Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Nuclear Accident Waiting to Happen

credit: Getty Images

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Facility sits on an active fault next to the ocean.  You do not have to be a geophysicist to know it is a nuclear accident on the scale of Fukushima* waiting to happen.  That scenario will change if a deal between PG&E and environmental organizations is realized between now and 2024.  A joint proposal was announced this week in California; in it PG&E agrees to retire Diablo Canyon when operating licenses for units one and two expire in 2023 and 24.  PG&E will replace the generating capacity with "free resources" and agrees that 55% of retail sales will be from renewable resources by 2031, exceeding the state's renewable portfolio standard of 50% by 2030.

Friends of the Earth a provided a robust technical and economic study that formed a basis for agreement.  The analysis, appropriately titled Plan B, showed how Diablo Canyon could be replaced with clean energy generation and storage.  CEO of PG&E and former chair of the Edison Electric Institute admitted the plant, despite its efficiency, is no longer economic to operate. The plain fact is that nuclear power plants cost a lot to operate, thus offsetting lower fuel costs and economies of scale.  NRDC says that rate payers can expect to save $1 billion by the time the plant is decommissioned.

This potentially historic agreement caps a decades long struggle by environmentalists against the licensing and operation of Diablo Canyon. In 1969, David Brower left the Sierra Club over a disagreement specifically about Diablo Canyon to found Friends of the Earth. Opposition became especially intense once the Fukushima disaster {20.03.11} demonstrated the insanity of siting a nuclear power plant next to the ocean on top of an active seismic fault line.   The agreemen is farsighted by providing aid to the community of San Luis Obispo and its workforce for transition to a clean energy economy.  Environmental organizations that signed the agreement (Friends, NRDC, Environment California, Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility) reserved the right to continue to monitor the operation of the plant until it is shut down forever.  The proposed agreement now goes to the California Public Utility Commission for approval.

*Besides the "unpardonable breach of public trust" committed by TEPCo officials covering up the full extent of the multiple meltdowns at Fukushima Daichi (three reactor cores or about 600 tons of decaying fuel may have burned through the reactors' floor to groundwater), the toll on public health is increasingly serious. Serious enough to a cause a former Japanese prime minister to cry in public.  There is also a spike in the number of US sailors exposed to fallout during the crisis suffering serious illness.  Seven members of the class suing TEPCo for compensation have already died, some from leukemia.