Diablo Canyon desalinated water distribution is dangerous

September 26, 2015

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power PlantOPINION By BRAD SNOOK

Since Adam Hill has been a San Luis Obispo County supervisor, roughly 7 billion gallons of usable water has been discharged to the ocean from the Five Cities area.

Yet, instead of promoting emergency measures to conserve 3.8 million gallons of discharge per day, Adam Hill is spearheading an effort to distribute desalinated drinking water from Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant back to the Five Cities area.

Here’s how it would work: The water already paid for by Five Cities residents, already collected, already treated, and then discharged through an ocean outfall pipe in Oceano, would be mixed in the ocean, re-collected at Diablo Canyon, desalinated (and treated again), and pumped for miles through a costly distribution back to the Five Cities. As I stated at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, this could only make sense after a few beers.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Existing county policy for New Water Supply states as follows:
Development of new water supplies should focus on efficient use of existing resources. Use of reclaimed water, inter-agency cooperative projects, desalination of contaminated groundwater supplies, and groundwater recharge projects should be considered prior to using imported water or seawater desalination, or dams and on-stream reservoirs.

Important questions the supervisors should ask before proceeding with this ridiculous plan:

  • How many nuclear power plants supply drinking water to outside communities? From my research, the answer is “zero,” and the risk is enormous to our water supply and economy.
  • How many seawater desalination distribution plans have been permitted by the Regional Water Quality Control Board or the California Coastal Commission, when the plan is in direct conflict with the county’s (or other applicant’s) long-standing policy and when the source may not be available in 10 years (If Diablo Canyon is not relicensed, or if open ocean intake is no longer permitted)?
  • Where is the testimony of stakeholders from the Five Cities area who would support this plan?
  • Where is the testimony from a purveyor who would distribute drinking water from a nuclear power plant to our community?
  • And last but not least, is the introduction of seawater desalination going to open Pandora’s Box and induce widespread impacts on the quality of life in South County?

When reclaimed water is so abundant, why place unnecessary financial and environmental impacts from seawater desalination on county residents? This is why some have labelled the PG&E desalination plan a “Boondoggle.”

Recycled water is a measurable and manageable resource for local businesses and communities. Pismo Beach’s groundwater injection plan is already being permitted and implemented, and at full scale it will supply the same amount as shown in the PG&E desalination plan.

The county should throw its resources behind Pismo’s reclamation project, getting it to 100 percent reclamation as soon as possible. Elsewhere, locally reclaimed water from South SLO County Sanitation District should off-set groundwater and Lopez Lake use while being percolated or injected into aquifers to help prevent seawater intrusion.

Our Surfrider’s chapter asks the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to reward communities who protect their vital water resources, who reduce, reuse, and recycle, and who limit their impacts on California’s shared resources. We should work together to promote balance and sustainability of our watersheds and our ocean environment.

Yes, our supervisors may be intoxicated by the potential of saving PG&E millions through re-purposing Diablo Canyon’s ocean intake and desalination system. However, there are safer and more economically feasible options available.

Please join the Surfrider Foundation in saying, “Thanks, but no thanks” to distribution of PG&E’s desalinated water.

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This writer didn’t look very far.

NEI: Nuclear Desalination Is Not New

“Several countries have implemented nuclear desalination, including India, Japan and Kazakhstan. The latter operated a 750 megawatt thermal facility for over a quarter century, generating not only desalinated water, but process heat and electricity as well. Nuclear-energy-powered water desalination is a well-understood technology, with thousands of man-hours behind it.”

Small Nuclear Reactors and Desalination: Perfect Together

“More recently, Argentina, China and South Korea have developed small nuclear reactor designs specifically to generate both electricity and fresh water. These run from 5 to 330 megawatts thermal. Russia has designed a barge-like floating nuclear facility, operating at 80 megawatts thermal. Small reactor technology may be key to expanding clean, nuclear energy-based desalination.

“Though nuclear energy has not displaced fossil fuels in water desalination projects, it has emerged from the background in the last several years, especially as climate change has become an important concern and small reactor technology has matured.”


Thanks for recognizing this is an important question that needs analysis, and thanks for helping to do research that SLO County BOS didn’t ask for. It is unclear from published reports how the desalinated water at these other plants was used. If the technology is “battle tested”, I’m sure the nuclear industry would be spreading the results of favorable research far-and-wide. They aren’t. Favorable research includes years of study of the fiscal and environmental impacts of community use of desalinated ocean water from nuclear power plants, along with a clear pathway to show how such a project can be permitted in California.

These seem like “Ground floor” questions to me. Can you find the results to the studies mentioned above? If so, please send them to slo@surfrider.org

I’d say pump it to Lopez lake first, recreate and then treat it for public consumption.

Jorge, that would mean a separate pipeline and pump system to get the water to Lopez Lake…adding MORE cost to this tiny bit of water.

The writer say the Diablo desal water is dangerous, but then does not give one single reason as to WHY it is dangerous. What is Home Simpson going to mix up the drinking water and nuke plant cooling water lines? Come on. You can’t keep crying wolf with everything…we are done listening. Progress will just roll on without the panic pushers.

This is not progress. This is an expensive, short term solution that will serve PG&E and Adam Hill and that is all. We need REAL solutions like expanding reservoirs. I have no problem with progress and growth, but the progressives in this county have managed to expand their power by selling everything to be the exact opposite of what it is. When they say they’re against growth, they are just trying to screw the locals while whoring out to large corporations who can fill their coffers. When they say they’re promoting growth and progress, they are just throwing a bone to those who fund them.