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article imageOp-Ed: A nuclear disaster waiting to happen: Diablo Canyon power plant

By Karen Graham     Sep 8, 2014 in Environment
San Luis Obispo - In the wake of the Fukushima power plant disaster, serious questions were raised about the safety of nuclear power plants in Japan built on or near earthquake fault lines. But what about the Diablo Canyon plant in California? Will it become our Fukushima?
The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is located on about 900 acres of beachfront west of Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County, California. With two Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR), Reactor One went on-line in 1985, and Reactor Two went on-line in 1986. More than 465.5 million people were living within a 50 mile radius of the Diablo Canyon plant in 2010.
Owned by Pacific Gas & Electric of California, the two reactors produce slightly less than seven percent of the electricity needs of the state, supplying 2.2 million customers. Diablo Canyon is the only remaining nuclear power plant left in California. In 2013, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), owned by Southern California Edison was shut down due to the failure of newly installed steam generators in its two reactors.
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
D Ramey Logan
Fault lines and other faults
Even though it took six years to get approval, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) finally gave the go-ahead to build the Diablo Canyon power plant. This was despite litigation and public protests over the plant being built near four known fault lines, including the San Andreas and Hosgri faults. Now the newly-found Los Osos, San Luis Bay and Shoreline faults. has been added to the list.
Yes, earthquakes and tsunamis are dangerous, as people living in California can fully understand. But ignoring the dangers of a nuclear meltdown because of a major earthquake is an issue that has people up in arms.After the Fukushima power plant disaster, people started reassessing their feelings about Diablo Canyon. In doing so, a whole list of faults began to crop up, including water quality issues and failing pipelines, among others.
Besides violating state water quality laws, the plant does not meet California fire safety standards, according to EcoWatch on September 6. Looming over PG&E is a legal and financial crisis. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently proposed that PG&E be fined $1.4 billion for their responsibility in a 2010 gas explosion that killed eight people and destroyed an area of San Bruno, California.
Adding to the company's woes, the federal government has issued 28 indictments for the 2010 explosion. The explosion was due to a pipeline defect that PG&E had been warned of for a number of years and had ignored. The fines cover more than 3,798 individual violations of both state and federal laws and regulations. This more recent legal hassle is in addition to the $38 million the company paid in fines for a pipeline explosion in 2008.
On this map of Southern California  the red dots are pixels representing earthquakes recorded from 1...
On this map of Southern California, the red dots are pixels representing earthquakes recorded from 1927 to 1996. The blue lines are known major fault lines. San Luis Obispo is seen on the left of the map, represented with a yellow push pin.
Water quality violations and spent fuel rods
This brings us back to Diablo Canyon, where similar defects exist. On May 4, 2010, the state Water Resources Control Board gave PG&E until 2024 to install environmentally friendly cooling systems. This is a big financial problem for the company. At the present time, Diablo Canyon uses 2.5 billion gallons of seawater a day to condense the steam after it has passed through the electrical generators. The water being discharged back into the ocean is at least 20 degrees warmer than the seawater and is killing adult and larval fish, kelp and other sea life. This has been going on for years.
There is also the problem of stored spent fuel rods. At Diablo Canyon, they are stored in cooling pools and in dry casks outdoors. Most of the plant's fuel remains in the pools, and 29 dry casks have been filled. They contain about one-third of the spent fuel from the plant.
“The greatest danger presented by Diablo is the radioactive waste in overcrowded pools surrounded by 13 earthquake faults,” said Jane Swanson, spokeswoman for the antinuclear group San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace. "The so-called spent fuel is about 1 million times more radioactive than when it was first loaded as fresh fuel.”
As for fixing the water discharged back into the ocean, PG&E has already said if they have to spend billions of dollars on an environmentally-friendly fix, they would pay for it by raising rates. And a new report released in May from Nuclear Regulatory Commission Insider Dr. Michael Peck warns us that the fault lines surrounding the power plant could "deliver shocks far stronger than the plant is designed to withstand."
The big question remaining is this: When will the big one hit California? It may not take a big earthquake to cause a failure at Diablo Canyon. Being surrounded by fault lines is a scary thing to imagine, especially when prevailing winds could take radioactive fallout across the country in only four days. Does PG&E really want that hanging over their heads?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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