An open letter to Sam Blakeslee

March 24, 2011

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Facility

Dear Senator Blakeslee:

I have some thoughts for you, as you go after Diablo’s recertification.

Let me tell you what it is like to fly from Singapore to Hong Kong to SF and back to SB in one day. Because of catastrophic radiation threats from ‘the safest nuclear reactors in the world’ in Japan.

Our daughter Stephanie, her husband and 22-month old evacuated from Tokyo last Tuesday to Singapore via Osaka and Shanghai. They’ve lived in Tokyo for two years, and the baby (Avery Orrin, a girl) was born there.

I flew to Singapore for a week to help them. These are thoughts now, about California, coming back home.

Flying back over the green hills of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties from San Francisco, you think “We don’t even have 160 miles between us and Diablo.” That is the distance between Tokyo and Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear plant that now has four reactors in partial meltdown and thousands of spent fuel rods in empty cooling ponds seeping and belching radiation directly into the air and the seawater. The government acknowledges this will likely continue for weeks and months to come.  And, the threat of full meltdown of one, or more, of these four reactors and/or the cooling ponds for spent fuel is not ruled out yet.

Tokyo has thirty million people in one city alone that cannot be moved, or properly informed because they will panic and bring further chaos to an overloaded  government.

One hundred and sixty miles away is less than one day’s airflow up the San Luis Obispo and Santa Ynez valleys to major population areas.

Remember the Santa Barbara fires?  Burning upslope and inland by day, and back downslope at night, carrying fire, smoke and ash in an endless zig-zag pattern? Remember only the rain could really stop the fires? In Tokyo, the rain will bring down the radioactivity.

During the Gap fire, we sat at Playa Azul at an outdoor table, and the ash fall was so thick it coated the food and floated black in the margaritas. We had to leave the food on the table and go because we couldn’t breathe and couldn’t eat it. For a week, people in Tokyo prayed that 160 miles was far enough away. Heck, its the distance from Bakersfield to Los Angeles, right? I heard that from smart, educated Americans, waiting it out.

But events have to unfold, and the chaos involved and unnecessary anguish are heartbreaking for the families. The slow leakage of information that prevents stampeding and improves the government’s ability to control events also sacrifices many in the process.

“Our expectations had a scientific basis, but conditions were exceeded.” said vice president of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCP), March 23rd, CNN interview.

Based on the now-demonstrated failure of at least four of Japan’s nuclear reactors to withstand ‘design’ events that were calculated on the basis of only one catastrophic failure at a time, we know this kind of thinking is outdated and monumentally risky for California as well. Japan planned for earthquakes, but not multiple, cascading events that ran out of control, prevented planned emergency responses, and caused them to throw away the rule-book in favor of ‘”Hail Mary” passes like flooding with seawater, one helicopter squirt at a time. Japan’s TEPCO didn’t even realize for a week that they had cooling ponds running dry that held thousands of leaking radioactive spent fuel rods.

Because they couldn’t even get into or close to their own plants to survey the damage. Not until the effort was militarized, and people could be ordered to go into the hot zone did we begin to see the damage, and understand the colossal breaches of containment and destroyed plants and cooling equipment. That is not in the rule-book. They had no response.

Now, Daiichi’s reactor 3 is in chronic, uncontrollable release-mode, and it contains plutonium as well as radioactive cesium and iodine. The other three reactors are in partial meltdown, and even government press releases say they cannot rule out complete meltdowns as yet.

Japan continues to deal with the aftermath – major aftershocks, continuing loss of power, loss of back-up power, loss of triple-backup power, fires, radioactive meltdown  and seepage, intentional steam releases of radioactive materials directly into the air to prevent catastrophic hydrogen buildup, inadvertent radiation releases from explosions that happen on a regular basis anyway, the spreading plume, the hopeful weather patterns carrying the radiation ‘somewhere else’, the inevitable recirculation of radiation back over

Tokyo and central Japan’s lack of equipment to properly test air, water, food and the people evacuating the hot zones. What pieces of information are reliable? What is the subtext of unfolding US Embassy and State Dept and military advisories? What “indicators” do you hold out as the trigger for “what to do next”?

