Viewpoints

You’re wrong, Tribune. It’s not too late to save the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant

The Tribune’s Editorial Board emphasizes arguments opposed to safe, zero-emissions nuclear power to obtain their conclusion that “it’s too late to save Diablo Canyon.”

As a Ph.D. science and engineering professor, I encourage my students to think critically. In the editorial, The Tribune’s authors note oft-repeated claims by Diablo Canyon detractors.

Presuming rational decision makers would determine whether Diablo Canyon could remain operational past 2025, here are rebuttals to the salient opposition claims:

1. Increased seismic bracing is unnecessary. Competent, in-depth analysis both by PG&E and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) shows the plant is ruggedly built and will survive with a substantial safety margin any credible regional earthquake. Diablo Canyon kept running when the Dec. 22, 2003, San Simeon quake hit, killing two in Paso Robles.

2. Diablo Canyon does not need to install cooling towers. The plant was designed to have essentially no harmful effects on the local marine environment — local fisheries are thriving. Federal EPA statutes regarding waste heat from power plants are designed to prevent environmental harm to small inland waterways, with limited natural mechanisms to dissipate heat. Diablo Canyon uses the free-flowing Pacific Ocean as its heat sink. The Pacific Ocean can easily handle the daily heat output from Diablo Canyon. Finally, federal regulations provide exemption mechanisms for nuclear plants in light of their environmental benefits.

Californians for Green Nuclear Power has been in discussions with the State Water Resources Control Board and the Regional Water Quality Control Board since 2014. They have indicated they will carefully consider the facts when they consider extending the existing Diablo Canyon variance mechanism established in 1984.

3. The California State Lands Commission grants leases for the Diablo Canyon intake and outfall structures. The lands commission has no safety oversight role regarding the plant. Safety oversight is primarily vested in the NRC.

4. Attorney John Geesman with the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility claims there are “above market costs” associated with Diablo Canyon Power Plant. These costs are a consequence of PG&E’s voluntary plan to close Diablo Canyon in 2025. Decommissioning costs must still be recovered. If the plant ran to 2045 or beyond, those “above market costs” would drop to zero.

5. Californians for Green Nuclear Power agrees PG&E has some of the highest electricity rates in the nation. Diablo Canyon reduces overall electricity costs. Expensive solar and wind increase total costs, particularly when taxpayer-funded subsidies are excluded. PG&E is enriched. by retiring reliable, zero-emissions Diablo Canyon and replacing its huge, 18 billion KWH annual output (more than five Hoover Dams) with many new higher-emissions natural-gas-fired power plants. Ratepayers, the environment and SLO’s regional economy pay the price.

Widely promoted solar and wind generation require huge amounts of natural gas-fired generation to integrate them into the grid. The natural gas generation that compensates for their substantial intermittent operations must be used inefficiently and intermittently, which increases gas consumption, hence emissions.

Furthermore, Diablo Canyon operates independently of PG&E’s aging natural gas infrastructure that failed lethally in San Bruno. Natural gas wholesalers such as BP and Total SA of France tout the complementary role of gas to solar and wind — no wonder wind and solar are widely promoted by “big fossil.”

While these issues have been considered at the state level since 2016, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed on Aug. 20, 2019, to initiate the careful environmental review with significant public involvement regarding all of the factors in PG&E’s 2025 Diablo Canyon retirement plan.

We remain optimistic that the local decision makers will carefully weigh the environmental , ratepayer and regional economic consequences of PG&E’s voluntary plan designed to serve narrow private interests and demand that the plant remain in operation to serve the public interest.

Gene Nelson is a legal assistant for Californians for Green Nuclear Power Inc.

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