By Dan Hirsch, Committee To Bridge The Gap, http://www.committeetobridgethegap.org
Reprinted with permission
The late great environmentalist David Brower once defined the term nuclear reactor as ìa complex technological device for locating earthquake faults in California. It seems whenever a nuclear plant was built in the state, major faults were thereafter discovered nearby. This was due largely to the failure of the nuclear industry, abetted by its captured regulators, to look seriously for such faults before construction, and when subsequently found, to downplay their significance.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster resulted from an earthquake far larger than the plant had been designed to withstand. Regulators, too close to the industry they were to regulate, allowed the industry to pretend that only a small earthquake could occur, so as to save money in construction. Nature didnít go along with the fiction.
For similar reasons, the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, with ten thousand times the long-lived radioactivity of the Hiroshima bomb sitting on the Central California coast, is a Fukushima waiting to happen. When it was designed and built, Pacific Gas & Electric and its friendly regulators asserted there were no active earthquake faults within 20 miles, and constructed it accordingly. We now know there are at least four such large faults nearby.
In 1970, during the construction permit proceeding, PG&E blocked consideration of evidence of an offshore fault, and got its permit. When Diablo was 80% complete, a huge offshore fault, the Hosgri, was discovered nearby. Rather than abandon the plant or spend the money to upgrade adequately, PG&E sharpened its pencils and argued that it should instead be allowed to use a bunch of fudge factors to downgrade the estimated ground motion.
But even the minimal upgrades were screwed up. The two Diablo reactors were built to mirror-image blueprints of each other andóyou guessed itówhen they got around to putting in the seismic upgrades, weak as they were, they used the wrong blueprints for each unit and put the pipe supports and whip restraints in all the wrong places and had to do it all over again.
But, PG&E and the NRC assured us it was highly unlike that there were any other nearby active faults not yet discovered, and it wasnít possible that the Hosgri was connected to other faults, making a larger rupture possible.
Three new faults have now been found to be active close to Diablo Canyon. To top it, the then Senior Resident Inspector at Diablo for NRC formally concluded that, based on PG&E’s own estimates, the potential ground motion from these faults exceeded the requirements of the license and the plant should be shut down. Associated Press recently revealed his Dissenting Professional Opinion, which had been kept secret by NRC for a year.
Now PG&E has reluctantly issued new seismic studies ordered by AB1632 (Blakeslee). The findings are stunning: The Shoreline Fault is twice as long as previously thought, capable of a much larger earthquake. The Hosgri Fault is connected to the San Simeon Fault, making it much more dangerous. The Hosgri and the Shoreline are also connected, making an enormous quake possible a mere 600 meters from the plant.
PG&E has been in a lot of trouble recently associated with the San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion and resulting deaths. It has been indicted by a federal grand jury; there are accusations of safety shortcuts and false statements. Extraordinary PG&E emails have been revealed showing that they improperly contacted regulators to get an administrative judge they didnít like removed from their case and replaced with someone favorable to them. Senior PG&E and regulator officials have had to resign. Is this the kind of company we want running nuclear reactors?
Bridge the Gap has been in the midst of this fight over the future of the last remaining nuclear plant in California. It is a race against time. A massive quake, larger than the plant is capable of withstanding, could occur any moment. It is time to phase out Diablo and promptly transition to safe, renewable alternatives.
“Diablo Canyon Power Plant from Port San Luis” by “Mike” Michael L. Baird. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Diablo_Canyon_Power_Plant_from_Port_San_Luis.jpg#/media/File:Diablo_Canyon_Power_Plant_from_Port_San_Luis.jpg