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Residents Sue to Block 3.6 Million Pounds of Highly Radioactive Nuclear Waste From Being Stored Near California Beach
The latest issue of the U.S. Energy Information's "Electric Power Monthly" (with data through April 30) reveals that—for the first time since the beginning of the nuclear era—renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar—inc. small-scale PV, wind) are now providing a greater share of the nation's electrical generation than nuclear power.
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On May 11, in Southern California, paddleboarders got a frightening message from the sheriffs department via helicopter:
"This is the Orange County Sheriffs Department, be advised, the State Park is asking us to make an announcement to let you know you are paddleboarding next to approximately fifteen Great White sharks. They're advising that you exit the water in a calm manner. The sharks are as close as the surf line."
By Lisa Hymas
Energy Sec. Rick Perry has ordered his department to produce a study on whether the ongoing shift toward renewable energy is affecting the reliability of the electrical grid. A number of experts, clean-energy advocates and politicians on both sides of the aisle believe the study is intended to be biased in favor of the coal and nuclear industries, which have been struggling in recent years.
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.
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
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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The two deadly, dangerous nuke reactors at Diablo Canyon may be on the brink of shut-down.
A dozen earthquake faults surround this huge double reactor complex, which sits 9 miles west of San Luis Obispo, half-way down the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles. A disaster there would spew radiation into the Central Valley, where much of the nation's winter produce is grown. Los Angeles would have just hours to evacuate in the wake of a Fukushima-type catastrophe.
But these 30-year-old nukes cannot be guaranteed to safely withstand a likely seismic shock according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) own Dr. Michael Peck. Peck served five years as the NRC's resident safety inspector at Diablo. He was transferred after he filed reports warning that required studies on Diablo's ability to withstand seismic shocks had not been completed.
Diablo's operating license should now be invalid. But the feds are letting it run anyway.
Would a President Sanders step in and force the reactors to shut until those studies were done? Would properly done studies then show that Diablo cannot, in fact, meet safe seismic standards and must be permanently closed?
On June 28, the California Lands Commission will meet in Sacramento to decide on a critical lease extension. The three-member commission includes Gavin Newsom, the likely Democratic front-runner in the 2018 race for the governor's seat being vacated by Jerry Brown.
The extension involves land leased by Pacific Gas & Electric for Diablo. Linda Seeley of the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace characterizes its deliberations like this:
It's whether or not a full California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review must be done, which would force an Environmental Impact Review. The CEQA review would be of the environmental impacts to the tidelands that are leased from the state. The environmental review would be of the intake and outfall water systems, diesel plant, harm to fish and endangered species (plants and animals), harm to air, possibly taking into account the health impacts of radiation releases, harm to indigenous lands and spaces, and other concerns that environmental groups and individuals might bring up in the scoping process.
It would require a preliminary EIR, time to review, and then a final EIR. All of this takes a lot of time. PG&E would have to mitigate for environmental harms, but for some of them there could be no mitigation. The whole process could take a long time, and the mitigations could cost PGE lots of dinero.
The California Coastal Commission and State Water Resources Board could also hang Diablo in regulatory requirements. Despite the hype that it “helps" with global warming, Diablo dumps more super-heated water into the ocean than any other California power plant. Should cooling towers be required, PG&E would have to get the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to force rate payers to foot the bill, which could soar as high as $14 billion.
The CPUC recently approved a 15 cents/kwh tariff for solar-generated electricity, which, along with cheap gas has thrown Diablo's economics into chaos. In 2010 PG&E's negligence caused a natural gas explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno. It is under federal indictment for those deaths, and is being investigated for a cover-up. The CPUC fined PG&E $1.4 billion in the case.
None of that has deterred a desperate nuke power industry. Reactors are now at the brink in Massachusetts, New York, Nebraska, Ohio, Alabama and elsewhere. California "No Nukers" forced shut reactors at San Onofre, Rancho Seco and Humboldt, and stopped construction at Bodega and Bakersfield.
The industry is spending millions to keep our biggest state from going totally post-nuclear. Hugely funded pro-nukers have poured into San Luis Obispo to stage “grassroots" marches and rallies prior to the June 28 California State Lands Commission meeting. PG&E lawyers demand the CPUC be abolished for having fined the company, for supporting solar energy and possibly in anticipation of trying to force the public to pay for cooling towers.
Coming from Vermont, where grassroots action has shut the Yankee nuke, Candidate Sanders's official position is this:
Begin a moratorium on nuclear power plant license renewals in the United States. Sanders believes that solar, wind, geothermal power and energy efficiency are proven and more cost-effective than nuclear—even without tax incentives—and that the toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology's benefit. Especially in light of lessons learned from Japan's Fukushima meltdown, Sanders has also raised questions about why the federal government invests billions into federal subsidies for the nuclear industry. We can have an affordable carbon-free, nuclear-free energy system and we must work for a safe, healthy future for all Americans.
Since the Diablo license is soon up for renewal, and since its operations depend on federal subsidies (most importantly for liability insurance), a Sanders victory in Tuesday's California primary might mark a step toward shutting Diablo.
But far more important is that Sanders' supporters stick with the issue. To make a real difference, Sanders voters in California and elsewhere must escalate their activism after they cast their ballots.
The ultimate difference will be made by those who turn the tide June 28 at the California State Lands Commission, and at the Coastal Commission and CPUC hearings to come, and in the day-to-day organizing by which we shut these nukes.
In the weeks and months to come, it's the tangible activism beyond voting that must shut Diablo before it blows.
Harvey Wasserman was arrested at Diablo Canyon in 1984. His Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth is at Solartopia.org, along with The Strip & Flip Selection of 2016, written with Bob Fitrakis. His America at the Brink of Rebirth: The Organic Spiral of U.S. History is coming soon.
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As worldwide headlines have proclaimed, California's Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) says it will shut its giant Diablo Canyon reactors near San Luis Obispo, and that the power they've been producing will be replaced by renewable energy.