Do you wait until the U.S. government moves the USS George Washington aircraft carrier out of Yokohama as happened Monday, because it is south of Tokyo? Is that a bad sign? Do you wait for the U.S. State Department to issue potassium iodide pills to all employees and their dependents as happened Monday? Or, the radiation is twice the infant limit in Tokyo groundwater as happened Tuesday? If you wait, will the trains and planes be full, and ticket prices quadruple normal fares – effectively prohibiting travel for families with kids?

What can you believe?  What is hype or spin?  What does it mean when the evacuation zones seem to be based more on what the government can handle sheltering people, rather than what the radiation levels should be dictating? You can’t effectively evacuate 30 million people all at once, even if the exposures are extreme and otherwise dictate that it should be done immediately.

Getting, judging, and reacting to incomplete, conflicting and incomprehensible  information is an impossible task for people in a crisis, who are also dealing with emergency flights, emergency housing, trains that don’t run, sick babies, traveling spouses, planes that are full, empty store shelves, bank accounts that cannot be accessed due to power outages, overloaded telecom systems that don’t work, aftershocks, grief, fear, passports that can’t be located, cell phones that are canceled or don’t work in other countries, missed connections in foreign airports where there are no diapers, no food, no sleep, no United States, German, French, Spanish and other international corporations were formally advised by their employers it would be prudent to evacuate Tokyo. But, there was no health threat. Who said so?

Ticket prices skyrocketed in Asian countries. Booking evacuation flights and trains became very difficult to impossible. Families split up. Serviced hotel and apartment units in Hong Kong, Singapore and other flee-zones were snapped up by corporations for evacuated ex-pat families…. the one we stayed in went to 97 percent occupancy in a week.

These families are now trying to figure out if/when they can return. Hour by hour, day by day, parsing the messages in the media coverage.  I did this yesterday. And, all last week.  I’m still doing it this morning, by skype. Only uncertainty is certain. Lessons learned?

What I can tell you is that I think Diablo should be shut down now. Period. Taken off-line. The Hosgri fault, and perhaps other unrecognized faults, and the likelihood (not just the remote potential) for major earthquakes, tsunami, loss of cooling systems, and proximity to major population zones are clear indicators now that this plant should be mothballed.

The clear underestimation of design earthquake in the original Diablo design, and the failure to anticipate and provide credible protection against predictable, multiple, cascading natural disasters is basis enough not to recertify, and to take it off-line now. Germany is taking some of its older reactors off-line. Why not California?

We don’t get 30 percent of our power from nuclear in California. We have other options. Japan does not, so they have to accept rolling blackouts for the foreseeable future. They have to accept the long-term consequences including loss of transportation and public services infrastructure, food and water shortages due to radiation contamination, loss of industrial output, loss of communications, banking, and other vital services, contamination of beef and dairy herds and row crops, and embargoes and bans by other countries on the import of leafy green vegetables and dairy products from Japan.

Try that on central coast farmers, ranchers, viticulturists and other growers in the agricultural industry. Talk to Bakersfield, Fresno and the central valley growers, too, because they’ll be in the hot zone as well. Japan doesn’t even have enough meters to measure the safety of food and water. Most people shop everyday for foodstuffs and walk to get there.  They have to go outside to live. To re-supply their tiny refrigerators. When summer comes, can you imagine being inside with your kids, unable to turn on the air conditioning or get fresh air because of radiation contamination?

Imagine this in 86 degree weather with 90 percent humidity? That is best case, and assumes there is enough power for any air conditioning at all.  PG&E has a similar history of malfeasance and misleading regulators and the public as des TEPCO. The parallels are clear – both utilities have demonstrated failures in maintaining critical infrastructure, conducting required safety tests, and providing honest  and timely information to regulators and the public about risks to health and safety.

The time for wishful thinking is over.

Sam, you have no idea how comforting it is to know you’ve got the scientific and geotechnical background and the political position to make this issue a front-burner.


Cindy Sage

Cindy Sage is an environmental consultant and founder of Sage Associates, based in Santa Barbara.




  1. beachrat says:

    Anyone who does not think chernobyl could not happen here is simply fooling themselves. Just picture the entire coast from Ventura to Ragged Point beicoming uninhabital for centrues.

