Anti-nuclear rally at Avila Beach


More than 300 people gathered Saturday for a rally on the sand at Avila Beach calling for the closure of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and a halt to its relicensing application process.

The event, organized by San Luis Obispo-based anti-nuclear group Mothers for Peace, was in response to the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in Japan after last month’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami there.

Plant owner PG&E has asked the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to delay its final decision about relicensing until studies of earthquake faults offshore of the plant are complete, although it wants the processing of its renewal application to continue.

Many at Saturday’s gathering were also at protests held during the 1970s and 80s, while the plant was under construction. Diablo Canyon’s Unit 1 reactor went online in 1984.

For many of the demonstrators, the issues have not changed.

Elizabeth Apfelberg, one of the original members of Mothers for Peace, said there are three main reasons for why the plant should be shut down: uncertainty about nuclear waste, seismic dangers and the age of the plant.

Apfelberg was twice arrested in the 80s for attempts — not directly organized by Mothers for Peace — to blockade the power plant gate.

The tone of Saturday’s gathering was far from the heated civil disobedience associated with the early protests.

Saturday’s demonstrators cheered the final kiss of a nearby beach wedding — inadvertently permitted for the same time — and danced to upbeat drum music.

But their signs — bearing such messages as: “Fault-y idea, Shut down or melt down”; “I’m scared”; and “Want to get nuclear wasted?” — indicated their frustrations.

The gathering reached a high pitch when a woman led the group in loud chants of “Shut it down!”

Some of the loudest shouts came from Atascadero High School junior Rainey Forzetting, who was there with three friends. Forzetting just finished studying earthquake faults in a geology class, and she is concerned about the placement of a nuclear power plant so close to where earthquakes originate, she said.

Attendees also included out-of-towners such as Beth Barnes of Long Beach, who drove up because she is scared that her daughter, who will attend Cal Poly in the fall, will live in “the shadow of a nuclear power plant,” she said.

Umi Hagitani, of Oakland, who grew up in Japan and whose mother lives in a region near Fukushima Dai-ichi, was at the rally because she said she believes there are social parallels between the populations that live near Diablo Canyon and near Fukushima Dai-ichi.

The gathering mostly irritated Bob Kokenda, of Los Angeles, who was one of the throngs of beachgoers just yards from the rally.

“I have nothing against the cause,” he said, “but whether they are here for two hours or three I don’t think it will make a difference.”