PG&E has also earmarked some $350 million to “retain and retrain" Diablo's workforce, whose union has signed on to the deal, which was crafted in large part by major environmental groups.
On a global scale, in many important ways, this marks the highest profile step yet towards the death of U.S. nuclear power and a national transition to a Solartopian green-powered planet.
For Californians, as we shall see, there's an army of devils in the details, which cannot be ignored. But let's deal with the big picture first.
The three most important lines on nuke power's Diablo tombstone may be these:
1. A major U.S. utility has admitted that the energy from a nuke—one of the world's biggest—can be effectively replaced with renewables.
Over the past decade the nuke industry has spent more than $500,000,000 hyping an utterly failed “nuclear renaissance" partly on the premise that green power can't make up for the energy production lost by shutting reactors. One of the world's top nuclear utilities has now signed a major public document saying that this is not true.
2. A major union has approved an agreement that provides retraining for soon-to-be-displaced workers at a soon-to-be-shut nuke.
For years the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and other unions representing atomic workers have fought reactor shut-downs because of lost jobs. The IBEW's partnership in this agreement shows that with planning and funding, a smooth transition for displaced reactor workforces can be charted.
3. The agreement was crafted with leadership from two major national environmental organizations—Friends of the Earth (FOE) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The corporate “nuclear renaissance" hype has conjured up a cadre of “environmentalists for nuclear power." Like clockwork the corporate media breathlessly reports from time to time that formerly green activists are now flocking like lemmings to the atomic sea.
Thus the Wall Street Journal recently published a major feature alleging a pro-nuke shift at the Sierra Club, which it then mutated into yet another re-run of the “greens for atoms" meme. The piece was sharply denounced by Sierra Club's executive director Michael Brune, who reaffirmed the club's staunch opposition to nuke power.
As environmental mainstays, FOE and NRDC's role in this Diablo agreement re-confirms the core stance of a green community whose "No Nukes" stance has deepened since Fukushima and with the rise of renewables. Greenpeace, the Abalone Alliance, Mothers for Peace, Alliance 4 Nuclear Responsibility, World Business Academy in Santa Barbara and many others hold more fiercely than ever to the anti-nuke/pro-renewables positions they've sustained for decades.
A tiny, top-down “greens for nukes" front group is currently shouting around California in support of Diablo. But this agreement renders the “atomic environmentalist" charade even more marginal.
Meanwhile corporate media outlets throughout U.S. have accepted this Diablo news as nuclear power's definitive death notice. The SFGate called it the “End of an Atomic Era." I saw it reported that way on a streaming news wire high above downtown Cleveland. What Linda Seeley, a multi-decade veteran of the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, thought was a local radio interview went nationwide on NPR.
Closing Diablo will make our largest state nuke-free. The agreement embodies the sixth and seventh U.S. reactor shut-downs announced in the last month, the fifteenth and sixteenth since 2012. WPPSS2, the only other operating reactor on the west coast, is bleeding cash and may be among the next to go.
Safe energy activists can warmly embrace this announcement. More have been arrested at Diablo than any other U.S nuke. This would never have happened without citizen activism.
So all you tried and true "No Nukes" greenies … go out and have a party!
But ... then listen to the rest of the news, and get back to work.
• What PG&E has actually announced is something that's been expected for quite a while, which is that it won't pursue NRC re-licensing. The agreement thus predicts closures in 2024 and 2025, when Diablo's current licenses expire.
• But unlicensed operations continue at New York's Indian Point. Fail-proof legal safeguards are needed to make sure that doesn't happen at Diablo.
• The agreement comes just prior to a crucial June 28 hearing in front of the California State Lands Commission. PG&E wants the State Land Commission to renew leases issued in 1969 and 1970 that allow Diablo's cooling systems to pollute coastal territory. Just after that, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the California Environmental Quality Act, imposing a wide range of requirements and reporting on state lands. Diablo can't meet those requirements, and PG&E doesn't want to do the studies.
At least two of the three commissioners have indicated they would expect PG&E to now comply with CEQA. But many fear this agreement might incline them to now let those requirements go unenforced until the alleged new shut-down date, rather than forcing the reactors to close in 2018 and 2019, when the leases expire. Grassroots activists are circulating petitions and exerting as much pressure as they can to make sure the commissioners hold the line.
• PG&E is now in what amounts to a federal murder trial, and may hope this agreement will soften the prosecution. Despite repeated warnings, in 2010 the company's badly maintained gas network blew up in San Bruno. It killed eight people through what amounts to criminal negligence. The usually docile California Public Utilities Commission has already fined the company $1.4 billion. PG&E executives may see this agreement as something of a federal plea bargain in an extremely serious prosecution.
• Worldwide studies show cancer and infant disease rates climb when reactors open, and decline when they shut. Such numbers have been confirmed at Diablo and at Rancho Seco in studies commissioned by the World Business Academy, which warns that the longer Diablo operates, the more the public health will suffer.
• Diablo is in clear violation of state and federal water quality laws. It daily sucks in 2.5 billion gallons of sea water which it returns far hotter (18-20 degrees Farenheit) than allowable. Regulatory hearings on the near horizon would tell whether PG&E will be forced to build cooling towers to spew the heat into the air instead of the water. Cooling tower cost estimates range from $2 billion to $14 billion. Should the towers be required, PG&E would face a wild melee over who'd pay for them. But faced with a shut-down date, regulators might just let Diablo continue in violation (as has been done at New Jersey's Oyster Creek).
• PG&E may be short hundreds of millions of dollars in funds necessary to decommission Diablo. Bitter disputes have already erupted over decommissioning San Onofre and other down U.S. reactors, including Vermont Yankee. Major technical problems, including serious leaks, have already emerged at Diablo and are certain to escalate in both confrontation and cost.
