Nuclear revivalists are targeting California and using PG&E’s decrepit and dangerous reactors at Diablo Canyon as a stalking horse for a wider agenda.
“Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name But what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game” – The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil
“We need to phase out and shut down the 104 reactors in America. I will put it very bluntly: We need to kill them before they kill us.”- David Freeman, consultant to Friends of the Earth
Nuclear safety needs to be a key issue in California’s upcoming election.
By Mary Beth Brangan By James Heddle – EON
As battle rages around Chernobyl and Ukraine’s other aged nuclear reactors, a battle of ideologies rages around California’s last nuke standing.
There is a concerted push to keep Diablo Canyon’s aged, rickety nuclear reactors running beyond their licensed design life in an earthquake zone riddled with 13 intersecting faults, two of them ‘active.’ They sit on the central California coast near San Luis Obispo.
Recent headlines tell the story:
We Saved Diablo Canyon! [This last headline gasconade may be a bit premature]
Confronting Diablo’s Devilish Details
Why is a convicted felon corporation, after its second bankruptcy, being allowed to run an aged nuclear power plant in an earthquake zone at a yearly loss that could cost ratepayers a whopping $8 Billion by its scheduled shut down in 2025, when the electricity it produces is not even needed?
Recent polling shows a strong percentage of Californian’s want the plant to be closed. This, despite the constant pressure from erroneous industry claims nuclear power is needed for climate change.
Why not shut it down now for both safety and financial reasons? Why the push to keep it running? As the Stones’ lyrics above ask, “What is the nature of this game?”
The Diablo Deal and PG&E’s Rap Sheet
PG&E is currently scheduled to shut down California’s last two operating nuclear power reactors at Diablo Canyon sited on California’s central coast in 2024 and 2025 respectively.
That schedule was agreed to back in 2016 in a closed-door deal brokered in part by FOE’s consultant, David Freeman – quoted above – the late former utility executive who is famously credited with holding the record for shutting the most reactors down. It was a deal that did not include Mothers for Peace, the stalwart organization that has led the campaign against Diablo for decades, and continues to do so.
In 2018 the CPUC ratified the agreement that’s allowed PG&E to collect hundreds of millions in agreed upon decommissioning funds from ratepayers. The parties to the deal were PG&E, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, Coalition of California Utility Employees, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment California and Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility. Presumably those same parties would have to be involved in an extension of operation negotiation.
The Case Against License Extension At A Glance – Diablo’s Dirty Dozen
- Sited on the nexus of at least 13 earthquake faults – 2 ‘major and active’
- Seismically vulnerable
- Four decades old, reactor vessels embrittled with wear and uninspected for years
- Skilled workers are leaving with their specialized knowledge about the plant
- There is no guarantee of “steady baseload power” from a 40-year-old nuclear power plant
- Vital underground cooling pipes from the 1970’s are un-inspectible
- Spent fuel pools are overcrowded to at least three times their original capacity
- No more space on the dry cask storage pad for more waste
- Obsolete ‘once-through’ cooling system is responsible for 80% of the loss of marine life on the California Coast…and is illegal
- Seawater intake structure is vulnerable to rising sea levels
- Minimal maintenance for years in anticipation of closure
- Upgrade and repair costs prohibitive of continued operation
For details – Mothers for Peace blog
A Wake-Up Call for California’s Quiescent Peace and Nuclear Free Movements
Die-hard Nuclear Energy Revivalists see prolonging Diablo’s operation in archetypically anti-nuclear California as a key move in their national ‘save nuclear’ agenda. But veterans of the state’s legendary nuclear free movement should see the Revivalists’ desperate push in California as an opportunity as well as a looming threat.
The reasons Diablo is the state’s last nuke standing are the decades of dedicated and effective organizing, public education, direct action events and legislative initiatives of largely one or two generations of California activists from the peace, nuclear free and environmental movements.
