Shutting Down Diablo Canyon
Closure has literally and figuratively come for California’s last nuclear power plant: Diablo Canyon.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1090, implementing the final pieces of a deal to close Diablo Canyon’s nuclear reactors. The agreement promises an employee retention program, a greenhouse gas plan and offers $85 million to the county to assist locals — showing that we can and should do right by workers and communities when transitioning toward renewable energy.
Friends of the Earth reached an agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric in 2016 to shut down the two Diablo Canyon reactors and replace them with renewable energy, efficiency and energy storage. A nuclear-free California is now in sight.
Concerns over these nuclear reactors played a role in David Brower’s desire to found Friends of Earth in 1969. Since then, more information about the seismic activity near the two aging reactors has made it increasingly clear that Diablo Canyon should never have been built on its current site. The tremendous and unnecessary risk these reactors pose to public health and the environment necessitates that they be shut down.
Now, such a future is happening: the joint agreement between PG&E, Friends of the Earth and other organizations promises Diablo Canyon’s two reactors will retire in 2024 and 2025.
Knowledge about earthquakes was relatively basic during Diablo Canyon’s initial construction in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Nonetheless, it was known that Diablo Canyon was at risk from two earthquake faults: the San Andreas, 45 miles inland and the Rinconada, 20 miles inland. Our understanding of earthquakes and ground motion has grown, and it has become increasingly clear that Diablo Canyon is surrounded by faults capable of creating ground motion beyond what the reactors are tested and licensed for.
On Aug. 25, 2014, Friends of the Earth made public an explosive document, a Differing Professional Opinion, by Dr. Michael Peck, former senior resident inspector at Diablo Canyon for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This document reveals that three of the nearby faults — Shoreline, Los Osos and San Luis Bay — are capable of generating earthquakes stronger than the reactors were designed to withstand. Dr. Peck’s dissent argues that Diablo Canyon is operating outside the conditions of its license and should be shut down until PG&E can prove that the reactors can withstand potential earthquakes on these faults.
A reactor accident at Diablo Canyon would immediately put tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of people in Central California at risk of radiation exposure. Should southerly winds prevail, a radioactive plume could threaten millions of Southern Californian residents, from Santa Barbara south to Los Angeles and beyond. Radiation released into the Pacific Ocean could endanger precious marine and coastal resources and fragile habitats as well.
Although an earthquake-fueled disaster poses the greatest risk to the plant, Diablo Canyon damages the environment of Central Coastal California each day. The plant draws in an estimated 2.5 billion gallons of water per day for cooling purposes and discharges that water back into the Pacific Ocean about 20 degrees hotter. Diablo Canyon annually draws into its antiquated cooling system more than a billion fish in early life stages; most die. In 2011, California initiated a new policy to end once-through cooling systems at coastal power plants. PG&E, however, is aggressively lobbying the state Water Resources Board to exempt Diablo Canyon in an attempt to avoid expensive cooling towers. But since Diablo Canyon accounts for about 80 percent of the total seawater sucked into California’s coastal plant cooling systems, exempting the reactors would effectively negate the state’s “Once Through Cooling” policy.
Ratepayers will be better served by power from cheaper, cleaner sources of renewable energy.
Diablo Canyon is a dangerous, destructive and expensive hangover from an outdated energy production process — and Friends of the Earth is proud to play a role in shutting down Diablo Canyon and replacing it with clean, safe renewable energy and efficiency.