• PG&E and its fellow centralized utilities worldwide are terrified of home-owned roof-top solar panels, whose escalating spread could spell their doom. While hyping its entry into the solar world, PG&E will continue to assault net-metering and other essentials of the distributed generation revolution that threatens its core.
• The agreement includes no guarantee from Mother Nature that one of the dozen earthquake faults surrounding the plant won't go off before the reactors finally shut. Diablo is half the distance from the San Andreas that Fukushima was from the epicenter of the quake that destroyed it. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's former resident inspector Dr. Michael Peck has warned PG&E has never proven Diablo could withstand such a shock.
• Tsunami expert Dr. Robert Sewell has also testified that a nearby undersea landslide could cause a wave capable of destroying Diablo, including its vulnerable intake pipes. His official report has been buried by the NRC for more than a decade.
There is more ...
But above all, no independent observer believes PG&E has signed this agreement out of love for the planet, its workers, the public well-being or the spirit of the law. It could mark a significant leap toward shutting Diablo Canyon, but it does not seal its fate. Indeed, unless accompanied with fierce activism, some fear it could offer PG&E political cover to prolong its operations.
Globally, this landmark treaty embodies a nuclear utility's admission that renewables can replace nukes, that union-endorsed provisions can ease the transition for workers at closing reactors and that a purported “green shift" to nuke power is mere industry hype.
None of which mitigates the reality Diablo Canyon could be melting as you read this. No matter what this agreement says, no matter when the anointed close-down date ... until those reactors at Diablo Canyon are dead, dismantled and somehow buried, we all live at the brink of a potential apocalypse.
Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is at www.solartopia.org, along with his upcoming AMERICA AT THE BRINK OF REBIRTH: THE ORGANIC SPIRAL OF US HISTORY. With Bob Fitrakis he has co-authored six books on election protection (www.freepress.org). He was arrested at Diablo Canyon in 1984.
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The two reactors at Diablo Canyon are the last ones still operating in California. And the grassroots pressure to shut them down is escalating.
Together grassroots activists have shut three California reactors at San Onofre, between Los Angeles and San Diego and one each at Rancho Seco, near Sacramento and at Humboldt, perched on an earthquake zone in the north.
— Dan Yurman (@djysrv) August 12, 2015
Proposed construction at Bodega Bay and near Bakersfield has also been stopped.
But the two at the aptly named Diablo still run, much to the terror of the millions downwind.
On Aug. 5, the day before the 70th commemoration of the Hiroshima bombing, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staged a “scoping” hearing in San Luis Obispo. The official task was to vent the various environmental concerns the public might have about extending the two Diablo operating licenses. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has asked that they be allowed to operate them twenty years past their projected closing dates in 2024 and 2025.
The real game is more complex. Dr. Michael Peck, the NRC’s resident safety inspector at Diablo for five critical years, has written a memo questioning whether the reactors could withstand a likely earthquake. A dozen new fault-lines have been discovered near the plant since construction began. One, the Shoreline, runs within 600 yards of the cores.
Peck’s memo was buried for at least a year. When it surfaced, the NRC had Peck transferred to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Both the NRC and PG&E have dismissed Peck’s findings, saying the plants are (as usual) “perfectly safe.”
But the earthquake issue is now in the federal courts. So are questions about water usage. Diablo’s once-through cooling system dumps billions of gallons of over-heated water into the ocean every day, killing countless quantities of aquatic life. Two key California boards do have the power to shut Diablo if they deny it further permission to violate state and federal water quality laws.
That issue is being fiercely contended on a state level. Decisions may come by the end of the year, at which point the battle will rise to a whole new level.
It’s also become clear that the sinking costs of renewables and efficiency have made Diablo’s energy extraneous. And that the jobs being created by the transition to green power will more than compensate for any lost at the nukes. Among other things, shut-down advocates are demanding that all key workers be retained at the reactors to make sure the decommissioning is done right.
Meanwhile, the August 5 hearing was graced by singer David Crosby, whose testimony made front page news in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Testimony from Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash in opposition to the reactors was also read to the public.
Meanwhile John Geesman, lead attorney in the citizen interventions on water quality issues in California testified to the water quality issues that could and should shut the reactors down.
Overall more than a hundred citizens attended, with the overwhelming number demanding the plant be shut immediately.
On Aug. 6, a procession led by the Buddhist Reverend Sawada Shonin walked and cycled from downtown San Luis to the nuke site. That night the Mothers for Peace, the legendary long-time local anti-nuclear group, met to commemorate the Hiroshima bombing and re-commit to shutting Diablo.
Given the revolution now proceeding in renewable energy and the tsunami of issues facing these decrepit reactors and the great music that accompanies their work, the aroused citizenry demanding an end to Diablo’s operation are ever more likely to win … sooner rather than later.
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Ok. So we don’t expect much from these mega-blockbuster disaster films.
But maybe just a hint about reality could spice things up. At least maybe a passing acknowledgement that the actual San Andreas could turn the Diablo Canyon nukes into a seething heap of radioactive rubble and permanently irradiate all of California?
Is that too much to ask, even of Hollywood?
In a Hollywood high-budget Earth-coming-to-an-end flick like this one, there will always be a lame love story, totally improbable close calls where death is narrowly escaped again and again, and lead characters—male and female alike—with zero body fat who emerge onto the screen fresh from four hours of pumping iron.
San Andreas more than delivers on all of the above. The male lead (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) might be mistaken in some circles for basketball superstar LeBron James, who is six feet eight, 250 pounds—but who leaps like a gazelle and ball handles like a ballerina.
I knew this guy wasn’t LeBron because LeBron and the Cavaliers were losing game one of the NBA finals to the Warriors elsewhere in the Bay Area exactly as we watched this.
The Warriors also emerged from that game with an improbable (overtime) victory.
And I hope you appreciate that I missed that memorable contest and suffered through the excruciating, sleep-inducing, occasional laugh-out-loud plot twists of this mega-melodrama to confirm just one thing:
Yes! In fact they did make a super-high-budget disaster movie about the eruption of the San Andreas fault without once mentioning the nuclear power plant that would define it all for generations to come.