Perhaps it’s time for those now white-headed elders to climb back in the saddle and ride again to help attract younger recruits with the power of their example.
The fate of one aged plant is only part of the issue. If the Revivalists can be stopped in bellwether state California their wider agenda will crumple.
The Devils in Diablo’s Details
Diablo means the devil and the name is fitting for California’s last operating nuclear reactors, situated within yards of earthquake faults and in a tsunami zone.
Nuclear Revivalists have convinced themselves that nuclear power’s advantages outweigh its risks. They organized the initial campaign to keep California’s Diablo Canyon reactors running despite owner PG&E’s agreement to shut down at the end of their licenses in 2024 and 2025
Now, in 2022, Gov. Gavin Newsom is also urging PG&E to keep the unmaintained, dangerous and expensive reactors online. This, despite a report that shows, among other dangers, the 1960’s era reactors could shatter like glass from embrittlement if forced into a quick power shut off which could happen from extremely hot weather, for instance.
The San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, who’ve battled against Diablo since before it began operation issued a statement regarding keeping the plant open and warn: “It is an aging plant – designed in the 1960s with construction completed in the 1980s. Anticipating imminent closure, maintenance has been deferred, waivers granted, and key employees gone. It is becoming increasingly more dangerous. This nuclear plant should be shut down as soon as possible; there is nothing smart about continuing to operate it.”
Revivalists contend that if Diablo Canyon were to be shutdown, California’s gas emissions would rise. However, Peter Skala, interim deputy executive director for Energy & Climate Policy at the California Public Utilities Commission says:
“… the State has ordered an unprecedented amount of new clean energy procurement—11.5 gigawatts—to replace the retirement of Diablo Canyon (along with other aging gas plants that are retiring). This includes wind, solar, batteries, geothermal, and long duration storage that will be online starting in 2023.”
Nevertheless, despite current pressure from the Biden administration, the U.S. Dept of Energy, Gov. Newsom and others to keep Diablo Canyon operating, owner PG&E may show some extension hesitancy.
After two bankruptcies and being convicted for multiple felonies because its negligence resulted in 8 deaths, 58 injuries and destruction of a San Bruno neighborhood from a gas explosion as well as having caused 84 deaths and almost complete destruction of the town in the Paradise inferno plus causing enormous wildfire damage resulting in multi-billion dollar lawsuits, the discredited company may hesitate to have another potential disaster on its books.
The Nuclear Revivalist Agenda
Nuclear delusions die hard.
For more than half a century now, nuclear delusionists have kept their ‘nukes forever,’ ‘energy-too-cheap-to-meter’ dreams alive despite ever-mounting setbacks and disasters. The much-touted ‘nuclear renaissance’ has failed to materialize. In the face of doubling cost over-runs and construction delays new conventional reactor projects are dying on the vine. The gains of solar and wind energy production are making the economics of new nuclear power plants increasingly prohibitive.
Nuclear Revivalists have grown desperate as they fight to keep alive on artificial life support an obsolete and moribund industry that is on its last legs worldwide.
According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2021, “In 2020, nuclear power generation decreased—for the first time since 2012—by over 100 TWh or more than the individual national production of 28 of the 33 nuclear countries. Excluding China, nuclear power generation dropped to the lowest level since 1995. The nuclear share in the electricity mix in France dropped to the lowest level since 1985.”
One of Revivalists’ responses has been to press for extending operating licenses for aged existing plants whose designed lifespan is 40 years and to seek public subsidies to keep aged, uneconomical reactors running. The push for a Diablo extension is part of that national pattern.
The Climate Change Cover Story
Another straw grasped at by desperate Revivalists is that nuclear power a necessary ‘clean’ and ‘carbon free’ ‘solution’ to climate change.
How an energy source that remains lethal to all lifeforms for millennia and produces carbon pollution at every stage of its cycle from mining and milling to transport to storage can be called clean or carbon-free is a real head scratcher. Then there’s the construction time issue.
