature documentary. SOS was directed by Heddle, Brangan and Morgan Peterson, who also served as editor.


SOS on Canadian Radio – Spreading the Word

SOS Directors Mary Beth Brangan, James Heddle & Morgan Peterson with their Awareness Film Festival Grand Jury Award for Feature Documentary – Photo: Moca Media

This is the transcript of an interview conducted by program host Sheila Ferrando and broadcast October 8, 2023 on CKUT Radio’s New Spin Library in Montreal, Quebec [At minute 16:00].

Participants are SOS filmmakers Mary Beth Brangan and James Heddle, together with Dr. Gordon Edwards, mathematician, physicist, nuclear consultant, and president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility ( ),

Crossposted on Substack

Host Sheila Ferrando:  San Clemente is a beautiful place in California in the United States with a beach, parks, hiking, and swimming. But San Clemente has a problem. It’s a situation that may take hundreds of thousands of years to resolve. Concerned citizens are gathering to discuss and change a deadly, dangerous future. That’s why some concerned humans have made the film SOS – The San Onofre Syndrome. San Onofre is a nuclear reactor site near to San Clemente. Today we have Dr. Gordon Edwards from Hampstead in Montreal, joined by Mary Beth Brangan and James Heddle, and these people are going to comment both on the film and on the state of nuclear energy in North America and the world today. First, please introduce yourselves and tell us how you came to be involved in SOS – The San Onofre Syndrome, the film, and how you have been contributing to the fight and activism for nuclear responsibility. Start with you, Mary Beth.

Mary Beth Brangan:  When Fukushima began its triple meltdown in 2011, we became totally concerned about the state of the nuclear situation once more. We had been nuclear safety proponents for 40 years by that time, and we realized that we needed to do whatever we could to prevent a Fukushima-like tragedy from happening here in California along the West Coast of America. And so we began documenting and working with others to shut down the nuclear reactors that operate along our coast here in California, because they, too, just like in Fukushima, are surrounded by earthquake faults and in tsunami zones.

Sheila Ferrando: And James Heddle, how did you become involved in SOS – The San Onofre Syndrome?

James Heddle:  Well, at the same time Mary Beth did, but I’ve been involved in documenting nuclear safety issues since the early eighties. The first film we made together was called Strategic Trust: The Making of a Nuclear-Free Palau. And we’ve been involved in various aspects of the issue ever since. So as Mary Beth says, when we learned of the Fukushima issue, we sprang into action and were very gratified to find a number of people up and down the coast who had the same concerns and were mobilizing to deal with it.

Sheila Ferrando: Now you, Mary Beth Brangan and you, James Heddle, were part of the crew that actually made the film SOS – The San Onofre Syndrome. Am I correct?

Mary Beth Brangan:  Actually, there’s only three of us who made the film. It’s Jim, myself, and our wonderful editor, Morgan Peterson.

Sheila Ferrando:  Dr. Gordon Edwards, what have you contributed to the activism for nuclear responsibility?

Dr. Gordon Edwards – EON Photo

Gordon Edwards:  I was approached by the filmmakers to add some illumination as to the nature of these poisons, these radioactive poisons. We call them wastes, and most people think of waste as being leftovers. These materials which are created inside the reactor were never there to begin with. They are actually created inside the reactor, hundreds of different radioactive elements that were never found in nature before 1939. What they are, they’re radioactive versions of non-radioactive materials, which we find in the environment. We have materials in the environment like iodine, which is not radioactive. Well, nuclear power plants create radioactive iodine. Similarly, with strontium and cesium, they’re non-radioactive minerals in the soil. You can find them anywhere, but the nuclear reactor produces radioactive varieties of these. So what is radioactivity? The radioactive materials have atoms that are unstable and that explode. They’re like little time bombs that will explode.

