PG&E’s proposal to shut down the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in 2025 and replace its energy with renewables was a welcome surprise for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace. PG&E finally agrees with Mothers for Peace and other environmental organizations that the energy from Diablo is not needed and that carbon-free renewables can provide replacement power at lower cost.
On June 28, MFP was shocked by the State Lands Commission’s vote to give PG&E a new lease for state tidelands until 2025 without exercising due diligence in its legal mandate to order an Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act. An impact report would have assessed the environmental harm caused by Diablo’s once-through cooling system that heats 2.4 billion gallons of water every day and pumps it into Diablo Cove — devoid of life and holding trace amounts of radioactivity. It also would have assessed the harm done to marine life by the condensed salts and brine from the desalination plant that supplies water for Diablo Canyon. Without this information, we cannot know the true environmental sacrifice caused by the operation of the plant.
In the end, the State Lands Commission chose to accept nine more years of environmental harm in exchange for the promise of a shutdown in 2025.
A positive element of the PG&E proposal is that it offers incentives for the well-trained professional workforce to stay on the job at Diablo for the remaining years of operation. The offer to support the tax base for San Luis Obispo schools is also a plus. However, the funds for these programs are to be taken from the decommissioning fund, which requires approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and it’s not a done deal.
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Keep in mind that the PG&E proposal is just a piece of paper until and unless the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Coastal Commission agree to all of its provisions. This process is likely to take two years or more, and the outcome is not guaranteed.
If the proposal is implemented, it offers a blueprint for closing other aging nuclear plants in a way that is economically acceptable to utilities. MFP is hopeful that other states will follow California’s lead in supporting renewable energy and thereby provide incentives for the 99 remaining aging nuclear plants to close voluntarily.
MFP thinks Diablo Canyon can and should be shut down earlier than 2025. What can happen in nine years? We know that over a million additional pounds of highly radioactive waste will be added to the more than 6 million pounds already stored on-site. The marine life in the cove will continue to be assaulted. Also possible is the “Big One,” the earthquake that seismologists all over the nation are warning us about. A tsunami, deemed possible by geologist and seismologist Dr. Robert Sewell, might cause the vital cooling system to fail. The aging Diablo Canyon Power Plant only gets more dangerous as it operates, and MFP believes that its job is more critical now than ever before.
The plant only becomes more dangerous during these last years of operation, and MFP’s role as a safety watchdog is more critical now than ever before. Even after closure, MFP will advocate to find the least dangerous method and location for storing thousands of tons of lethal radioactive wastes produced by Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Our work continues.
Linda Seeley and Jane Swanson are spokeswomen for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, a local all-volunteer organization that has opposed the operation of Diablo Canyon nuclear plant since 1973.