Former NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane points out in her recent Foreign Affairs article, Nuclear Energy Will Not Be the Solution to Climate Change, that nuclear power plants cannot be built quickly enough and in a safe and secure manner to be a major global solution for climate change. The Scientific American and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and even the World Economic Forum agrees.
As engineer John Smigelski explains in a recent blog,
A nuclear plant requires a large amount of concrete, high alloy steel and other speciality metals, structural steel, copper, etc. for construction of the physical plant. All require energy to be produced. Also needed are the turbine generator, condenser, pumps, cranes, piping…. the list goes on. Making all the components and building the nuclear power plant requires significant amounts of energy. People from all over the country would need to work on this project for at least six years.
Do the math. Construction of a nuclear energy plant takes 6+ years and it takes another 6+ years to repay the energy debt. That takes us to 2035 before a new nuclear power plant can make a contribution of “carbon free” energy – too late to really help alleviate our crisis.
Our friends at Fairewinds Energy Education created this special 2-minute animation to show why building new nukes is a lost opportunity for humankind with precious time and money wasted on the wrong choice. Keeping old, fragile reactors – with their daily routine emissions of heat and radioactive pollution is no climate change solution either.
Endgame for Diablo?
The to-and-froing on this issue has gone on for years. The issues involved were given a public airing on Feb. 15, 2020 at the “Shut Diablo Canyon 2020,” Conference organized by Code Pink’s Cynthia Papermaster at the Historic Unitarian Universalist Hall in Berkeley, CA.
Papermaster and Author-Teacher Joanna Macy talked about practicing what Macy calls Active Hope in the growing campaign aimed at bringing about the early shutdown of Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.
Mothers for Peace Spokesperson Linda Seeley described the serious safety issues surrounding long-term storage of tons of lethal radioactive waste at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon reactor site after it is shut down.
Attorney John Geesman, a former Commissioner of the California Energy Commission and author-activist Harvey Wasserman made the case for then Governor Newsom to use his authority to shut down Pacific Gas & Electric’s aged, embrittled Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant immediately, and to not allow it to operate even for its scheduled five more years.
Jessica Tovar of the Utility Justice Campaign told how bankrupt PG&E was trying to sell Community Choice Clean Energy agencies nuclear power.
CCAs – Paying outrageous “exit fees”
PG&E’s disgusted customer base is fleeing to Community Choice Aggregation, CCAs, across the state, who favor renewable energy over nuclear. Former CA Energy Commission Executive Director, and later Commissioner, attorney John Geesman has also calculated that PG&E is forcing ex-customers who left PG&E and joined the CCAs to pay ‘exit fees’ to help cover the over $1 billion dollars yearly in above-market costs needed to run the plant since 2019.
If the plant were to stay open, it might force PG&E to invest many billions in legal and relicensing fees, in repairs and in building cooling towers instead of directly dumping billions of gallons of heated water into the ocean daily. These additional costs would of course, be absorbed by the ratepayers who are already reeling from extraordinary electricity rate hikes this year, in part from Diablo’s over market costs. However, the other major problems with the plant wouldn’t be changed.
In 2016, Arnie Gundersen, Chief Nuclear Engineer at Fairewinds Energy Education, spoke about the risks of nuclear power at California Polytechnic State University, just down the road from Diablo. He laid out the case against continued operation of the plant.
That case has not changed.
[For history buffs, one of our EON3 YouTube Playlist has 55 of our eye-witness historical video reporting on this story over the years. Diablo Canyon Chronicles ]
Baseload generation obsolete with renewables
The utility also admitted in its 2016 joint proposal to the CPUC that the inflexible baseload power generated by their nuclear power is incompatible with the flexibility required in a renewables dominated market and that removing nuclear power can make energy from renewables cheaper to integrate into the grid.
