In Pursuit of Folly
PG&E – the company that brought us the San Bruno gas explosion, and is under multiple Federal indictments – has reactivated its request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a 20-year extension of its license to operate the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant located on 13 intersecting earthquake faults in a tsunami zone north of Santa Barbara on the California coast. The request had been on hold since the triple meltdown at Fukushima. Although the Fukushima nuclear disaster continues to this day with no solutions in sight, PG&E is hoping the short attention spans of the media, the public, regulators and politicians have improved its chances despite the obvious safety risks.
According to San Francisco Chronicle business reporter David Baker, “…like most everything else in Diablo’s long, contentious history, the move is sure to provoke a fight.”
Longtime Diablo opponents San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (SLOMFP) agree and have challenged this license extension.
PG&E claims to have completed a study of the network of intersecting earthquake faults on which the aging plant sits and concluded that there is no problem. But one of the NRC’s own inspectors disagreed, recommending the plant be shut down until seismic safety can be guaranteed. And scientific critics say PG&E is fudging the numbers and lying about the plant’s resistance to predicted levels of seismic stress.
Writes the Chronicle’s Baker in his article ‘Feds to decide whether state’s last nuclear plant stays or goes,’ “The commission has called two hearings in San Luis Obispo on Aug. 5 to take public comments on issues that should be covered in an environmental impact study on the license renewal project. A draft of the study will likely take a year to complete, according to a schedule the commission sent PG&E in April. A final decision on the license renewal likely won’t arrive before mid-2017, according to the schedule.”
A State Law Breaker
Another impediment to Diablo’s continued operation is the fact that it is in violation of California’s ‘once-through-cooling law,’ an issue now under consideration by the state’s Water Quality Control Board. The plant sucks in billions of gallons of sea water per day for its cooling system, then dumps it out hot, killing massive numbers of sea creatures at both ends of the process. Critics call it ‘a mass destruction of sea life’and is clearly in violation the law prohibiting such water usage.
Opponents hope that if PG&E is required to build expensive cooling towers to comply with the law, and is not allowed by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to pass on the cost to ratepayers, the utility may choose to cut its losses and close the plant.
Baker’s article goes on,
Activists who never wanted Diablo in the first place have been pushing hard to close it, particularly after California’s only other commercial nuclear plant — San Onofre, north of San Diego — shut down in 2012.
They argue that PG&E has consistently underestimated earthquake threats to the plant, and that PG&E has a long record of snafus at Diablo, such as replacing the steam generators and vessel heads without first conducting a necessary seismic test. PG&E, in contrast, says the plant boasts a solid safety record.
“Our point is, this is a pattern with them,” said Jane Swanson, with Mothers for Peace. “They keep screwing up — and this is a nuclear plant.”
California law forbids building more nuclear plants in the state until the federal government comes up with a long-term solution for dealing with the radioactive waste. And with San Onofre closed, nuclear advocates say the state needs Diablo Canyon in order to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear plants generate electricity without pumping carbon dioxide into the air, and unlike solar power plants and wind farms, their output doesn’t vary from one hour to the next.
In fact, all stages of nuclear energy production from mining and milling, to transport, processing and plant construction, to radioactive waste management are heavily dependent on fossil fuels and carbon emissions. Regular emissions of radioactive pollution into their surrounding environments and communities are a necessary part of nuclear power plants’ routine operation. Breakthroughs in energy storage is rendering intermittent production by renewables a non-problem.
Baker quotes Jessica Lovering, a senior analyst at the Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland think tank focused on energy and the environment, “We really need to have a low-carbon, base load source of electricity. Taking offline the last nuclear plant would be pretty detrimental to carbon emission reduction goals.”
Barbara George, the celebrated late founder of WomensEnergyMatters.org, demolished that specious, oft-repeated argument years ago. Using the California Energy Commission’s own data, she showed that, even without nuclear power, California already has an excess of electric power. [ To learn why nuclear power is no cure for climate change, see Background Information on Climate Change and Nuclear Power by NIRS. ]
Barbara George shows California needs no nuclear power. EON photo by Mary Beth Brangan.