Cal Nukes on Faultlines: Shut Them Down Now!

Shoreline Fault 300 meters from Diablo Canyon

The California Energy Commission (CEC) will be holding hearings on July 26th concerning the state’s long term power needs.  Last spring the CEC sent out data requests to both Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE) concerning safety related issues at their nuclear facilities.  The CEC list of questions was extensive.  Both PG&E and SCE have replied to CEC’s data request and those documents were publicly made available for review on July 14th. It should be noted that PG&E did not respond to a single question, but instead submitted 36 seismic reports several hundred pages long.

I spent a couple of hours doing image captures of PG&E’s response which consisted of not a single direct answer to CEC, but instead included 36 attached reports, all of which were about Diablo Canyon’s seismic investigations. I grabbed some 40 plates from the document.  And am sharing just a few.  On June 22nd 2003, there was a 6.5 quake that struck 50 KM northwest of Diablo Canyon.  I think it was this quake that set off what has been a renewed concern about the continued operation of DCPP. This was again expanded with the discovery of the Shoreline fault line that is just a few hundred meters from the reactors.

The CEC’s IEPR 2009 report included what anyone concerned about Diablo was a startling story of how the NRC changed their regulations in such a way that made it possible for PG&E to apply for a twenty year extension on the facilities license.  Of course the CEC is powerless in terms of regulatory oversight of DCPP.  However, they do have the capacity to discover and investigate the state’s power procurement needs.   Thus the resulting investigation.

There may be additional submittals forthcoming before the hearing on the 26th, but so far PG&E has not directly responded to a single question other than sending the above 36 seismic reports to CEC.  Furthermore, there are additional investigations going on within the CPUC, thanks to WEM for getting to first base on this, in terms of evaluating the need for Diablo or SONGS when the state is awash in excess power.

Summary of Responses to the CEC’s 4-25-2011 11-IEPR Request

  • PG&E’s submission to date has not responded to a single CEC question
  • SCE’s
  • The state of seismic investigations has changed rather dramatically since DCPP was first given a CPCN in 1967.
  • Seismic history, which wasn’t known during licensing, of quakes in the region are serious and indicate the likelihood of future quakes.
  • There are small quakes happening with great frequency around DCPP.
  • PG&E was required to carry out an extended seismic monitoring program by the CPUC when ratebasing Diablo on 12-88.
  • There have been a number of detailed seismic investigations since 1988.
  • The 2008 discovery of the Shoreline Fault is being investigated using new techniques, which was started in 11-2010.
  • Either the Hosgri (2.2 miles from Diablo) or the Shoreline Fault (300 meters) were the cause of a 1925 quake that leveled Santa Barbara, destroying a 700 foot long dam.
  • The NRC recently delayed PG&E’s relicensing proceeding 52 months that was due to start in June of 2011.

Diablo Evacuation Planning Not Part of NRC License

In August of 1984, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gave PG&E a license to operate the unit 1 reactor at Diablo Canyon.  This would be the 3rd attempt to put the nuclear stations online after two major delays both caused by seismic concerns.  As a result of the dramatic 1981 mirror image discovery by a newly hired engineer showing that seismic bracing had been built backwards, PG&E was forced to repair hundreds of safety problems costing billions of dollars and 3 years of additional delays, nearly bankrupting the nation’s largest utility company.  Only President Reagan’s secret $2.2 billion EPA loan saved Diablo from going down.

A disgruntled NRC commissioner leaked the secret license transcript to KRON TV in January 1985 that created a seismic quake in California, where the commission was caught spending days discussing ways to avoid its legal obligations to hold evacuation planning hearings prior to licensing, which the NRC and PG&E didn’t want to happen.  The transcripts included statements from the Chairman that quakes would be no different from smog or snow.  NRC lawyers went on to disclose that NRC had also refused to evaluate or even do generic planning for evacuations in case of earthquakes for the San Onofre nuclear facility as well, which has well over 7 million people within 50 miles of that facility.

1984 NRC Licensing debacle

The Mother’s for Peace file a legal challenge against the license but was denied in a dramatic day before Chernobyl decision by none other than the infamous Saturday Night Massacre Judge himself, Robert Bork, who fired the US Attorney General in 1974 at the request of Richard Nixon, to protect the president from having to turn over his secret whitehouse tapes.  Bork along with Kenneth Starr and Antonin Scalia wrote a majority opinion refusing to look at the leaked transcripts because they might set policy.

