What to do about Diablo Canyon?
December 13, 2009
BY JANE SWANSON
The San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (MFP) opposes PG&E’s application for 20 year operating license extensions for Diablo Canyon units 1 and 2, filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on November 23, 2009.
The current operating licenses are in effect until 2024 and 2025, but PG&E is asking permission to extend operations until 2044 and 2045.
Some of the reasons for MFP opposition reiterate the arguments MFP presented as it took all available legal steps to oppose the original operating licenses between the years 1973 and 1985. Others reflect more recent developments.
- It is contrary to NRC regulations to license a nuclear facility next to an active, major earthquake fault. The NRC “grandfathered” the license for Diablo, buying into PG&E’s excuse that it was unaware of the Hosgri Fault when it first invested billions of ratepayer dollars to building the plant, beginning in the late 1960’s. The Hosgri Fault comes within 3.5 miles of the plant. The NRC is prohibited by its own regulations from taking into account corporate profits rather than public safety, but that is exactly what it did.
- The newly-discovered Shoreline Fault, less than one mile offshore of the Diablo site, has not been thoroughly studied yet, but it clearly exacerbates an already precarious situation.
- The Diablo Canyon facility includes two nuclear reactors and the storage of all the high-level radioactive wastes generated by those reactors since 1984. Currently, most of the spent fuel (which is much more radioactive than the fuel in the reactors) is stored in over-crowded pools. A small portion has been transferred to a few of the dry casks. To add another 20 years’ worth of high level wastes would only add to the safety and security problems at Diablo.
- Diablo is an out-dated and over-priced plant by any measure. Designed in the 1960’s, it has needed constant updating and replacement of defective or worn-out parts. The earthquake bracing for Unit 2 was originally installed in mirror image of the plans and was re-done at huge expense to ratepayers. The steam generators were found to have been defective from the time of purchase, and have been replaced, again at ratepayer expense.
- All nuclear facilities are categorized as targets of terrorists by the NRC, Homeland Security, and other federal agencies.
- MFP is currently pursuing a legal challenge in the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals involving the dry cask storage facility for storing nuclear waste and its vulnerability to terrorist attack, especially from the air. If the court rules in favor of MFP as it did in 2006, the NRC might be ordered to require PG&E to make design changes. [ Go to mothersforpeace.org for detailed information.]
- Recent NRC inspection reports on Diablo (August, 2009) indicate that PG&E is not meeting industry standards in its identification and resolutions of problems at Diablo.
- In late October, 2009, it was discovered that for 18 months the Diablo Canyon plant was run with defective control of some of the valves relied upon to flood the Unit 2 reactor with essential cooling water in the event of a serious accident or sabotage. An investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been conducted to determine the root cause of this compromise of this failure. Its findings are scheduled to be posted on the NRC website sometime in January, 2010.
- The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is in the process of determining whether or not continued reliance on nuclear energy is in the best economic interests of the people of California. PG&E’s decision to apply for license extensions 15 years in advance of the expiration of the current licenses raises questions regarding PG&E’s intentions toward the coming CPUC conclusion.
- Optimistic projections of the availability of uranium fuel supplies show that resource running out in about 2020 – BEFORE the period at stake in the possible Diablo license extensions. [See December 1, 2009 publication of an article by Brian Wang titled “Uranium Supplies are Likely to be Adequate until 2020,” available at www.theoildrum.com/]. Setting aside the safety risks of nuclear power, before asking ratepayers to further invest in Diablo Canyon, PG&E should present a data-driven case that there will be sufficient Uranium to last until 2045.
The history of Diablo Canyon shows that in terms of safety, security, and economics, it is not in the public interest to add an additional 20 years to the operating life of the two reactors at Diablo Canyon. The only advantage would be to the corporate profits of PG&E. MFP advocates that PG&E instead apply its considerable resources toward establishing itself as a leader in the development of renewable sources of energy.
Jane Swanson is a founding member of the San Luis Obispo-based Mothers for Peace.