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  2. rogerfreberg says:

    Well, although this is a heartfelt response to an unexpected tragedy; I find some of the responses to this situation as a bit opportunistic, if not unrealistic. I also think that an ‘environmental consultant’ writing about this tragedy is a bit ‘self serving’ don’t you think?

    YES, yes, I am sure plenty of folks are looking at ‘lessons learned.’ However, moving forward to embracing more foreign oil, returning to a simpler and more primitive agrarian existence and putting faith in ‘wind’ solutions is just not practical. This is all a distraction to what needs to be addressed in our state.

    Allow me to ask Mr. Blakeslee a real question. Our one party state, county and city government is continuing to take us down the path of economic malaise and eventual depression, expanding public employee sectors ( particularly outrageously high paid administrators) , higher taxes, fines and fees ( what else do governments know how to do?) and more and more private regulation of Californians.

    So, I ask you, Mr. Blakeslee, is this the best you can do to get us back on track, energize (like the word choice?) the economy and bring a positive outlook to the state? What is your vision to move us forward?

    GooooOoOod Luck,

    Roger Freberg

    (-6) 28 Total Votes - 11 up - 17 down
    • justme says:

      Roger, put on your lead jacket and listen to me, a high school drop-out. If you believe we’re heading for “expanded public employee sectors”, depression, etc. WITH nukes you’ve just described Chernobyl.
      C’mon Roger, you’re one of those boring gems who has a cocktail at night next to your laptop with your degrees hanging above your desk envisioning himself as an intellectual who enjoys jerking the chain of the lesser educated. It’s offensive. Why, didn’t make the highschool football team?

      (-9) 19 Total Votes - 5 up - 14 down
      • Citizen says:

        Actually, I think that Roger Freberg played football in high school and then went on to play at UCLA or USC, one or the other.

        (-1) 5 Total Votes - 2 up - 3 down
    • hotdog says:

      WOW, nice armchair philosophy. And pointless, and mind numbingly boring. As pointed out by the leading anti nuke forces, Sam has long been a proponent of safer licensing procedures, even though he is a repo (most of whom would sell us all down the river for a buck). Sam and folks like him have been trying for many years to improve safety features at our ‘devil’; just what is your point Roger?
      The endless whining ‘we NEED the energy’ will not amount to much if we have an accident that forces many of us to leave our homes for 20,000 years. Instead of crying about losing a source of energy so you can live like a pig in your way too big house try cutting WAY back on your energy usage-urge your friends to do the same. We don’t need this ‘devil’ but as long as it is there and operating we will use it. Get the difference, between need and want? That is what is killing all of modern society in every sector. Too bad there is not enough time or space to fully explain here that but those who know, know. The others will never get it.

      (11) 19 Total Votes - 15 up - 4 down
      • amusselm says:

        I’d take Freberg’s “armchair philosophy” over your armchair science and engineering any day of the week. Never in the history of nuclear power has there been an accident that required anyone to leave their house for 20,000 years. Not even Chernobyl. Nobody was exposed to a lethal dose of radiation poisoning in Pripyat. Reactors 1-3 were used for another 20 years after criticality accident there. Within my lifetime Block 4 at Chernobyl will be disassembled and the nuclear fuel within it cleaned up and reprocessed.

        This doesn’t mean we should take safety for granted. That was the biggest lesson of Chernobyl. The operators there assumed that their plant was “safe” and intentionally violated many operating rules. There should be a thorough review of Dibablo Canyon before it’s operating license is renewed. To the extent that improves safety, this is a good thing. The objection that I have about anti-nuclear activists is their activities really have nothing to do with the safe operation. They want that thing gone, regardless of facts. They keep spreading lies and falsehoods, things that widely rejected by experts. The reject nearly all experts, claiming they are in the pockets of industry. After all, Greenpeace doesn’t hire nuclear power plants.

        Suppose you are right and we can simply do without. Even if that’s the case, perhaps it would be better to shutter other, dirtier plants. Remember, there’s a significant amount of radioactive releases from older coal-fired plants as a part of their day to day operations. If you really care about pollution, there are better things to go after.

        (-3) 17 Total Votes - 7 up - 10 down
        • amusselm says:

          s/nuclear power plants/nuclear power engineers/

          Epic fail typo FTL!

