Viewpoint

Diablo’s safety is key concern

July 31, 2013 

PG&E uses half-truths, distortions, and irrelevant information in its attempt to justify license renewal for the two nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon. (“Diablo nuclear plant fuels local economy,” July 14).

The argument presented by PG&E is that Diablo should be relicensed because of jobs created and taxes paid. But economic factors are not relevant to license renewal. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requires that plant operators show that the plant meets regulatory safety requirements, not that it creates jobs.

But if economics is the topic PG&E wants to discuss, the hidden costs of nuclear power must be included.

In the event of a serious accident at the plant, the taxpayers have the bulk of financial responsibility under the Price-Anderson Act. It caps the liability of nuclear operators, leaving taxpayers on the hook for most of the damages.

Ratepayers and taxpayers are also responsible for the costs of storing and guarding the radioactive wastes produced at all commercial reactors. More than 6 million pounds of radioactive wastes are currently stored at Diablo, with 500 pounds being added each day. The high level wastes will be lethal for a quarter of a million years — in effect forever.

While the nuclear reactors are not “good neighbors,” Mothers for Peace fully recognizes that the people who work at the plant are conscientious. But their best efforts cannot compensate for the fundamental problems. Diablo was designed in the 1960s, and is in fact an aging nuclear plant. It is also a radioactive waste storage dump surrounded by 13 earthquake faults, some of them classified as “major” and “active” by the United States Geological Survey.

PG&E tax monies that help support schools must be weighed against the health risks to children who live in the shadow of this nuclear plant. Even under normal operating conditions, nuclear plants emit some radioactive materials. In the event of a significant accident, no amount of tax dollars could rectify the health consequences for these students. Witness Fukushima.

The claim that Diablo produces “clean” energy is a myth. The nuclear fuel cycle releases much carbon dioxide during mining, fuel enrichment and plant construction. Uranium mining is one of the most carbon dioxide intensive industrial operations. And certainly radioactive wastes can not be described as “clean”!

The statement that “Nuclear energy makes up more than 20 percent of the electricity we provide to our customers” needs clarification. In 2011, before San Onofre shut down for good, the California Energy Commission predicted that by 2017 nuclear would produce 15.1 percent of the electricity produced in the state. Now that Diablo is the only operating nuclear plant, we can assume that approximately 8 percent of the electricity produced in California will be from Diablo. Furthermore, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) states that “Diablo Canyon going offline would not significantly impact the amount of energy on the grid.”

Mothers for Peace proposes that PG&E increase the portion of its ample resources invested in sustainable sources of energy. According to the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts, for every four jobs provided by nuclear plants, solar and wind projects provide 13 jobs. Retrofitting buildings to conserve energy usage provides 17 jobs compared to the four for nuclear.

We don’t need the energy from Diablo Canyon, and we certainly do not need the risks. Shut it down, PG&E, and invest in renewable energy. That would make PG&E a truly good neighbor.

Jane Swanson is spokesperson for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace.

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