Coastal Commission takes the narrow view

Aiding sea life should not take priority over seismic safety

January 14, 2013 

PG&E’s Jim Welch, right, gives members of the Coastal Commission and others a tour of the generator turbine deck Thursday at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

The state Coastal Commission’s denial of PG&E’s application to conduct high-energy, offshore seismic tests near the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant makes sense over the short term.

We agree that PG&E rushed forward with an inadequate plan that left too many questions unanswered. Also, reams of data already gathered from other types of seismic tests should be evaluated before deciding on a next step.

That said, the Coastal Commission’s dismissive, even scornful attitude toward the idea that seismic tests could ever play a role in ensuring the safety of all residents and visitors in San Luis Obispo County (not just marine mammals) is disappointing and discouraging.

Commissioners’ objections centered on the potential harm to marine life that could occur as a result of firing extremely loud blasts from air guns used in seismic testing. We share those concerns.

However, there’s a bigger picture to consider.

The Coastal Commission’s mission is much broader than protecting marine life. It’s charged with protecting, enhancing and restoring the entire coastal environment — including natural and manmade resources.

Surely, helping to avoid a nuclear, quake-induced accident along one of California’s most beautiful stretches of coastline — however remote the possibility of an accident may be — should qualify as protecting the coastal environment.

Yet in the Coastal Commission’s discussions, nuclear safety took a back seat to protecting sea life.

It’s not that commissioners don’t believe there’s a danger. Quite the opposite.

Consider this statement from Commissioner Martha McClure, a Del Norte County supervisor: “My children lived for awhile down in San Luis and it made me crazy because I knew it (Diablo Canyon) was probably going to go one day.”

She went on to say that it’s time to close the plant, and she suggested spending the $64 million the PUC authorized for seismic studies on solar power instead.

Other commissioners took a fatalistic, what’s-the-point in testing tack.

Among their arguments, made at November’s hearing:

• Earthquakes are impossible to predict.

• High energy seismic testing isn’t likely to turn up anything new or definitive.

• Even if testing were to indicate an increased seismic risk, PG&E has already indicated that it wouldn’t do anything different anyway.

PG&E denies that it would take no action. But even if the utility were to attempt to ignore data pointing to increased risk, organizations such as Mothers for Peace and — we would hope — federal, state and local officials would surely demand action.

As to the contention that high-energy tests won’t yield any useful, new data, the seismic and nuclear experts quoted in reporter David Sneed’s Page 1 story today have a different take.

According to them, the high energy surveys should indicate whether the Hosgri fault is connected to the recently discovered Shoreline fault. If they are connected, that could potentially generate amuch stronger earthquake than initially predicted.

That would be useful — even critical — information, but given the mindset of the Coastal Commission, that’s data we likely won’t have any time soon.

We can only hope that a future Coastal Commission will take a broader view and consider the consequences that could occur if we fail to take every step possible to ensure the seismic safety of Diablo Canyon.

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