Seismic testing necessary, but more study needed first

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors got it right: Offshore seismic testing near the Diablo Canyon Power Plant should be put on hold.

We must have assurances that:

1) Every precaution is taken to minimize harm to marine life.

2) There’s a program in place to provide adequate compensation to commercial fishermen and anyone else who might lose money on account of the disruption.

3) Testing is performed to the highest standard, with state-of-the-art equipment and according to a plan that has been thoroughly reviewed by a well-qualified, independent party.

We join the Board of Supervisors in urging the Coastal Commission to deny PG&E’s permit application, since the above conditions requested by the county have not been met.

To be clear, though, we still believe more research is needed to ensure we have a thorough knowledge of all offshore faults near Diablo Canyon.

Here’s why: While we share concerns about the possible harm to marine life should the high energy, 3D studies move for ward, we’re more worried about the dire consequences of a nuclear accident. Even if there is no injury or loss of life, the emotional, social and economic toll is devastating, as we’ve seen with Fukushima.

Yes, we recognize that the likelihood of a Fukushima-type disaster here is extremely slim. For one thing, Diablo Canyon is built atop a coastal bluff, 85 feet above sea level, making it much less vulnerable to a tsunami.

That is indeed a relief.

However, it’s not especially comforting that we might “only” have to deal with an earthquake and the power outages, fires, clogged evacuation routes and other emergencies that could follow.

We should at least have the confidence of knowing that the nuclear power plant in our backyard is structurally sound enough to withstand the largest magnitude quake possible. And the best way to provide that assurance is to proceed with a seismic study that’s been properly planned and vetted.

Otherwise, we’re left with the assurances of PG&E and regulatory agencies, and neither has an impressive track record.

Consider: When construction of the plant began in the early 1970s, the utility didn’t even know of the existence of the offshore Hosgri Fault. And it wasn’t just the Hosgri that escaped detection; the Shoreline Fault wasn’t discovered until 2008.

We aren’t delving into history in order to blame PG&E or any other agency, but rather, to point out that technology evolves over time. Fault mapping techniques in use today are dramatically different from those used in the 1970s. We expect they’ll be more sophisticated still 20 or 30 years from now.

We must take advantage of that; it would border on criminal not to have complete, up-to-date information on the seismic picture at Diablo — whether through 3D surveys or some other, less intrusive method.

Bottom line: We should hit the pause button, but we shouldn’t abandon the quest for more information.

Again, we urge the Coastal Commission to deny PG&E’s application for a permit. We don’t see a need to rush forward with a study plan that many have judged inadequate.

Let’s take the time to get it right.