          (-3) 3 Total Votes - 0 up - 3 down
        • justme says:

          You’re just another backwards looking distributor of pointless drivel. Anybody can point to a ticking bomb and say, “Look, that bomb hasn’t blown up once, it’s as safe as it can….BOOM!
          Then where will you be for future reference? Gone.
          We “…can do without”. And that is,”the case”.

          Humans + nuke anything = diaster. If not now, later.

          Keep dreamin’ though, it’s probablt real comfy in your little dream world

          (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
  3. kellygirl says:

    Thank you for posting this, Karen. I think it is very compelling and heartfelt. Hope Sam listens. He’s our only real chance in Sacramento.

    Has anyone else noticed how quiet Katcho has been on the subject?????????????

    (12) 18 Total Votes - 15 up - 3 down
  4. Jack L says:

    New nuclear plants can be built much safer and should be built to withstand much larger earthquakes than a 7.5 and should take in consideration EVERY conceivable threat.

    Close Diablo, relocate and build a new state of the art facility. And do not let industry shills call the safety shots. Use the best minds that can be found internationally to set standards that otherwise PG&E would call extreme. We need the energy but we need to do it right, not half assed to save money.

    Close Diablo sooner than later.

    (-3) 17 Total Votes - 7 up - 10 down
  5. mrcyberdoc says:

    Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. You say California has alternatives. Wind power, solar power? Perhaps the potential is there but consider the number of wind generators needed (don’t do much when there is no wind) or photoelectric cells (hmmm, only work when the sun it out, and no way to store the energy). You also refer to the earthquake being the culprit in Japan. I believe the tsunami was the actual cause of their catasrophre considering it knocked out the generators that provided power to the cooling system. Had they used a little forethought they would have put those generators on towers far above the reach of any tsunami.

    It’s easy to point out the potential problems with nuclear power, but do we stop flying in airplanes because now and then one falls out of the sky, or do we stop driving cars because of the fear of getting in an accident? A bit scary, considering we are entering a new solar cycle where the sun will be blasting radiation toward the earth. I wonder how we turn that off? I prefer to live life without fear of what comes around the corner tomorrow.

    (0) 22 Total Votes - 11 up - 11 down
    • Typoqueen says:

      “Had they used a little forethought….” That’s the point. How do we trust humans to contain so much power,,,we can’t. Human error cannot always be predicted. As far as the spent fuel there is NO way to dispose of it safely, that’s it cut and dry no ifs ands or buts about it. We are basically forever storing this stuff in our back yard.

      If the billions spent on that plant had been spent on giving credits to businesses and homeowners for solar panels then just that could make all the difference in the world. If everyone went solar then we wouldn’t need to rely on wind turbines when there’s no wind. Yes there are certain parts of the country that can’t depend on solar or wind but there is a huge population including us that can. We will be depended on dirty forms of power until we give more insentive to these power companies to come up with better technology. Coal and oil as much as I hate them are not as dangerous as nuclear. A friend and I (she reads this) were discussing this the other day. She was telling me about how companies like PG&E are actually in our universities teaching our new engineers and we were talking about what a conflict of interest that is. Of course we won’t come out with anything new when the good ole boys have a financial hand in it. My friend asked me to watch Insider Job (a documentary). I haven’t watched it yet so I’m speaking fairly uninformed regarding the universities but it makes sense.

      Your analogy regarding flying airplanes is ridiculous. If a plane falls from the sky it won’t effect thousands of people for thousands of years. My analogy awhile back about a 5 year old performing brain surgery is more accurate regarding our know-how and understanding of how to deal with this issue.

      (5) 21 Total Votes - 13 up - 8 down
      • CitizenB says:

        Not coal. Never coal. Anything but coal. Coal is hugely harmful to the environment in the mining and the burning. Coal creates all kinds of health hazards to the miners and to people who work in coal-fired plants. “Clean Coal” is a BS oxymoron coined by the coal industry to con the public into thinking that coal can be an OK option. In fact, coal ash, the by-product of coal-fired plants, is actually more of a radioactive hazard (yes, RADIOACTIVE) than nuclear waste.