In PG&E’s own words from the 2016 application to close Diablo Canyon:
“Third, PG&E is addressing the challenge of renewable resource over-generation conditions caused by excess renewable energy supply in certain times of the day. As more solar generation comes on line over time, and when its output is at peak supply (e.g., in the middle of the day), there is less room on the electric system for energy from inflexible and large baseload resources such as Diablo Canyon. Additionally, due to expected over-generation throughout parts of the year, Diablo Canyon may contribute to higher system costs as its current generation profile and lack of dispatchability cause challenges for efficiently integrating renewable resources. Therefore, without Diablo Canyon, the cost to integrate renewables may be lower. “
On 13 Fault lines in a Tsunami Zone – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
The Mothers for Peace also point out: “This plant is surrounded by multiple earthquake faults, one of which, the Shoreline Fault, comes within a third of a mile of the Unit 2 reactor. Diablo Canyon, right on the coast, is uniquely vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis, making it one of the most dangerous nuclear plants in the country. If there is a major accident, the cost could make a few billion dollars trivial. Damage from Fukushima has been estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars.”
In a February 9, 2016 California State Lands Commission Meeting, Attorney for The Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, John Geesman put it to the Commissioners this way,
So if you, in fact, extend this lease, it is reasonably foreseeable, indeed it is probable, that PG&E will successfully get its NRC licenses extended from 2025 to 2045. That means an 82 percent increase in the operating lives of these reactors from what they would be, if you allowed your lease to expire in 2018.
…. If you enable an extension to 2045, that’s an 82 percent increase in the nuclear waste associated with this facility….The other area that is represented well by time of operation is exposure to seismic risk. This plant is globally notorious for its seismic setting. And the State of California spent a lot of money trying to figure out just how serious that seismic risk is.
If you expand your lease to 2025, it will increase the exposure to that seismic risk by 21 percent. If you enable an expansion to 2045, it will increase the exposure to that seismic risk by 82 percent….”
What part of Fukushima do you not understand?
More recently, Naoto Kan, Prime Minister of Japan when Fukushima’s three meltdowns began due to an earthquake and tsunami, sent Gov. Newsom a letter of warning based on his horrific experience, to not to keep Diablo online. He emphatically echoed the late David Freeman’s warning quoted above. With nuclear reactors, it’s them or us. “..I was the Prime Minister of Japan at the time of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident and based on my experiences dealing with that disaster, I advise you to shut down the nuclear plant as soon as possible….”
Revivalist’s arguments for nuclear power also ignore the inherent risks, not only from meltdowns, but from the U.S. industry’s dangerously negligent approach in dealing with the lethal waste generated yearly from each reactor.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency, NRC, is allowing utilities to use the quickest, easiest and cheapest method of storing their waste. After routine removal from reactors, approximately 54 tons worth of seething, corrosive radioactivity from used fuel rods are put into thin walled 20 ft. stainless steel canisters only ½” to 5/8” thick that can’t be inspected or repaired. These welded shut, unmaintainable canisters are too hot, both thermally and radioactively, to move until the year 2100 according to the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board 2019 Report. Each canister holds roughly the amount of radioactivity released by Chernobyl.
Hundreds of these canisters holding millions of pounds of deadly radioactive waste are now precariously stored at four main sites in California: Humboldt Bay in northern California; Diablo Canyon along the central coast; SMUD near Sacramento; and San Onofre in southern California.
Their contents will be lethal for over a million years, yet are in canisters that are vulnerable to cracking within just 20 years.
A responsible approach would be to ensure that the deadly waste is in protected buildings contained in thick casks that can be monitored and repaired and repackaged when necessary, as it’s done in Switzerland and other countries but not in the U.S.
Note the contrast between the Swiss and U.S. approach to “dry” highly irradiated nuclear waste storage. The Swiss (photo above) use thick casks with bolted double lids that are monitored and repairable in a protected building. The U.S. comparatively primitive approach (as shown in the photo of Diablo Canyon canisters below) uses a parking lot type cement pad open to weather and terrorist threats for its welded shut unmaintainable, un-repairable canisters that are too large and thermally and radioactively hot to move until the year 2100. The U.S. types of canisters can’t be internally or even externally inspected for problems according to ASME Codes.
