Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Nuclear power’s risks outweigh benefits

San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace recognizes the many fine and conscientious employees at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

They are our neighbors and friends and we thank them for their dedicated work to keep the 1,100 metric tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste stored on a fragile coastline, adjacent to two active earthquake faults, out of the biosphere.

Unfortunately, all the hard work and good intentions in the world will not suffice if one or both of these earthquake faults shake us more than we expect. The Hosgri fault is classified by the United States Geological Survey as “major” and “active.” The Shoreline fault, located just 300 meters from the primary cooling water intake structure, has not been fully studied, so no one knows its true potential force.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has asked for you and me, the ratepayers, to fund a 3-D seismology study that could give us accurate information about the faults adjacent to Diablo Canyon. Mothers for Peace applauds this study. It’s the safe thing to do. The results will be available in 2013, three years after Diablo’s license renewal application. PG&E has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to approve the extension of Diablo Canyon’s licenses to operate for 20 more years without having the results of full seismological studies. Recently, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission requesting postponement of its relicensing decision until the studies are complete. It’s only logical (the two licenses expire in 2024 and 2025) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asks nuclear power owners to start the application process 10 years before license expiration. By not waiting for the studies, PG&E is choosing to risk the health and safety of the 260,000 residents of San Luis Obispo County.

Despite the best intentions of its employees, Diablo Canyon has not met the requirements of the NRC in numerous safety areas. Last year, during the replacement of Diablo’s two steam generators by the French company AREVA, workers were exposed to 296 percent more radiation than the company had estimated.

On Feb. 3, 2010, PG&E was cited by the NRC for the inadequacy of Diablo’s off-site power generators, the electric supply that is necessary to prevent a release of radiation in the case of loss of power to the plant during an earthquake or other natural disaster. Though the reactor vessels are designed to withstand a 7.5 earthquake, the spent fuel pools and many vertical pipes are not seismically certified.

PG&E’s James R. Becker bases his arguments in favor of the relicensing strictly in terms of the revenue that Diablo Canyon generates for this county (“Early renewal of Diablo is necessary,” March 7). But he didn’t consider the long-term economic impacts of nuclear power, both in the cost of relicensing and in storing huge quantities of nuclear waste for centuries to come. To describe nuclear power as affordable is to ignore the $165 billion in taxpayer subsidies that have been given to the nuclear industry since its inception. The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI.org) in its article, “Forget Nuclear,” presents documented studies that show that wind, co-generation and efficiency are already cheaper than either nuclear or fossil-fuel plants and they do not add carbon to the atmosphere.

No nuclear facility can be called “safe.” Federal agencies recognize that they are targets of terrorists. FBI director Robert S. Mueller testified before the Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. Senate in February 2005, stating, “Another area we consider vulnerable and target-rich is the energy sector, particularly nuclear power plants.”

San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace recognizes the economic and tax benefits of having Diablo Canyon situated here. But risks of potential radiation exposure from terrorist attack, earthquake or human error and the legacy of thousands of tons of nuclear waste left for future generations to care for outweigh the short-term economic benefits of the Diablo Canyon power plant.

To learn more, please visit www.mothersforpeace.org.

Linda Seeley is on the board of directors for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace.