Nuclear Free California Holds Conference to Shut Down Diablo Canyon

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Activists from across the state and from as far away as Washington, D.C. and Fukushima, Japan attended a conference under the banner of Nuclear Free California the week-end of January 24-25 in the central coastal community of San Luis Obispo. The purpose was to discuss shutting down the local Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor, the last nuke operating in the sunny state.

The aging reactor sits in a tsunami zone among a number of earthquake faults, most not known of before its construction. Many are able to deliver a jolt greater than the design can stand, according to Dr. Michael Peck, Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s former head inspector at Diablo Canyon. The NRC transferred Dr. Peck to another facility for his written opinion that the reactor needs to be shut down, and it will be a major challenge to get regulatory agencies, starting with NRC, to actually regulate.

The California Coastal Commission and the State Water Quality Control Board are also being called on to enforce clean water and environmental protection. Activists are calling on the agencies to force the owner utility, Pacific Gas and Electricity Co. (PG&E), to redesign the cooling system of the plant so it no longer sucks in billions of gallons of water per day, destroying tons of sea life in the process, to cool the reactors. If so ordered, the utility could face costs up to $13 billion for the retrofit.

Local residents around Diablo Canyon are also gearing up for a campaign to get local health agencies to look in to the reasons why San Luis Obispo, with one of the state’s lowest cancer rates prior to the construction of Diablo Canyon, now has one of the highest rates in the state.

Finally, activists will also focus on making the California Public Utilities Commission take a stronger hand in regulating the utilities, granting more renewable energy projects, and removing energy conservation funding from utility control, conflicted as it is to save energy while trying to sell more to keep profits high.

The Commission is reeling from scandals involving secret communications between recently ousted CPUC Chairman, Michael Peevey, and the executives of the regulated utility, PG&E. Emails released by court order show they colluded to identify judges in a case before the CPUC who would be friendly to the utility and likely rule in their favor. The case involved the fatal incineration of a bay area neighborhood whose gas lines, unmaintained despite tens of millions of dollars in maintenance money given to the utility by CPUC, exploded in 2010, killing eight people and burning the San Bruno neighborhood. Before coming to oversee the CPUC, Peevey was previously the head of one of California’s biggest utility companies, Southern California Edison Corporation (SoCal Ed).

Nuclear Free California activists hope to see the same success as they had after their March, 2012 conference that focused on shutting down the San Onofre nuke farther south along California’s long coast.It was shut down late in 2012, thanks both to the efforts of the activists and the incompetence of SoCal Edison’s handling of a multibillion dollar steam generator replacement. It leaked soon after installation, the utility lied about the leak, the plant was then permanently shut, and rate payers may be stuck with the billions in botched repairs, not to mention tons of spent, high-burn reactor fuel on site that has no permanent home and is not likely to find one soon.

Don Eichelberger, Nuclear Free California