Viewpoints

Don’t disband Diablo Canyon decommissioning panel, says SLO Mothers for Peace

Spent nuclear fuel is stored in cooling ponds at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon power plant before being transferred to dry casks, seen here. Spent fuel storage will be the focus of public workshops in February.
Spent nuclear fuel is stored in cooling ponds at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon power plant before being transferred to dry casks, seen here. Spent fuel storage will be the focus of public workshops in February. AP

While we appreciate and respect Alex Karlin’s Viewpoint (“Retired NRC judge calls for independent panel to monitor Diablo Canyon decommissioning”), San Luis Obispo Mother for Peace (MFP) disagrees with some of his premises.

Mr. Karlin states that the existing Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel is a “conduit” for PG&E, allowing the corporation to “check the box” of public engagement. That’s not how MFP views it.

Although the panel was selected by a group of five community representatives convened by PG&E, the panel has shown itself to be surprisingly independent-minded. Its Strategic Vision Document (pge.com/engagementpanel), released in December, was written entirely by panel members without input from PG&E. The document reported the activities and findings of the panel through 2018 and has been well received by the community.

MFP agrees with Mr. Karlin’s recommendation that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) create a panel with no ties to PG&E. What we disagree with is his vision of the composition of the future panel.

Mr. Karlin touts the credentials of panels at other facilities undergoing decommissioning: San Onofre, Vermont and Massachusetts. Exploring the membership of those panels, we have found that many of the members skip meetings, send alternate representatives who know little to nothing about the process, and basically give all of the power to the chair of the panel.

That’s not the case with the Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel. Almost every member is fully engaged, and each member is an expert in his or her own field. Members include a State Parks supervisor, SLO County Planning Department representative, Chumash representative, union representative, retired SLO County supervisor, land conservation expert, physician, land use planner, retired biotech business owner, retired NRC judge, Mothers for Peace member and one representative from PG&E.

Mr. Karlin opines that nuclear experts should be part of the panel. Agreed. But the Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee, comprised of three Ph.D. nuclear engineers, has expressed its willingness to act as an advisory resource to the panel.

Mr. Karlin also praises local government officials for weighing in on the process. MFP is in complete agreement and has noted that the panel welcomes government input.

The issue of PG&E’s bankruptcy is even more of a reason to keep the panel as is. Panel members have a personal interest in their community’s well being, and their interests are not politically motivated. Because they are independent thinkers and not seeking re-election to any post, they can stand strong and debate issues and ideas on equal footing with one another. Through their process of consensus building, they listen and understand the concerns of many sectors.

The panel is about to tackle some thorny issues. First and foremost is the matter of dry cask storage at Diablo Canyon. The panel is holding community workshops on Feb. 22 and 23 to learn more about dry cask storage and to explore PG&E’s proposal to leave the spent fuel in the pools until 2032.

The formal panel meeting to discuss spent fuel storage will be held on March 13. MFP urges community members to attend the workshops and the public meeting. The future of our community depends on safe storage of radioactive waste at Diablo Canyon.

Molly Johnson and Jane Swanson are spokespersons for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace.

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