In the film two seismologists discover how to predict earthquakes just in time to warn the world that San Francisco is about to shudder and fall.
The destruction of the city is actually a sight to behold. And an awesome tsunami does make an appearance.
Three words do not: Fukushima; Diablo Canyon.
Should we reasonably expect such a real-world accommodation in such a frivolous entertainment?
Here’s what we know:
The San Andreas is 45 miles from the two 1,100-megawatt-plus reactors at Diablo Canyon. That’s just half the distance Fukushima was from the quake that wrecked at least Unit 1 and sent in that tsunami to finish off Units 2, 3 and 4.
In all likelihood a 9-plus shaking from the San Andreas could reduce the two reactors at Diablo to radioactive rubble. As at Fukushima, we’d expect hydrogen explosions, maybe some fission, the loss of the cores, the cracking of the spent fuel pools, fires, mayhem, apocalyptic emissions.
Things would be made far worse, of course, because we now know at least a dozen fault lines surround those reactors, and they were not made to withstand them. One, the Shoreline, passes within 700 yards of the two cores. The NRC’s own resident inspector, Dr. Michael Peck, has warned that Diablo simply cannot reliably survive those faults going off … and should be shut.
We also know that all those fault lines are interconnected. There’s a hint of that as our scientific expert (Paul Giamatti) shows us how a previously unknown fault line in Nevada could touch off the Big One in California.
In fact, there’s simply no way that a shock and tsunami anywhere near as big as depicted in this 3-D IMAX monster would not result in the state being saturated with massive radiation releases from those melted, exploded, rubble-ized reactors. Diablo’s radioactive cloud would quickly blanket North America, destroying our food sources and our economy and ultimately killing millions.
None of this, of course, makes it into the film.
The reason is simple: imagine yourself a Hollywood screenwriter depicting extreme bravery followed by happy endings while everyone both on the screen and in the city where it’s being shown are massively dosed by a radioactive cloud that will continue to spew for the next, say, thousand years.
Try to envision the dramatic possibilities of watching the vast majority of the nation’s fruit, vegetable and nut supplies being hopelessly contaminated, and the land on which they’re being grown rendered useless for millennia to come.
Then let’s think about the romantic twists of radiation sickness setting in and millions of chiseled Hollywood actors realizing that their lives and those of their progeny have been forever ruined.
Let’s throw in a few humorous moments here and there to lighten things up. Plus some flappings of the American flag and a stage right hymn to the exceptional ability of we Americans to "start all over again."
Then, when we’ve written such a screenplay, let’s go get it funded.
So the rumor that San Andreas makes no mention of Diablo Canyon is confirmed. The spent fuel pools at San Onofre, Rancho Seco and Humboldt do not appear. Nor are we reminded that a tsunami far smaller than what the filmmakers roll through the San Francisco Bay would utterly wreck not only Diablo but all the fracking, oil and other extraction rigs along the coast and inland throughout the Golden State, taking the term “pollution” to a whole new level.
At great personal cost, I’ve confirmed all that. If you like seeing apocalyptic urban destruction and a giant tsunami wave, take in this film. You might want to bring something to read during the dramatic interludes.
But don’t count on even a shred of radioactive reality.
And join me to watch Game 2. Unless the Big One does come.
In which case, I guarantee, despite what you won’t see in San Andreas … it will be "Game Over."
Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH and edits nukefree.org.
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New revelations about earthquake dangers have shaken the future of California’s Diablo Canyon nukes.
In a rare move, Washington DC's Federal U.S. Court of Appeals will hear a landmark challenge to their continued operation.
The suit says Diablo’s owners illegally conspired with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to weaken seismic standards. “This is a big victory,” says Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth. “The public has a right to know what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Pacific Gas & Electric won’t admit—hundreds of thousands of people are put at immediate risk by earthquake danger at Diablo Canyon.”
Diablo is also vulnerable on state and federal water quality regulations, economic concerns and more. Citizen activism has also shut operating reactors at Humboldt, Rancho Seco and San Onofre. Proposed projects have been cancelled at Bodega Bay and Bakersfield.
California’s two remaining reactors are surrounded by more than a dozen seismic fault lines. The Shoreline fault runs within 600-700 yards of the Diablo cores, which also sit just 45 miles from the massive San Andreas fault—half Fukushima’s distance from the epicenter of the quake that destroyed it.
The two 1,100-plus megawatt Diablo nukes overlook a Pacific tsunami zone, nine miles southwest of San Luis Obispo. Since the 1980s they’ve hosted some 10,000 arrests—more than any other U.S. site.
U.S. courts generally treat the nuclear industry as a law unto itself and rarely question NRC proceedings.
But in this case, says Friend of the Earth's S. David Freeman, “PG&E’s recent study revealed that the earthquake threat at Diablo Canyon, as measured by its original license, could be far greater than that for which the reactors were designed. So PG&E and the NRC secretly amended the license to relax the safety requirements.”
Freeman is former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. Dr. Michael Peck, the NRC’s own chief seismic expert, warned that the Diablo reactors could not meet seismic safety standards. Peck was then transferred to NRC offices in Chattanooga.
The case follows a successful FOE filing showing that the NRC conspired with Southern California Edison to ignore steam generator violations at San Onofre. Amidst a massive grassroots upheaval, San Onofre was officially shut in 2013 (similar violations at Ohio’s Davis-Besse reactor have had little impact).
Safe energy activists staged major January gatherings in San Luis Obispo and San Francisco. A “Don’t Frack/Nuke Our Earth” conference may soon follow in the Bay Area.
Earthquake issues are not the only ones poised to doom Diablo.
The two reactors dump huge quantities of hot wastewater directly into the ocean. They’re out of compliance with state and federal water quality standards. So PG&E might soon be required by state law to build cooling towers, with cost estimates ranging from $2 billion to $14 billion.