It should be noted that after Chernobyl the state of California did a year long investigation of emergency planning at the state’s nuclear facilities.  It included extensive concerns about how to deal with such an event, but one thing was made clear, the entire process was predicated on the assumption that an earthquake at one of the facilities might actually ever happen was non-existent.  In fact, after Fukushima the California senate quietly withdrew plans to do any hearings on emergency planning at Diablo or SONGS.  Two day long hearings did take place on 3-21 and 4-14 did take place but only one question was asked about emergency planning (evacuation plans), but none of the experts testified directly responded.During the above hearings San Luis Obispo’s republican senator, Sam Blakeslee who did his college degree on seismology spoke out about Diablo Canyon and PG&E’s attempts to go forward with relicensing prior to completing new studies the state was demanding around the newly discovered Shoreline fault.  He put a letter on the record between the CPUC and PG&E showing that PG&E intended to ignore state demands simply because it was NRC jurisdiction, and that agency didn’t consider the new fault of concern! The Japanese disaster shed national attention on the above situation, resulting in the NRC reversing its statement at the above hearings that it planned to go ahead and give PG&E a twenty year extension.  The NRC has granted new licenses for every single reactor that has come before it to date, including one for the highly controversial Vermont Yankee facility that the Vermont legislature has denied its continued request to operate due a history of major leaks and accidents.

While the studies pile up, all at public expense, the reactors are still operating.  As a result of the 1998 deregulation process, PG&E and SCE were both given $28 billion to cover their stranded costs at Diablo and San Onofre.  In the 1988 CPUC hearings, it was estimated that the 40 year operation of Diablo Canyon would cost over 50 Billion dollars. This would include the $5.8 billion in construction costs, over $7 billion in financing costs, roughly $3 billion in decommissioning costs and then operational costs for fuel during the lives of the two units.  As a result of the 1988 CPUC decision that gave PG&E a lucrative cost plus contract never before allowed that offered the IOU an incentive to push the reactors (the higher its capacity factor the more money they would make), the state experience nearly a 6 cent per KW increase in electricity costs between 1988 and 1994.  This nearly doubling in the electric rate created now famous statewide electric rebellion that led to the disasterous deregulation experiment where California’s ratepayers were bilked out of at least $17 billion in excessive energy costs in 2001 that nearly led to the collapse of both of this state’s largest electric companies.In the months following Fukushima there has been a dramatic upswing in concern about nuclear power. In one global public poll, opposition to nuclear power increased worldwide by over 25%.  There is absolutely no doubt, especially after the recent national scandal that hit the United Kingdom where government officials were exposed coordinating their public relations strategy with nuclear industry executives to keep that country’s nuclear agenda of building new reactors on target, we all saw the invasion of Libya take the Fukushima store off the front pages of this country’s mainstream media coverage and keep it off.  One story has surfaced that the global nuclear industry with its massive network of associations has been using British Petroleum’s Gulf Oil playbook on managing the public’s perceptions of Fukushima.However, the points remain. The disaster at Fukushima was from an large quake over 100 miles from the reactor complex, while both SONGS and Diablo Canyon have active faultlines running right under or a few miles from the facilities. Media coverage in the US died off before the general public heard the dramatic shift in news, that for weeks blamed the nuclear disaster on the tsunami. It is now known that the primary damages that led to the meltdowns all came from the earthquakes.  Furthermore, two very dramatic pieces of information also came out that have startling implications for nuclear safety in California.  The first is that the Japanese, who used the very same kind of Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) models as the US industry claimed to have designed the reactors to withstand a thousand year natural event. Their PRA modeling in this early era of seismic knowledge failed to predict the maximum potential quake and thus designed a substandard set of facilities. But more important, during a nationally televised Nova series on the Tohoku quake, it was also acknowledged that the quake happened along a far shorter rupture zone than previously believed possible for such a massive quake.  This dramatic disclosure throws out all previous claims to be able to estimate the size of an earthquake based on the length of a  fault line, which was used to estimate the potential size of quakes at Diablo and around the world at the roughly 10% of nuclear stations located near active fault zone.Today, USGS sources place the chance of a major quake in California in the next thirty years at over 65%.  There isn’t an honest person alive today who can predict where, when or how large the next one will be.  Yet, we all know its coming.  If there had been no Fukushima reactors that melted down on the days following the great 3-11 Tohoku quake, the tragedy would have been bad enough, but people could have started picking up after the disaster the next day. Four months after the quake, there are still nearly 85,000 Japanese who do not know when or if they will ever be able to safely return home and start their lives again.  The costs to their society in terms of trauma, health and economic impacts are enormous.  We have enough capacity to replace these reactors, move towards a renewable energy future with far more robust jobs and save this state from a disaster on par or worse than what Japan is currently experiencing.  Can there be any doubt that permanently contaminating our environment with radiation just isn’t worth the gamble, no matter what economic excuses?  Nearly 80% of Japan want all 55 of that country’s reactors permanently closed.  They are fighting the economic establishment in a monumental battle.  Closing 4 old reactors should be a piece of cake.

The above piece is a first draft.  Input and comments welcome.  First three images are from PG&E’s IEPR submittal to the CEC. The shutdown SONGS poster is from CREED.

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