Over the Hill

Like it or hate it, we'll all miss Diablo Canyon when it's gone

phild2008@sbcglobal.netOctober 24, 2013 

Phil Dirkx

Last week our county supervisors discussed ways to survive the closing of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. It won’t be closing tomorrow, but the supervisors cited real dates: 2024 for half the plant and 2025 for the other half.

Those are the expiration dates for the plant’s operating licenses. PG&E, the plant’s owner, hasn’t yet decided to apply for 20-year extensions. It’s still studying earthquake faults in the Diablo Canyon neighborhood and the cost of strengthening the plant to cope with them.

PG&E also fears new government regulations because of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan. A nuclear power plant was wrecked there by an earthquake and tsunami. The situation is still out of control. Also today’s lower natural gas prices have lowered the wholesale price of electricity.

The Diablo Canyon plant employs lots of people at excellent wages. It also pays lots of taxes. The county supervisors discussed ways to offset the loss of those jobs and taxes.

I first visited Diablo Canyon as a reporter in 1968. All I saw were pits dug by archeologists to uncover ancient Indian artifacts and bones before the power plant covered them. I returned during the construction and saw super-sized, steel bars intertwined to reinforce the plant’s massive concrete work.

Building the nuclear plant was complicated and contentious. Antinuclear protestors laid siege to Diablo Canyon in 1978 and 1981. In 1978 I mingled with a group of demonstrators. We invaded the plant property by walking around the end of a fence.

As we crossed the rangeland sheriff’s officers drove up. They said we must leave or be arrested. Another reporter, a photographer and I left. The demonstrators ran and were arrested. Almost 500 people were arrested in that 1978 demonstration. In 1981 1,900 were arrested.

The plant’s Unit One finally went online in 1985, and Unit Two in 1986. When the Diablo Canyon plant closes, we’ll all miss it, and not just economically. Like it or hate it, it’s a presence in our lives, even if we never actually see it.

It’s a menacing presence. We’ve learned to live with it, but it can be dangerous. It’s why we have all those sirens south of the Cuesta Grade. It’s also the reason evacuation plans were made.

And used nuclear fuel is also dangerous. It will be stored on the plant grounds for years or centuries in huge, tubular, metal and concrete cans. We’re told they’re safe, but remember a supposedly safe PG&E gas pipeline in San Bruno exploded in 2010 destroying 38 homes, injuring dozens and killing eight.

Phil Dirkx's column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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