That doesn’t happen with non-radioactive materials. And when those little explosions occur, submicroscopic, they damage the DNA molecules in the human body or animal bodies, and that causes a host of illnesses, including cancers and including genetic damage. So my job in the film is simply to provide a little bit of illumination as to the nature of these wastes and why it’s reasonable to be afraid of them. Just like it’s reasonable to be afraid of fire, it’s reasonable to be afraid of earthquakes, it’s reasonable to be afraid of war. Well, it’s reasonable to be afraid of these things, too. And in fact, we’ve seen in the Ukraine War where Russia is invading Ukraine, we’ve seen the Atomic Energy Commission chairman announcing to the world that there is reason to be afraid of a nuclear catastrophe as a result of military actions that might release these materials into the environment. That’s basically my role.

Sheila Ferrando:  Let’s delve further into the story at San Onofre what is the story at San Onofre and why was the film SOS – The San Onofre Syndrome made?

Mary Beth Brangan:  Well, the situation at San Onofre, people were becoming concerned because whistle-blowers were contacting the residents around the plant and alerting them that things were not right there, that they were having a lot of safety violations that were not being addressed by the management. And so they were very brave and contacted people that they hoped would help them. And then sure enough, there was a leak of radioactivity from the reactors and they had to close it down. So then people really began educating themselves even more deeply and discovered that the management wanted to restart the broken reactor without fixing it first. They just wanted to protect their investment. So there was a huge outcry and effort by people on many, many levels. There were legal challenges, there were backroom negotiations with the governor and the utility company, and then there was a huge amount of grassroots organizing and it all miraculously came together. The people were able to have it shut down.

James Heddle:  Those are the two focal points of San Onofre the film. One is the power of informed citizen action to influence policy and practice, and the other is the fact that San Onofre with its stranded waste there is a microcosm of a situation that exists all over the country and in fact all over the world. And that was our intention, to start the discussion of this really under-discussed, off the radar screen issue. And the reason we wanted to involve an expert like Dr. Edwards is that we had read his opinion that the age of nuclear waste is just beginning and we really need to get ahold of what scant solutions or at least safety approaches there are at this date. We’re already in great danger all around the country.

Mary Beth Brangan:  And the world.

James Heddle:   And the world. I’d appreciate it, Gordon, if you’d expand on your idea that the age of nuclear waste is just beginning.

Sheila Ferrando:  What was being done in San Onofre to change the situation into safety for the populace?

Mary Beth Brangan:  Well, not enough, and that’s why we’re sounding the alarm. What we wanted to highlight in our film was that there is something that we could do immediately, well, on the scale of nuclear facilities, that means like within the next 10 years. So when we heard Dr. Edwards speak in Chicago way back in 2015 about Rolling Stewardship, it really resonated with us because we had already been appreciating the concept of guardianship that Joanna Macy, who’s a Buddhist scholar and anti-nuclear activist, among other things, had been promoting. And we really appreciated that and wanted people to have a sense that there was something that could be done. And Dr. Edwards had a really brilliant articulation of that, which is the Rolling Stewardship concept.

Sheila Ferrando:

Dr. Edwards, could you please explain the Rolling Stewardship concept?

Gordon Edwards:  Yes. The Rolling Stewardship concept was actually evolved decades ago by the National Academy of Sciences. They were dealing with materials which are highly toxic and which have an infinite lifetime, heavy metals like mercury and lead and arsenic and so on. We have waste which must be safely guarded, kept out of the human environment because of their harmful effects. And their idea was instead of just dumping it somewhere and hoping for the best, to have a Rolling Stewardship program which is intergenerational in nature, where each generation passes on the knowledge and responsibility for looking after these wastes, packaging them, and making sure that any leakage that occurs is immediately addressed and corrected, and that repackaging takes place regularly in sturdier and sturdier packages, hopefully, so that the risk is being managed, not eliminated because we don’t know how to eliminate these materials, but we can manage the risk and safeguard our children and our grandchildren.

