Diablo canyon nuclear power plant
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The suit says Diablo's owners illegally conspired with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to weaken seismic standards. "This is a big victory," says Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth. "The public has a right to know what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Pacific Gas & Electric won't admit--hundreds of thousands of people are put at immediate risk by earthquake danger at Diablo Canyon."
Diablo is also vulnerable on state and federal water quality regulations, economic concerns and more. Citizen activism has also shut operating reactors at Humboldt, Rancho Seco and San Onofre. Proposed projects have been cancelled at Bodega Bay and Bakersfield.
California's two remaining reactors are surrounded by more than a dozen seismic fault lines. The Shoreline fault runs within 600-700 yards of the Diablo cores, which also sit just 45 miles from the massive San Andreas fault--half Fukushima's distance from the epicenter of the quake that destroyed it.
The two 1,100-plus megawatt Diablo nukes overlook a Pacific tsunami zone, nine miles southwest of San Luis Obispo. Since the 1980s they've hosted some 10,000 arrests--more than any other U.S. site.
U.S. courts generally treat the nuclear industry as a law unto itself and rarely question NRC proceedings.
But in this case, says Friend of the Earth's S. David Freeman, "PG&E's recent study revealed that the earthquake threat at Diablo Canyon, as measured by its original license, could be far greater than that for which the reactors were designed. So PG&E and the NRC secretly amended the license to relax the safety requirements."
Freeman is former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. Dr. Michael Peck, the NRC's own chief seismic expert, warned that the Diablo reactors could not meet seismic safety standards. Peck was then transferred to NRC offices in Chattanooga.
The case follows a successful FOE filing showing that the NRC conspired with Southern California Edison to ignore steam generator violations at San Onofre. Amidst a massive grassroots upheaval, San Onofre was officially shut in 2013 (similar violations at Ohio's Davis-Besse reactor have had little impact).
Safe energy activists staged major January gatherings in San Luis Obispo and San Francisco. A "Don't Frack/Nuke Our Earth" conference may soon follow in the Bay Area.
Earthquake issues are not the only ones poised to doom Diablo.
The two reactors dump huge quantities of hot wastewater directly into the ocean. They're out of compliance with state and federal water quality standards. So PG&E might soon be required by state law to build cooling towers, with cost estimates ranging from $2 billion to $14 billion.
If required to build those towers, which might take years to do, PG&E would ask the California Public Utilities Commission to make the public pay for them. A vehement grassroots opposition would instantly erupt.
PG&E is much hated. Its negligence caused a 2010 gas explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno. Huge state and federal fines, criminal indictments and visceral public contempt have followed.
The CPUC is also under public fire amidst an astonishing array of scandals and law-breaking. Former chair Michael Peevey has retired in disgrace and faces a series of indictments for conspiring in secret with the utilities he was meant to regulate.
PG&E currently makes money at Diablo, says attorney John Geesman, "Only because ratepayers guarantee it against market price levels--nuclear power in states where prices are set by competitive markets are either closing (e.g., Vermont Yankee, Kewaunee, etc.) or going to the legislatures and seeking sweetheart subsidies (e.g., Illinois)." Forcing Diablo to actually compete in the marketplace would throw it into the red " and maybe out of business.