Forty-four years ago this week, on July 12, 1967, the staff of the California Public Utilities Commission urged regulators to allow Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to build a nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon. The estimated cost was $188 million, and most of the power produced was expected to go to Fresno and Bakersfield. When construction and retrofitting were finally completed nearly two decades later, the price tag had risen to $5.7 billion.
Flash forward: Last week the CPUC held a hearing to decide whether to suspend or dismiss PG&E’s application to fund an additional 20 years of operation through license renewal.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently issued an order putting a 52-month delay on the relicensing process, pending seismic updates.
PG&E currently wants ratepayers to fund the license renewal process before the utility has completed state-directed seismic studies. PG&E’s request to merely “suspend” the proceeding would allow the company to restart the license renewal process before its seismic studies are independently reviewed by state experts, and to use the data and cost estimates derived in the past year.
The Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility urged full dismissal of the application, stating that the data may be outdated at best, and possibly moot depending on the seismic revelations.
PG&E must be using a crystal ball for forecasting, for as their attorney told the CPUC judge, “It is PG&E’s expectation that these seismic studies will not have dramatically changed things.” Is this a sound thesis with which to begin a scientific inquiry? Or is this the same corporate hubris that TEPCO demonstrated when evaluating Fukushima?
Forty-four years ago, PG&E’s state permit was granted on evidence that “No major faults exist in the area,” and concluded, “ based upon the investigation conducted by PG&E and its consultants, and the conclusions drawn therefrom, it is clear that the site is geologically and seismologically well suited to the proposed use.”
Today, PG&E recognizes four active faults within 5 kilometers, and independent seismic experts believe other faults remain undiscovered.
California was fooled once with a $188 million construction estimate. California was fooled twice with unrealistic seismic evaluations. California was fooled again when the federal government assured the state that the radioactive waste on our coast would be removed to a safe permanent repository. With the disaster at Fukushima still unfolding, how many times is California willing to be fooled, and at what cost?
On July 26, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility will ask the California Energy Commission to investigate how the state would replace 2,200 megawatts of nuclear generation, 1,300 jobs and millions in tax revenue if Diablo’s nuclear generation should cease. Unanalyzed projections for California’s future energy generation that require dependence upon aging plants, unrealistic cost estimates, assumptions about the removal of radioactive waste and inadequate seismic designs could cost California dearly.
In addition, the Alliance will request our federal representatives to open an investigation into inadequate liability limits for radioactive releases. There is no private or business insurance available, and federal liability limits for a nuclear disaster are capped at $12.6 billion. Damage estimates in Japan are currently in excess of $100 billion.
The state’s gamble to allow operation of a nuclear plant in a seismically active coastal zone was based on evidence that is no longer valid. As we approach future energy choices, we must base scarce ratepayer investments on current knowledge.
Rochelle Becker is the executive director of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.