Testimony by classic rock musicians and dueling pro- and anti-nuclear groups dominated nearly three hours of public testimony at an afternoon hearing Wednesday in San Luis Obispo to discuss environmental concerns associated with the continued operation of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission hosted two public hearings, one in the afternoon and the other in the evening, at the Courtyard by Marriott San Luis Obispo to take public input on an environmental assessment the agency is doing regarding relicensing the power plant.
More than 100 people and 57 speakers participated in the afternoon meeting, including rock musician David Crosby, who told the agency that the plant was unsafe and urged that it be shut down.
“The plant is dangerous,” he said. “When there are millions of people downwind of the plant it is an unacceptable risk.”
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Letters from other musicians were also read into the record — all were opposed to the continued operation of the plant. They included Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt.
“Now that renewable energy is so much cheaper than nuclear, we are wondering why the plant is operating at all,” Raitt said in her letter.
However, the testimony was about evenly split between pro- and anti-nuclear power advocates. More than a dozen members of a group called Californians for Green Nuclear Power — all wearing bright green T-shirts — attended the meeting to show their support for the continued operation of the plant.
They cited the value of Diablo Canyon as a reliable producer of electrical power for some 3 million of the state’s residents without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change.
Rick Owen of Pacifica called the plant an amazing technological wonder.
“It’s an amazing technology we should all learn more about, and you will learn it is the solution to our energy problems today,” he said.
San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Lynn Compton agreed. “Nuclear energy produces more clean energy than any other source,” she said.
Comments by critics of the plant focused on three familiar topics: the seismic safety of the plant, the storage of highly radioactive used fuel at the plant and the impact of the plant’s cooling system on marine ecosystems.
In 2009, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. applied with the NRC to renew Diablo Canyon’s two operating licenses another 20 years to 2044 and 2045. However, in 2011, the utility asked and was granted permission to suspend the renewal process in order to conduct a review of the seismic safety of the plant.
PG&E has not decided whether it will further pursue license renewal. The utility is still reviewing data from the seismic research it did around the power plant and needs a determination that from the state that license renewal is consistent with state environmental laws.
However, in April the NRC restarted the renewal review process, which includes the publication of an environmental impact assessment that is due to be finalized in 2017.
This prompted activist Rochelle Becker with the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility to criticize the NRC for restarting license renewal activity.
“There is no reason for restarting a premature and expensive license renewal process,” she said. “Go home, NRC, and wait for PG&E to get its seismic and coastal consistency ducks in a row.”
Michael Wentzel with the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation said the agency decided to restart the process in order to give them adequate time to review all of the safety and environmental issue associated with license renewal.
“It has been five years since we first took input on this, and we decided it would be prudent to restart the process,” he said.