Over the Hill

Diablo Canyon closure brings back memories of construction, protests

A group of anti-nuclear protesters wave a flag above the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant as thousands were arrested during a blockade of the plant in September 1981.
A group of anti-nuclear protesters wave a flag above the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant as thousands were arrested during a blockade of the plant in September 1981. Telegram-Tribune

I’d like to congratulate and welcome Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant on its recently becoming “over the hill.”

Government authorities and PG&E’s top executives recently agreed to close the plant in 2025.

When I first saw Diablo Canyon back in the 1970s, it was just a hole in the ground. The only sign of development was some archaeologists digging for historical objects and information. They had to do it quickly, as an electric-generating nuclear plant would soon be built there. That plant now produces 9 percent of the electricity produced in California.

But plans are now afoot to greatly increase the generation of electricity from other sources, such as wind and sunshine. Diablo Canyon would no longer be needed.

I visited Diablo Canyon as a reporter three times before it started producing electricity in 1985. My first two visits were for KPRL Radio in Paso Robles. The third was for the Telegram-Tribune. The last two visits were to cover antinuclear protests.

PG&E wasn’t well-prepared for the first of the protests. I tagged along with a photographer and a reporter from the Telegram-Tribune. We walked with a battalion of protesters who invaded Diablo Canyon by simply walking a short distance from the main gate and going in.

But deputies in buses caught up with us. They said they’d arrest anyone who didn’t leave. The Telegram-Tribune guys and I walked out. The protesters wanted to be arrested. They ran and got a bus ride to jail.

The second major protest came in 1981. Both PG&E and the protesters were better organized. PG&E improved its boundary fences and invited reporters in for news conferences and refreshments. The protesters blockaded the PG&E property. It all lasted two weeks. Nearly 2,000 people were arrested.

Maybe the plant was jinxed by its name — Diablo. Maybe it should have been named after the nearby Irish Hills or for the coastal village of Avila Beach. But eventually the battle settled down to a chronic feud. The nuclear plant fended off legal actions and political opposition and kept chugging along.

The main question now is what to do with the plant’s used nuclear fuel. It will remain radioactive and dangerous long after the plant shuts down in 2025. Federal officials have failed for years to agree on a way to dispose of it.

Eventually it may just sit, stored in 20-foot-tall steel and concrete barrels called casks. There will be 138 of them on a concrete slab behind the closed plant. Their fuel could remain radioactive for a very long time.

I feel the need to personally apologize to the future generations of Americans.

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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