If required to build those towers, which might take years to do, PG&E would ask the California Public Utilities Commission to make the public pay for them. A vehement grassroots opposition would instantly erupt.
PG&E is much hated. Its negligence caused a 2010 gas explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno. Huge state and federal fines, criminal indictments and visceral public contempt have followed.
The CPUC is also under public fire amidst an astonishing array of scandals and law-breaking. Former chair Michael Peevey has retired in disgrace and faces a series of indictments for conspiring in secret with the utilities he was meant to regulate.
PG&E currently makes money at Diablo, says attorney John Geesman, "Only because ratepayers guarantee it against market price levels—nuclear power in states where prices are set by competitive markets are either closing (e.g., Vermont Yankee, Kewaunee, etc.) or going to the legislatures and seeking sweetheart subsidies (e.g., Illinois)." Forcing Diablo to actually compete in the marketplace would throw it into the red ... and maybe out of business.
Amidst all that chaos, a requirement to pay for cooling towers might force Diablo shut. Parallel issues have erupted in New Jersey (a 2017 closure was negotiated at Oyster Creek), New York (Indian Point), Florida (Turkey Point) and elsewhere.
Draft shutdown resolutions are now circulating among cities, towns and counties in PG&E territory. A similar wave of endorsements helped force the two reactors at San Onofre to close.
A ratepayer revolt is also being organized by Code Pink’s Cynthia Papermaster. With PG&E customers withholding all or part of their bill, the potential economic impacts could be incalculable.
Diablo's current license is set to expire by 2024. PG&E has begun the re-licensing process, but has missed key deadlines, prompting speculation they may give up.
According to intervenor sources, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) has equal standing with the NRC on the license renewal. PG&E is late with answers to six pages of the CCC’s questions. Public comment period at the commission’s open meetings begins at 9 a.m.
The California Energy Commission has a bi-annual scoping review upcoming in Sacramento. The CEC addresses California’s energy future, aiming for a reliable supply. It lacks "direct regulatory authority over whether the plant continues to operate," says Geesman. But its recommendations are “taken very seriously” and “have resulted in legislation,” according to another source close to the process. The CEC is “very public-friendly and very important” with five commissioners “who listen.”
The Diablo Canyon Independent Peer Review Committee and the Independent Safety Committee may also play a role, and are open to public testimony.
A constant flow of Diablo-related legislation is expected in the coming months.
A possible state-wide initiative could require cooling towers and make the utility pay for them, or take up waste issues, or the seismic issue, or force a strong feed-in tariff to support the conversion to renewables.
Just under 400,000 signatures would be needed to get on the 2016 ballot. Doing that and then actually winning the vote would be a daunting task.
But to head off a 1976 ballot measure, the legislature passed an effective ban on new nuke construction. The ballot measure then failed, but the ban remains in place.
California also has a powerful anti-fracking movement that parallels its No Nukes campaign. A joint May conference in San Francisco may launch a unified green push.
With combined grassroots forces pushing on water, seismic, regulatory, economic and other issues ... through the legislature, NRC, courts, Water Board, Coastal Commission, CPUC and other agencies ... with creative lobbying and activism, a resolution campaign, rate revolt, initiative process and more ... California is poised to make itself nuke free.
Will that happen before the next catastrophe?
The answer will come from the people of California ... now maybe with a boost from the courts.
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The Vermont Yankee atomic reactor goes permanently off-line today, Dec. 29, 2014. Citizen activists have made it happen. The number of licensed U.S. commercial reactors is now under 100 where once it was to be 1,000.
Decades of hard grassroots campaigning by dedicated, non-violent nuclear opponents, working for a Solartopian green-powered economy, forced this reactor’s corporate owner to bring it down.
Vermont Yankee is the fifth American reactor forced shut in the last two years.
Entergy says it shut Vermont Yankee because it was losing money. Though fully amortized, it could not compete with the onslaught of renewable energy and fracked-gas. Throughout the world, nukes once sold as generating juice “too cheap to meter” comprise a global financial disaster. Even with their capital costs long-ago stuck to the public, these radioactive junk heaps have no place in today’s economy—except as illegitimate magnets for massive handouts.
So in Illinois and elsewhere around the U.S., their owners demand that their bought and rented state legislators and regulators force the public to eat their losses. Arguing for “base load power” or other nonsensical corporate constructs, atomic corporations are gouging the public to keep these radioactive jalopies sputtering along.
Such might have been the fate of Vermont Yankee had it not been for citizen opposition. Opened in the early 1970s, Vermont Yankee was the northern tip of clean energy’s first “golden triangle.” Down the Connecticut River, grassroots opposition successfully prevented two reactors from being built at Montague, Massachusetts, where the term “No Nukes” was coined. A weather tower was toppled, films were made, books were written, demonstrations staged and an upwelling of well-organized grassroots activism helped nurture a rising global movement.
A bit to the southwest, in the early 1990s, it shut the infamous Yankee Rowe reactor, which had been hit by lightening and could not pass a verifiable test of its dangerously embrittled core.
But Vermont Yankee persisted. Entergy, a “McNuke” operator based in New Orleans, bought Yankee from its original owners about a dozen years ago. It signed a complex series of agreements with the state. Then it trashed them to keep Vermont Yankee spiraling ever-downward.
But hard-core organizers like Deb Katz’s Citizen Awareness Network never let up. Working through a network of natonal, state and local campaigns, the safe energy movement has finally forced Entergy to flip the off switch.
Protestors support the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant at the Statehouse in January 2012 in Montpelier, Vermont.
Vermont Yankee is the fifth American reactor forced shut in the last two years. Two at San Onofre, California, were defeated by citizen activism. Wisconsin’s Kewaunee went down for economic reasons. Crystal River in Florida was driven to utter chaos by incompetent ownership.
Five reactors are officially under construction in the U.S. But their fate is also subject to citizen action. Two others targeted for Levy County, Florida, have recently been stopped by ratepayer resistance.