        (4) 6 Total Votes - 5 up - 1 down
    • justme says:

      “It’s easy to point out the potential problems with nuclear power,….”

      (8) 10 Total Votes - 9 up - 1 down
    • Goyo says:

      How brave of you, living without fear, and willing to take chances that will affect the health of generations to follow. Living with resignation is not quite the same as living without fear.

      (3) 7 Total Votes - 5 up - 2 down
  6. choprzrul says:

    Yep, close Diablo.

    Then, go up the coast to where the road from Hunter-Ligget intersects Hwy and build 3 new plants there to specifications that will withstand extreme earthquake & tsunami events. When those 3 are on line, build 3 more on Vandenberg AFB.

    Or, perhaps, instead of nuclear power, how about oil/gas fired power plants? Start offshore drilling so that we can pump directly from the ground to the power plant. Eliminate the middle man for huge cost savings.

    (-13) 31 Total Votes - 9 up - 22 down
    • zaphod says:

      Diablo would have been much better if built on the original proposed site near Nipomo

      (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
      • WiseGuy says:

        What the hell are you thinking,, zap? The plan was to build it on the dunes, another disaster waiting to happen, because of what is known as “liquifaction” that occurs on sandy soil during an earthquake.

        (3) 5 Total Votes - 4 up - 1 down
  7. davidbroadwater says:

    Diablo Canyon / Flying Blind in the Seismic Zone MUST STOP – NOW! IT’S UP TO US.
    1. ATTEND SLO Co. Board of Supervisors (Our Front-Line First-Responders)
    Tuesday, March 29, 2011
    9:00 AM – Public Comment (not on agenda, yet)
    Tell the BofS to Put This on an Agenda ASAP:
    A proposal that the SLO Co. Board of Supervisors send letters to the NRC, the CPUC and all federal and state representatives and agencies advocating the immediate cessation of NRC and CPUC Diablo relicensing application processing and funding until the 3-D seismic mapping of adjacent fault systems (as set forth by state law) is completed and independently reviewed.
    2. EMAIL the BofS:,,,,,,
    If Not Now, When? / If Not Us, Who?
    Stop NRC and CPUC Diablo Canyon Relicensing Applications until 3-D Seismic Mapping is Completed.
    State law requires the Calif. Energy Commission to conduct advanced three-dimensional mapping of the Hosgri/Shoreline fault system near Diablo Canyon (Blakeslee).
    Last year, the SLO Co. Board of Supervisors wrote the NRC that no relicensing should proceed until that seismic analysis is completed and independently reviewed. PG&E disagrees and the voice of the BofS fell on deaf ears.
    So, the NRC and CPUC blindly forge ahead with Diablo Canyon relicensing and its ratepayer funding without knowledge that’s within our grasp.
    The Japanese disaster shows how wrong industry and government assumptions about potential earthquake magnitude and nuclear plant structural integrity can be.
    Their tragedy shows the moral, environmental and economic folly of considering another 20 years operating our own aging reactors with vulnerable radioactive waste sitting on an earthquake zone without fully examining the forces possibly unleashed.
    We cannot allow Diablo Canyon’s relicensing to proceed in the face of blatant negligence and ignorance of attainable information about the seismic risks. We must amplify our own and the BofS’s voices and demand an end to this recklessness.
    David Broadwater

    (13) 29 Total Votes - 21 up - 8 down
  8. hotdog says:

    Thanks to Sam for his leadership here.

    (17) 29 Total Votes - 23 up - 6 down
    • Typoqueen says:

      Wow, if I lived in his district I might have considered voting for him. He’s actually taking the safety of the people in his district over money,,who would’ve thunk it. Good job Sam.