Implementing best current waste management practices and technology should be the key issue for nuclear safety, not making more of this lethal waste!!
The Power & Weapons Connection
Why we still are having this horribly dirty, expensive and unforgiving technology forced onto us is because the military wants it. Many revivalists actually see the co–dependence and inextricable connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and think it’s a good thing. The more nations that have the potential for nuclear weapons, the more deterrents there are for war, they believe.
However, there’s an additional new problem with the faulty logic of using nuclear weapons as deterrence (Mutually Assured Destruction). Now that AI, artificial intelligence, is involved in making decisions in fractions of a second with nuclear technology, the human ‘gut feeling’ that has prevented worldwide nuclear war at least twice, is impossible.
And, as shown by the battling in Ukraine, each nuclear power plant is a dirty bomb in place, vulnerable to power outages and both accidental or deliberate hits in a combat zone.
The IAEA-WHO-UNSCEAR Complex – See, Hear & Speak No Evil About Nuclear Risks
Revivalists typically rely on nuclear technical data from the agencies charged with promoting the nuclear industry for their basic facts: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR.)
They ignore or dismiss the massive evidence that those agencies have colluded in covering up the real horrors of the DNA altering damage from the multiple nuclear catastrophes over the years.
In fact, these agencies have an Agreement W.H.O./IAEA (Res. WHA 12.40, of 28 May 1959) that forces the W.H.O. to defer to the interests of the IAEA before investigating, publishing or taking action on anything to do with nuclear. Therefore WHO and UNSCEAR are not independent from the IAEA in the field of research and publications. And because The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is “an international organization that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy,” it prohibited true collection and distribution of accurate information about any of the major nuclear disasters.
Evidence of Harm
It’s heartbreaking to know the real effects on people, all creatures and environment that radioactive pollution has caused. But to hear pro-nuclear proponents assert that there have been none or that it’s been negligible is infuriating as well as devastatingly heartbreaking since that’s what people too young to have experienced the early years of nuclear weapons and bomb “testing” have been told.
Years of data and records of the suffering of the Marshallese Islanders caused by the repeated nuclear bombings of their island territory burned completely in a suspicious fire. The thousands of indigenous people in New Mexico who were subjected to the first atomic bomb, Trinity, weren’t warned before the blast and to this day have not been acknowledged or compensated for being damaged downwinders.
The policy of the U.S. was to block those who attempted to record accurate information immediately after the Japanese bombings. That policy continued for the brave individuals who painstakingly gathered tissue samples and recorded the devastating health damage soon after Chernobyl such as Dr. Bandazhevsky, who had his samples and records destroyed and was also imprisoned by the Belarussian government.
Fortunately we have the work of Dr. Timothy Mousseau, Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina who has recorded years of samples of DNA damage of insects, birds and small mammals in both Chernobyl and Fukushima. MIT Professor Kate Brown meticulously documented the effects of Chernobyl in her award-winning book, “Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future”. Their research corroborates the thousands of Slavic studies and on the ground reports synthesized in “Chernobyl, Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment” by Yablokov, Nesterenko and Nesterenko. Yablokov had been State Councilor for Environment and Health and a member of the Russian Academy of Science. These studies and estimates of deaths (900,000 plus) were completely dismissed also.
Please ask your favorite candidate where they stand on this vital issue for California’s future.
Diablo life extension is not a viable energy, economic or ecological option.
Its time to terminate the extraordinary measures protocol, and let the patient quietly expire in peace.
Mary Beth Brangan and James Heddle Co-Direct EON – The Ecological Options Network, a 501 (c) (3) organization. The EON feature documentary The San Onofre Syndrome: Nuclear Power’s Legacy – a decade in the making – will be released later this year.