Throughout the U.S. and the world, the demise of atomic energy is accelerating. Some 435 reactors are listed worldwide as allegedly operable. But 48 in Japan remain shut in the wake of Fukushima despite the fierce efforts of a corrupt, dictatorial regime to force them back on line. Germany’s transition to a totally nuke-free green energy economy is exceeding expectations. The fate of dozens proposed and operating in China and India remains unclear.
But the clock on the inevitable next disaster is ticking. Cancer rates and thyroid problems around Fukushima continue to accelerate. Massive reactors like California’s Diablo Canyon and Indian Point, New York, are surrounded by volatile earthquake faults that could reduce them to seething piles of apocalyptic rubble, killing countless thousands downwind, gutting the global economy.
Every reactor shutdown represents an avoided catastrophe of the greatest magnitude. As the takeoff of cheap, clean, safe and reliable Solartopian technology accelerates, greedy reactor owners struggle to squeeze the last few dimes out of increasingly dangerous old nukes for which they ultimately will take no responsibility. Vermont Yankee alone could require 60 years for basic clean-up. Fierce debate rages over what to do with thousands of tons of intensely radioactive spent fuel rods.
It remains unclear where the money will ultimately come from to try to decontaminate these sites, but clearly they are all destined to be dead zones.
As will the planet as a whole were it not for victories like this one in Vermont. This weekend the No Nukes community will celebrate this accursed reactor’s final demise.
Many hundreds more such celebrations must follow—soon!
Harvey Wasserman edits NukeFree.org and works to shut all Vermont Yankee’s mutant siblings so Solartopia can take root.
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The lies that killed people at Three Mile Island 36 years ago on March 28, 1979 are still being told at Chernobyl, Fukushima, Diablo Canyon, Davis-Besse ... and at TMI itself.
As the first major reactor accident that was made known to the public is sadly commemorated, and as the global nuclear industry collapses, let’s count just 36 tip-of-the iceberg ways the nuclear industry’s radioactive legacy continues to fester:
1. When about half of TMI’s fuel melted on March 28, 1979, the owners, industry and regulators all denied it, and continued to deny it until robotic cameras showed otherwise.
2. Early signs that such an accident could happen had already surfaced at the Davis-Besse reactor in Ohio, which was also manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox. TMI’s owners later sued Davis-Besse’s owners for not warning them about what had happened.
3. When TMI’s radiation poured into the atmosphere the industry had (and still has) no idea how much escaped, but denied it was of any significance even though stack monitors failed and dosimeters in the field indicated high releases (plant owners claimed they were “defective”). Only due to the work of the great Dr. Ernest Sternglass, recently departed, was public attention turned to the potential harm this radiation could do.
4. When animals nearby suffered mass mutations and death, the industry denied it. When the plague was confirmed by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the Baltimore News-American, the industry denied the damage could be related to radiation.
5. Industry “experts” assured the public radiation doses to downwinders were similar to a single x-ray, but ignored well-established findings from Dr. Alice Stewart and others that a single x-ray to a pregnant woman could double the chances of childhood leukemia among her offspring.
6. Industry “experts” ignored the reality that radioactive fallout can come down in clumps rather than spread evenly, and scoffed at findings from neighborhood surveys done by Jane Lee, Mary Osbourne and others showing major outbreaks of cancer in certain downwind neighborhoods.
7. When humans nearby were born with Down’s Syndrome and other mutations, and then adults began dying, the industry denied it, then denied any connection to TMI, but then did pay at least $15 million in out-of-court settlements to affected families on condition they not speak about it in public.
8. When Chernobyl exploded in 1986, Soviet officials said nothing as massive clouds of radiation poured across Europe and into the jet stream that would carry it to the U.S. within 10 days.
9. The U.S. government did nothing of sufficient scale to monitor Chernobyl’s radiation as it came here, and did nothing to warn the public to avoid milk and other foods that might concentrate that radiation, and has repeated that behavior in the wake of Fukushima.
10. A massive bird die-off at the Pt. Reyes National Seashore came with the arrival of the Chernobyl cloud and was documented by resident ornithologist Dr. Dave DeSante, whose findings were ignored by the government; soon thereafter, DeSante lost his job.
11. Chernobyl’s radiation was tracked all across Europe where it continues to irradiate plants, animals and humans. The most credible study of Chernobyl’s human death toll put it at 985,000 in 2010.
12. Chernobyl still seethes with radiation, but the massive, hugely expensive movable sarcophagus meant to cover it is not yet in place.
13. When fire runs through the wooded areas around Chernobyl, massive quantities of radiation are re-released into the atmosphere.
14. Fifteen Soviet-era reactors remain operable in Ukraine, much of which is now a de facto war zone, raising serious doubts about what will happen to them and the rest of the downwind human race.
15. The Japanese government was repeatedly and passionately warned by thousands of citizens for more than 40 years that putting reactors in a tsunami zone surrounded by earthquake faults was not a good idea. They were dismissed as “alarmists” and repeatedly assured that the reactors at Fukushima and elsewhere around Japan could come to no harm.
16. Despite repeated public protests, when Fukushima Dai’ichi was built an 85-foot-high bluff was taken down so units 1 through 4 could operate more cheaply at sea level; as widely predicted, they were massively flooded on March 11, 2011.
17. Critical backup batteries meant to keep the reactor cores cool in case of melt-downs were placed in basements which were thoroughly flooded when the tsunami hit Fukushima. Workers later frantically took batteries from nearby parked cars to try to power up the stricken cooling systems and other critical components.
18. The exact whereabouts of the melted cores from Fukushima Units 1, 2 and 3 remain unknown.
19. After a half-century of industry assurances that American reactors could not explode, four General Electric reactors blew up at Fukushima.
20. By estimate of Hiroaki Koide, assistant professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, some 30 times as much Cesium 137 has been released at Fukushima as was released during the bombing of Hiroshima.
