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5 More U.S. Nukes to Close, Will Diablo Canyon Be Next?

Energy

A rising tsunami of U.S. nuke shut-downs may soon include California's infamous Diablo Canyon double reactors. But it depends on citizen action, including a statewide petition.

Five U.S. reactor closures have been announced within the past month. A green regulatory decision on California's environmental standards could push the number to seven.

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The focus is now on a critical June 28 California State Lands Commission meeting. Set for Sacramento, the hearing could help make the Golden State totally nuke free, ending the catastrophic radioactive and global warming impacts caused by these failing plants. A public simulcast of the Sacramento meeting is expected to gather a large crowd at the Morro Bay Community Center near the reactor site. The meeting starts at 10 a.m., but environmental groups will rally outside the community center starting at 9 a.m.

The three State Lands Commissioners will decide whether to require a legally-mandated Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). If ordered, a public scoping process will begin, allowing interested groups and individuals to weigh in on the environmental impacts of operation of two nuclear reactors on California's fragile coastline.

In 1969 and 1970 PG&E got state leases for tidewater acreage for Diablo's cooling system. These leases are set to expire in 2018 and 2019. If the State Lands Commission does not renew them, both reactors will be forced to shut down.

Signed in 1970 by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, CEQA requires more extensive Environmental Impact Reports on such leases. Included among the issues to be evaluated are water quality, potential damage to human and other life forms, chemical and radiation releases, and impacts on threatened and endangered species. The commission will not decide whether Diablo will continue to operate, only whether it will now be required to meet CEQA standards.

Pro-nukers say PG&E is at the brink of shutting Diablo's reactors. They cannot economically compete with renewables or gas and are sustained by an intricate network of subsidies, liability protection and tax breaks. Many believe the cost of new environmental studies and of meeting updated standards would be a death blow. More protestors have been arrested at Diablo than any other American nuke, and the public pressure to finally shut it is intense.

One of the commissioners is Gavin Newsom, California's Lieutenant Governor, 2018's leading gubernatorial candidate. Newsom said he sees no long-term future for Diablo.

Another commissioner, state controller Betty Yee, is widely thought to favor the requirement.

State finance director Michael Cohen is the third commissioner. He generally votes as instructed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown opposed Diablo early in his career, but has recently waffled.

Among other things, Diablo dumps daily some 2.5 billion gallons of super-heated water into the ocean, killing vast quantities of marine life and worsening the global climate crisis. The project's chemical runoff infamously killed millions of abalone years before it operated.

Diablo may soon face regulatory challenges from other state and federal agencies that could, among other things, require cooling towers, at a cost of up to $14 billion. PG&E would then face a fierce public fight over who would pay for them.

Diablo is surrounded by a dozen earthquake faults. It is half the distance from the San Andreas as was Fukushima from the shock that destroyed it. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's former resident inspector Dr. Michael Peck has warned Diablo might not survive a similar quake. Such a disaster would irradiate the Central Valley, which supplies much of the U.S. with its fruits, nuts and vegetables. It would send radioactive clouds into Los Angeles within about five hours, and across virtually the entire continental U.S.

Closing Diablo would make California entirely nuke-free. Grassroots activists, with help from U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Friends of the Earth, recently shut two big reactors at San Onofre, between Los Angeles and San Diego. They also closed plants at Rancho Seco (near Sacramento) and Humboldt Bay, and stopped proposed projects at Bodega and Bakersfield.

Along with most nukes around the world, the only other remaining west coast reactor, WPPS2 on Washington's Hanford military reservation, is also losing massive amounts of money.

Because they can't evenly compete with renewable energy or gas, a tsunami of shut-downs has swept away a dozen U.S. reactors since October, 2012. Dozens more teeter at the brink, including two at Indian Point, just north of Manhattan, and Ohio's rapidly crumbling Davis-Besse reactor near Toledo.

In Japan, more than 40 reactors remain shut despite intense government pressure to reopen them in the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe. Germany's energiewende conversion to 100 percent renewables, which aims to shut all its reactors by 2022, is ahead of schedule and under budget. Much of the rest of Europe, including France, is now moving that way.

Should California follow suit at Diablo, its conversion to a wholly green-powered economy would accelerate, likely leading Los Angeles to become the world's first Solartopian megalopolis.

Ironically, with citizen action, a big push in that direction could now come from a state commission's decision to enforce environmental protections signed into law by California's most pro-nuke governor.

Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is atwww.solartopia.org, along with his upcoming AMERICA AT THE BRINK OF REBIRTH: THE ORGANIC SPIRAL OF U.S. HISTORY. He has co-written six books on election protection with Bob Fitrakis (www.freepress.org), and was arrested at Diablo Canyon in 1984.

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Author, social activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein speaking on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2018. Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Natalie Hanman

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?

When I look back, I don't think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It's more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that's always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What's stopping the left doing this?

In a North American context, it's the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we've got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what's left, we've got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we're not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we'll have more livable cities, we'll have less polluted air, we'll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.

Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?

I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we're not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We're talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we're in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don't we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don't think it's coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.

That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that's a link a lot of people haven't made.

This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.

One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?

When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That's the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families?

I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it's going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this "my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women". That doesn't work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change.

This debate has shifted a huge amount in the U.S. because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They're not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.

In the book, you write: "The hard truth is that the answer to the question 'What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?' is: nothing." Do you still believe that?

In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it's so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that's the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we've been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.

Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht ...

Exactly. But this isn't about what Greta is doing as an individual. It's about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it's magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don't think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these "what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?" questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone's shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I'm under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.

Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?

I'm happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we're afraid to talk about. It's been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn't until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women's bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?

Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers's novel, The Overstory. Why?

It's been incredibly important to me and I'm happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we've been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It's the same conversation we're having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It's also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?

One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can't. We believe we've been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.

You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?

I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don't have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I'm renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I'm inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we've finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we've spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.

This story was originally published by The Guardian, and is republished here as part of the Covering Climate Now partnership to strengthen the media's focus on the climate crisis.

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