      (4) 12 Total Votes - 8 up - 4 down
  9. nihat says:

    I agree completely, we shouldn’t wait for decades to “learn” from the meltdown in Japan to shut Diablo, especially when we already have much data from Chernobyl. If anyone has the courage to watch this video interview with the doctor who co-authored the book published by the New York Academy of Science citing that nearly one million have died due to Chernobyl not 4,000 that the W.H.O. claim:

    (13) 27 Total Votes - 20 up - 7 down
    • amusselm says:

      Data from Chernobyl… I fail to see the relevance. At Chernobyl, we learned that:
      1. RMBK reactors have a positive void coefficient, which can result in a runaway chain reaction… Oh, wait, they already knew that.
      2. An RMBK reactor should not be operated at lower power levels. If thermal output drops too far, the reactor should be shut down… Oh, wait, they already knew that. In fact, operating instructions specifically stated that.
      3. An RMBK reactor should never be operated with fewer than 6 control rods inserted into the core…. And, you guessed it, they already knew that.
      4. Using flammable roofing materials on reactors is a bad idea… Yup, they knew that too. Chernobyl violated Ukrainian fire codes. This mistake cost many firefighters their lives and lead to the majority of the casualties related to acute radiation sickness.
      5. Cutting feedwater to a reactor with most of its control rods out and operating at low output may result in the situation noted in #1. That too was done against the specific recommendation of the reactor’s designer and engineers.
      6. Giving a critical safety test to the night shift that has not received briefings on the matter is probably a bad idea.
      7. It’s a good idea to have a few dosimeteries that can read high levels of radiation around. There should be one fixed in every control room, thus preventing the cognitive distance that happened in the control room of reactor 3. (The shift leader at reactor 3 had initially refused to shut down their reactor after the accident at the nearby reactor 4. The shift leader at reactor 4 also did not know that his reactor had just experienced a major criticality accident and didn’t know what levels of radiation his crew was being exposed to)
      8. Putting a pool of water under a reactor vessel is a bad idea. 2 people lost their lives in a (successful) attempt to drain such a pool under reactor 4 at Chernobyl. These heroes prevented a large steam explosion as reactor material flowed into the basements below reactor 4.
      9. Secondary reactor containment is a good idea. Chernobyl lacked this. Fukashima and Three Mile Island have this. That makes a huge difference in the amount of reactor material that escapes out into the world. At Chernobyl, somewhere between 5% and 30% of the reactor fuel was ejected into the surrounding area. This is a lot of material in something that weighs 190 tons. This why Pripyat was evacuated. This is why nearly 2,500 volunteers donned suits of lead to throw blocks of radioactive blocks of graphite back into the pit where the reactor once was. This is why there was a scramble to build the Sarcophagus and why 800,000 Liquidators scrambled to clean the surrounding areas. Bad things can happen at nuclear reactors. Fukashima had this secondary containment. Three Mile Island reactor no. 2 had this as well. This is part of why neither ejected tons of reactor fuel and material into that didn’t happen at either of those.
      10. Criticality accidents are bad. We learned that at the most deadly nuclear accident in US history. They are much worse than loss of cooling accidents like Three Mile Island and Fukishima. Even the SL1 had measures to prevent the reaction from continuing out of control, limiting the casualties there to 3 personnel.
      11. Cleanup and exclusion do a pretty good job overall. Remember, Reactors 1-3 at Chernobyl were in service for several years after the accident. The decontamination effort made things livable for the employees who worked there. (also, that video is wrong. Reactor 3 was the last Chernobyl reactor to shut down. It was shut down and de-fueled by 2000. If they make simple mistakes like that, I have to question their credibility.)
      12. Pripyat is livable today. Generations of cattle have lived near Pripyat without issue after the first generation (the first generation was stunted due to damage to their thyroid glands). A good chunk of the reactor site itself is reasonably safe (see point 11 above, and this link, which describes radiation levels on site of the Chernobyl plant)

      Fukashima is a different animal. Different plant design, different disaster, different response. Comparisons to Chernobyl are ill advised. Dose rates matter, half-lives and materials matter, the extend of containment matters, the type of accident matters and the alternatives matter. Coal fired plants and PV solar panels can render massive areas of land unlivable and have major health for several decades through un-reclaimed mines. Dams can fail, washing away thousands downstream. Wind turbines can send chunks of ice into people’s home. Natural gas fracking and oil drilling can contaminate water supplies, as can uranium mining. By the standard you and so many other anti-nuclear activists seem to be using, it’s hard to imagine any power source that lacks major risks. Asking for something to have “no risk” is an engineering impossibility. The real question is how much benefit do we get for each marginal reduction in risk.

      (0) 10 Total Votes - 5 up - 5 down

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