After listening to more than four hours of impassioned pleas from local residents, county supervisors voted Tuesday to oppose a proposal to conduct high-energy seismic surveys offshore of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
The county board will outline its position in a letter to the California Coastal Commission, which will consider PG&E’s plans to conduct the earthquake fault surveys when it meets in Santa Monica starting Nov. 14.
County supervisors said they are now opposed to the plan because specific conditions they outlined in an earlier letter to the State Lands Commission have not been met.
However, supervisors also stressed that one of their core concerns remains the need to fully understand the earthquake threat at the nuclear plant.
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“It may be the most satisfying choice to argue against testing, but I’m not sure that is in the best interest of our long-term safety,” Supervisor Adam Hill said.
PG&E, which owns the Diablo Canyon plant, is in the process of getting 10 regulatory permits it will need to conduct the seismic surveys in late November and December.
The testing is intended to give PG&E and regulators a better understanding of the earthquake faults off the shore of Diablo Canyon. Such information became more critical following the Fukushima Dai-ichi tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan last year.
The surveys involve sending very loud blasts of sound into the ocean.
The county has no regulatory authority over the testing. However, supervisors sent a letter to the State Lands Commission in August, asking that a third party team of experts review the technology PG&E plans to use to ensure that it is state-of-the-art.
They also want to make sure that fishermen are adequately compensated for their losses and that scientific monitoring is done to determine the long-term impact the surveys will have on ocean life.
On Tuesday, supervisors also questioned the testing’s impact on humans.
Studying the effects the seismic surveys will have on a variety of marine species, including sea otters, is one of the mitigation measures already imposed on PG&E by state officials.
One of the monitoring programs will also measure the long-term effects of the seismic surveys on fish populations.
“We are committed to completing these studies in a safe and environmentally friendly manner,” said Jearl Strickland, PG&E’s director of nuclear projects.
He acknowledged that negotiations with local fishermen have not progressed as PG&E officials had hoped. A mediator has been appointed to help work out a deal.
Several commercial fishermen said Tuesday that before the testing begins, they want assurances that a long-term monitoring plan will be put in place and that they’ll be fairly compensated before and after the surveys.
“This can severely impact my future,” said Joseph Conchelos of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization, which is opposed to the testing.
During a five-hour hearing Tuesday, about 70 people spoke against the testing and asked supervisors to do everything in their power to stop it.
Many speakers focused on the impact of the surveys to marine life, as well as negative repercussions on local commercial fishing and tourist-serving businesses.
“Any negative impact upon our marine life will affect not only our commercial fishing fleet, but businesses depending on tourist dollars and employees working for those businesses,” said Craig Schmidt, CEO of the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce. “It will have a ripple effect through the entire community.”
State Sen. Sam Blakeslee, who has expressed concerns about the techniques and equipment the utility plans to use, also spoke to supervisors Tuesday. He said he has urged PG&E to first conduct a pilot study that would define a larger program.
However, he added that the process needs to continue moving ahead.
“We don’t know when stresses on these faults will cause them to fail, with potentially devastating results,” he said.