Well, the same thing can be done with radioactive waste if we accept the fact that we don’t really have a solution. We can’t wish these things out of existence. We have created them. We have hundreds of radioactive materials which never existed before 1939. I was born in 1940, so that means these wastes are no older than I am, and it’s quite possible in the next hundred or 200 years that we may find a way of actually solving the problem by destroying these wastes, truly destroying them, or rendering them harmless. And there are various things you can think about. For example, if we had a magical way of putting these wastes in the center of the sun, that would destroy them. That would actually destroy them. But we don’t know how to do that safely. Meanwhile, we should not abandon the waste as the industry wants to do.

Both the industry and the regulatory agency wants to put these wastes somewhere deep underground and simply walk away from it. That’s abandonment. We believe that’s irresponsible because these wastes are going to remain dangerous far longer than human civilization, in fact, far longer than the human species. So we’re talking about hundreds of thousands and millions of years, in fact. In the meantime, we believe that we should accept the fact that we don’t have a final solution to this problem, therefore, we should adopt a policy of intergenerational Rolling Stewardship, packaging and repackaging this waste, and having people on guard, on duty all the time to ensure that whatever leakage occurs is immediately corrected and the spilled material is retrieved and put back into proper containers. That’s the idea of Rolling Stewardship. But one thing that you mustn’t do is leave them in highly vulnerable positions right beside the ocean in a high earthquake zone where at any moment, these wastes could simply be taken by nature, by some natural disaster out of our control.

Also, there’s a problem of human activity. For example, military conflicts. The concept has developed, it’s called the HOSS, hardened onsite storage. Hardened onsite storage means that we keep these waste in bunkers in very heavy containers, not thin-walled containers as we now have, but thick-walled containers which are able to resist a great deal of abuse and which can then be corrected and repackaged later on as well. That’s the idea of Rolling Stewardship. It’s not a solution, but it is a countervailing current to just blind fear where you just say, we’re helpless. We can’t do anything about this. Of course we can do things about this, but it becomes a societal problem and not merely an industry problem.

Sheila Ferrando:  During the making of the film SOS – The San Onofre Syndrome, what roadblocks did you encounter?

James Heddle:  I don’t know that we encountered any roadblock, aside from trying to get funding and a few technical problems. There is an interest in this issue. We found since we released the film that there’s a great deal of enthusiasm among reactor communities, organizations, for using the film. One of the early comments from a group in the east of the United States, the Stop Hole Tech Coalition, was that this film is made for organizers, and that’s largely due to the perspectives of Mary Beth, but we’re very pleased that activist organizations and individuals around the country are eagerly adapting it to their own purposes.

What it ties into, too, is the current push for a new generation of small nuclear reactors and also the resuscitation of old rickety over-aged and embrittled reactors. And we were curious initially why this is happening, why the big push now? And it turns out that it’s the joined at the hip nature of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons that is the motivation for this. They are codependent industries. They share infrastructure and educational institutions. One can’t exist without the other. They demand each other’s presence. And this is something we didn’t go into depth with in the film, but the process of making the film made this very clear to us, and hopefully in future films, we will explore and develop that insight.

Mary Beth Brangan:  Now, about a third of the population of the United States lives in close proximity to a nuclear reactor or radioactive waste from weapons facilities, probably closer to half when you count in the weapons waste and weapons making horrible messes all over the country. And in Canada as well, I would say. Absolutely. So there are a lot of people who need to be aware of this, a growing number are, and do want to use the information in the film.

Sheila Ferrando:  Where is the film SOS – The San Onofre Syndrome currently being shown, and is anyone trying to stop this and why?

Mary Beth Brangan:  You mean stop the showing of the film?

Sheila Ferrando:  Have you been prevented anywhere from distributing information about nuclear consciousness?

Mary Beth Brangan:  No, we haven’t, thank goodness. And actually, though the purpose, well, we’re encouraging people to understand the risk of transportation so that they know that you can’t just ship it away and contaminate another site, which would normally be somewhere by people who were so poor that are politically disempowered that they couldn’t refuse to accept the waste.

James Heddle:   There’s a movement now for informed consent citing. That means they’re going to approach various communities and regions and say, wouldn’t you like to have this waste? We can pay you a lot of money, or we can do this or that for you. But it’s almost guaranteed to make targets out of the minority communities with much less political clout than other communities.