21. Some 300 tons of radioactive water continues to pour into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima every day.
22. Thousands of highly radioactive spent fuel rods remain scattered around the Fukushima site; thousands are also still suspended in damaged spent fuel pools 100 feet in the air atop weakened buildings above shattered, melted reactors.
23. A petition signed by more than 150,000 people demanding that Fukushima be taken over by the world community was submitted to the United Nations on November 7, 2013, but has yet to receive a response of any kind.
24. Fukushima is still owned and operated by Tokyo Electric Power, which built it despite massive public opposition and continues to mismanage it while turning the “clean up” into a profit center, with a labor force thoroughly infiltrated by organized crime.
25. Like Fukushima, California’s Diablo Canyon reactors were built despite huge public protests, and sit in a tsunami zone surrounded by earthquake faults whose potential seismic power exceeds Diablo’s structural capacities, according numerous experts, including NRC official Dr. Michael Peck, who worked at Diablo for the commission.
26. A continual stream of revelations indicate illegal collusion on safety and other issues at Diablo between its owners, Pacific Gas & Electric, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as well as the California Public Utilities Commission.
27. Diablo’s owners almost certainly violated regulatory requirements and the law in using components within the reactors that were not tested to meet seismic standards.
28. Earthquakes have already damaged at least two U.S. reactors, at Ohio’s Perry site and at North Anna, Virginia (that quake also damaged the Washington Monument in our nation’s capital).
29. Public money designated for use by PG&E to upgrade piping systems was diverted to executive bonuses, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2010 unrepaired gas lines, which were known to have been deteriorating for a decade, blew up in San Bruno, killing eight people and doing millions of dollars in damage. Such a disaster at Diablo Canyon could kill countless thousands and do untold damage to the national economy and global ecology.
30. Diablo Canyon’s once-through cooling system violates state and federal water quality regulations by dumping huge quantities of hot, radioactive liquid into the Pacific, killing billions of marine creatures while unbalancing the ocean ecology and contributing to climate chaos.
31. Like most other old U.S. reactors, Ohio’s Davis-Besse is literally crumbling, with the concrete in its safety shield being pulverized by continual freezing, yielding ever-growing holes in the structure.
32. Like most other old U.S. reactors, Diablo Canyon, Davis-Besse, five reactors in Illinois and many more cannot compete in electricity markets against wind power, solar panels, other renewable sources or increased efficiency, and would shut down were it not for massive public subsidies.
33. Ohio’s Public Utilities Commission is being asked by FirstEnergy, Davis-Besse’s owner, for subsidies amounting to more than $3 billion to keep open that decrepit reactor, which opened in 1978, and the Sammis coal burner, which is even older.
34. Wisconsin’s Kewaunee reactor has shut for purely economic reasons despite being fully amortized and having no apparent outstanding maintenance or engineering crises.
35. California’s San Onofre reactors were shut in part due to violations of licensing requirements that are mirrored at both Diablo Canyon and Davis-Besse, where shut-downs could be required by law. Let’s hope ...
36. As we commemorate this tragic anniversary, we must note that this list of reactor nightmares could go very very far past 36. But let’s hope it doesn’t take that many more years to realize the folly of this failed technology.
In honor of the many many victims of Three Mile Island, and of the great Dr. Sternglass and so many dedicated experts and activists, we must turn this sad litany into the action needed to shut down ALL the world’s reactors so we don’t have to experience this nightmare yet again.
The lives we save will be our own … and those of our children ... and theirs ...
Harvey Wasserman reported directly on TMI’s death toll from central Pennsylvania. He co-wrote KILLING OUR OWN: THE DISASTER OF AMERICA’S EXPERIENCE WITH ATOMIC RADIATION.
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From his California beach house at San Clemente, Richard Nixon once watched three reactors rise at nearby San Onofre. As of today all three are permanently shut. It’s a monumental victory for grassroots activism. It marks an epic transition in how we get our energy.
In the thick of the 1970s Arab oil embargo, Nixon said there’d be 1000 such reactors in the U.S. by the year 2000. As of today, there are 100. Four have shut here this year. Citizen activism has put the “nuclear renaissance” into full retreat.
Just two of 54 reactors now operate in Japan, where Fukushima has joined Chernobyl and Three Mile Island in permanently scarring us all. Germany is shutting its entire fleet and switching to renewables. France, once the poster child for the global reactor industry, is following suit. South Korea has just shut three due to fraudulent safety procedures. Massive demonstrations rage against reactors being built in India. Only the Koreans, Chinese and Russians remain at all serious about pushing ahead with this tragic technology.
Cheap gas has undercut the short-term market for expensive electricity generated by obsolete coal and nuke burners. But the vision of Solartopia—a totally green-powered Earth—is now our tangible long-term reality. With falling prices and soaring efficiency, every moving electron our species consumes will be generated by a solar panel, wind turbine, bio-fueled or geothermal generator, wave machine and their green siblings.
As of early this year, Southern California Edison's path to a re-start at San Onofre seemed as clear as any to be expected by a traditional atomic tyrannosaur. But with help from Sen. Boxer (D-CA) and Senator-to-be Markey (D-MA), a powerful citizen uprising stopped it dead.
So did the terrifying incompetence and greed that has defined the nuclear industry from the days of Nixon and before. San Onofre Unit One shut in the 1990s due largely to steam generator problems. In the early 2000s, Units Two & Three needed new steam generators of their own. In the usual grasp for more profits, Edison chose untested, unlicensed new designs. But they failed. And the whole world was watching. In the wake of Fukushima, two more leaky tsunami-zone reactors surrounded by earthquake faults were massively unwelcome.
So a well-organized non-violent core of local, state and national activists and organizations rose up to stop the madness. At Vermont Yankee, Indian Point, Seabrook, Davis-Besse and dozens of other reactors around the U.S. and world, parallel opposition is escalating.
