Californians hope they will never be awakened to the tragedy unfolding in Japan. It may never happen, but failure to acknowledge and admit the possibility is a sure path to complacency and carelessness. When mixing nuclear power and earthquakes, ignorance is not bliss, it is dangerous and irresponsible.
California’s elected leaders — starting with San Luis Obispo’s own Sen. Sam Blakeslee and a bipartisan coalition in Sacramento — had been asking tough questions about seismic safety and nuclear power for half a decade before the radioactive “Black Friday” struck Japan. As a result of Blakeslee’s legislation, AB 1632, the California Energy Commission has taken steps to demand new, advanced seismic mapping of the onshore and offshore areas surrounding California’s aging nuclear plants.
The CEC made it clear that these answers need to be known if we are to be able to rely on affordable and reliable power now and into the future. Japan had already experienced the devastating effects of an earthquake at the world’s largest nuclear plant in 2007. At that time, there was no meltdown, but 8000 megawatts were lost, and the monetary cost of repairs and replacement power has exceeded $10 billion.
After that event, Japan’s nuclear regulators vowed to revise and strengthen all their standards and facilities. It appears — tragically — that they failed to act in time.
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In defiance of our state’s request, PG&E applied to relicense Diablo Canyon with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a federal agency that does not require any updated seismic information before granting relicensing.
The NRC is also the agency that, in a 1984 decision, told the interveners in the original licensing of Diablo Canyon that they could not consider the compound effects of both a meltdown and an earthquake, declaring, “The commission has determined that the chance of such a bizarre concatenation of events occurring is extremely small. Not only is this conclusion well supported by the record evidence, it accords most eminently with common sense notions of statistical probability.”
Given that we have just witnessed an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown all occurring in sequence, does the NRC still believe the chance of this “bizarre concatenation of events” is merely hypothetical?
At this moment, PG&E’s application for ratepayer funding to proceed with license renewal is sitting at the California Public Utilities Commission. PG&E has not begun to complete the “3-D seismic reflection mapping and other advanced techniques” directed by the CEC, CPUC and required by our Coastal Commission as well. Why has the CPUC not returned this application to PG&E as incomplete pending the resolution of these studies? Why is PG&E stalling on this issue?
Nor, as they have implied, has PG&E’s recent study of the newly discovered Shoreline Fault been peer-reviewed by the U.S. Geologic Survey. This paper has printed, “Extensive studies done by seismologists with plant owners PG&E, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Geological Survey show that four earthquake faults in the vicinity of the plant could produce quakes of no more than 6.5 magnitude.”
In fact, Dr. Jeanne Hardebeck, USGS seismologist writes, “The USGS has determined that the Hosgri Fault is capable of a magnitude 7.3 earthquake. This is from a 2008 statewide fault study, called UCERF2, a collaboration of USGS, CGS, and university scientists, which was extensively peer reviewed,” and adds, “the USGS has not reviewed PG&E’s Shoreline Fault report.”
Instead of following state directives, PG&E spends its efforts spreading messages like: “lessons (from Japan) are also central to everyone in this state who enjoys the benefits of abundant, clean and low-cost nuclear energy.”
In interview after heart-wrenching interview, no one in Japan is speaking about low-cost, abundant, clean nuclear energy now. Rather, the people of Japan will continue to face horrendous losses for decades to come, and the primary lesson to learn — nuclear power is an unforgiving and deadly technology — still seems to fall on deaf ears at the NRC.
The ears of our state officials are wide open. Concerned Californians need to let the CPUC know that PG&E must do the studies.
We will leave it to scientists and their expert peers to determine the number, location and magnitude of these faults. But if we fail to support our state legislators and oversight agencies in requiring that this work be completed, and completed now, there will be only one fault: Ours.
Rochelle Becker is executive director of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.