Sheila Ferrando:  Where is the film SOS – The San Onofre Syndrome currently being shown?

James Heddle:  Well, it received its world premier in Los Angeles at the Awareness Film Festival where it was awarded the Grand Jury Award for documentary features. That got us off to a great start and that stimulated a lot of interest. Just last night, we had a Zoom showing by an organization in Topanga Canyon, which was well received, and the fact the film was introduced by Dan Hirsch, one of the experts in the film, and also commented on by Harvey Wasserman, who is a longtime friend and lifetime nuclear safety advocate. So we have a wonderful team of impact producers. That’s the new designation for the enterprise of promoting the showing and awareness of films on social issues. So there’s a whole long list of future showings that is being developed in communities across the country, and it’s already been accepted into the Uranium Film Festival. It will be shown in Rio de Janeiro and Berlin, and at least 18 other cities across the United States in the coming year. So we’re very pleased with the reception, and so far we haven’t been attacked or prevented from disseminating our message, and we hope that it continues.

Mary Beth Brangan:  The politician who is in the area of San Clemente, [Democrat Mike Levin] he represents them in national Congress. He’s a proponent of moving it to other places, promising the local communities, oh, we’ll just get it out of here and we’ll put you on the top of the list to move it. He made a video to go with our documentary so he could put out his perspective, which is let’s move it out of here. Also, to promote building of small nuclear reactors. Everybody’s being polite and trying to coexist, but there’s a lot of differing opinions here that we’re encountering.

And even in the movement. Some people think it’s too dangerous to keep this waste on the surface of the planet and that it should be in holes in the ground, which it’s a real dilemma. Those in the Nuclear Safety Movement who hold that position think, well, it won’t be able to be repackaged after a while, and it will inevitably go critical because it’ll fall to the bottom of the canisters, cause another fission and maybe explosion. So that’s what we’re encountering now is that deep discussion. What would be the best way to handle this?

James Heddle:  And that is very gratifying for us because as I said, our main motivation is to trigger or catalyze a discussion of this very under-discussed issue.

Mary Beth Brangan:  But discuss from the point of a moral point of view, an ethical point of view, so that you’re considering if you move it, what are you doing? You’re risking people all along the transportation route and then the ultimate destination, of course, and you are increasing the contamination that way.

James Heddle:  We were really hoping that we will collectively discover the most ecologically, technologically, and morally or ethically effective way of dealing with this very serious ecological and really an existential problem.

Gordon Edwards:  Well, that’s fine. I just wanted to say that one of the positive things is that ethics and practicality sometimes are in conflict, but in the case of energy, renewable energy doesn’t create any new toxic materials. It’s already four times cheaper than nuclear and four times faster to deploy. And in fact, the International Energy Agency says that 90% of new electricity worldwide over the next five years will all be wind or solar. So this is a very positive outlook in the fact that we had transitioned to a truly renewable future which will not pose these dangers. Meanwhile, we just have to look after the problems that the industry has left us with. But let’s not go down that rabbit hole again.

Sheila Ferrando:  If our listeners wish to see the film SOS – The San Onofre Syndrome, where should they be?

Mary Beth Brangan:  They should send an inquiry to, and we would love to have more people showing it all over the world.

James Heddle:  That is our website. They can go there for much more information.

Mary Beth Brangan:

Sheila Ferrando:  Thank you for your interview today. You have been listening to Mary Beth Brangan, James Heddle, and Dr. Gordon Edwards speaking about nuclear energy, the nuclear problem, and SOS – The San Onofre Syndrome. I’m your host, Sheila Ferrando.PMocaMeccia

James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan are co-founders of EON – the Ecological Options  Network.  The EON production SOS – The San Onofry Syndrome: Nuclear Power’s Legacy received it’s World Premier at the Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA October 10, 2023, where it won the Grand Jury Award for feature documentary.  SOS was directed by Heddle, Brangan and Morgan Peterson, who also served as editor.