Make no mistake—this double victory at San Onofre is a falling domino. Had the public not fought back, those reactors would have been “fixed” at public expense. Today, they are dead. Worldwide, there are some 400 to go. Each of them—including the 100 remaining in the U.S.—could do apocalyptic damage. We still have our work cut out for us.
But a huge double-step has been taken up the road to Solartopia. There will be no Fukushimas at San Onofre. A green-powered Earth is that much closer. And we have yet another proof that citizen action makes all the difference in our world.
Today, actresses Amy Smart, Eva Amurri Martino, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Dawn Olivieri joined the Sierra Club in an online video asking Gov. Jerry Brown to make a “clean break” with fossil fuels, and commit to replacing the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station with 100% clean energy. The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to begin its decision-making process within the next few days as to how much of the shuttered nuclear plant will be replaced by clean or dirty energy.
The video cuts between the different actresses in the midst of classic break-up scenes—packing up their things, talking over coffee and breaking the bad news as they tell fossil fuels that it’s time to move on: “I just don’t think it’s working out any more—our relationship is toxic. I need something I can commit to for the long term: clean energy.”
The video ends with a link to a petition, where viewers can send a message to Gov. Brown asking him to only use clean energy to replace the power from the retired San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, instead of building new gas-fired power plants.
"Doubling down on dirty energy is not the right answer,” said Emmanuelle Chriqui. “Fossil fuels have been nothing but trouble for California—causing smog, spills, carbon emissions and health hazards all over the state. The upcoming transition of San Onofre is an opportunity for us to move forward and show that our state is going to be a leader on clean energy."
“Clean energy has become a major industry in California, and it’s ready to step up,” said Eva Amurri Martino. “Clean energy creates jobs, cleans up the environment, and it's how we're going to grow our economy in a sustainable way. That's the commitment we should make.”
The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, located between San Diego and Los Angeles, was California’s largest operating nuclear power plant before it was retired last year. State officials have sent Gov. Brown a multi-billion dollar proposal that includes building new gas-fired power plants - a plan which would upend California’s clean air and climate change goals, and radically change the nature of the state’s energy mix.
“From record wildfires to record droughts, climate change is coming home to California,” said Evan Gillespie, director of the Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign. “Building new dirty power plants would is an unnecessary and unacceptable retreat from our climate goals. We have a homegrown clean energy industry here in California that is ready to step up and meet the demand, and Gov. Brown should commit replacing the San Onofre plant with energy that is 100% carbon- and pollution-free.”
The Davis Besse nuclear generating station in Oak Harbor, OH, on the western shore of Lake Erie is back in the cross hairs after last weeks announcement that the crippled San Onofre nuclear power plant in southern California will remain permanently shut down and be decommissioned. The decision by Southern California Edison came 17 months after major problems with its replacement generators caused a crack in piping and a release of radioactive steam into the environment. A broad based coalition of citizen’s groups, governmental officials and environmental organizations waged an epic battle to keep this threat to the Pacific Ocean and the southwestern U.S. permanently shut down.
The San Onofre victory has bolstered a coalition of citizen’s groups working to shutter the Davis Besse nuclear plant while the plant’s owner and operator, First Energy, is planning to replace the plant’s steam generators in 2014. Davis Besse has come closer to a catastrophic accident on the shores of the Great Lakes more times than any other reactor in the country. More recently it has been discovered that the shield building that houses the reactor containment structure is riddled with extensive cracking.
The main impetus cited for the closure of San Onofre was the Atomic Safety Licensing Board’s decision to hold full public hearings on the license amendment granted for replacement of the generators at plant. The decision to hold these hearings came after national environmental organization Friends of the Earth intervened to call for this important skipped step in public transparency.
"The steam generator disaster at San Onofre, and public attempt to avoid similar bungling at Davis Besse, stem directly from the NRC’s [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] 24 year campaign to deregulate the industry," said Terry Lodge, attorney for the coalition of intervenors calling for a public hearing on the replacement of steam generators at Davis Besse.
"At San Onofre and Davis Besse the NRC relied on the utility’s self-reporting as to whether there is anything significant about this very major feat of building and installing technologically different pieces of equipment. There has been a fiasco in three out of the last three steam generator replacements. ‘Cross my heart and hope to die' regulation is totally unacceptable when it comes to nuclear energy," Lodge concluded.
Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc. served as the expert witness for Friends of the Earth in their San Onofre intervention. He is also the expert witness on behalf of Beyond Nuclear, Citizen’s Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don’t Waste Michigan and the Sierra Club intervening on Davis Besse. In the case of Davis Besse, Gunderson has declared that the “data reviewed shows that First Energy should have applied for a license amendment with the requisite public review six years ago when replacement steam generators were originally designed, ordered and purchased.”
Gundersen’s Davis Besse testimony reported, “The last three steam generator replacement projects orchestrated by licensees sought to avoid the NRC’s license amendment process. By avoiding the license amendment processes for Crystal River 3 in Florida and San Onofre 2 and 3 in California, the owners, Progress Energy (Crystal River) and Edison (San Onofre) caused all three units to experience total mechanical failures.”
A cascading failure of steam generator tubes can lead to a loss of coolant accident and reactor meltdown.
The failure of the steam generator replacements came about because they were largely experimental—newly designed systems did not mesh well with older equipment. Gundersen has detailed nine significant differences between the replacement and original steam generators at Davis Besse concluding that “each and every one of these changes is significant individually, and when taken together prove that the replacement contains many experimental parameters.
The coalition contends that First Energy’s shortcut on safety by its circumvention of an NRC license amendment proceeding, risks repeating the same sort of dangerous mistakes made at San Onofre. It was January 2012 when a steam generator tube rupture at San Onofre released radioactivity and led to the discovery of widespread, unexpected tube degradation in replacement steam generators just over a year old. Thankfully, San Onofre will not operate again.
“Once again, First Energy’s indifference to anything but maximum profit dictates the dance,” said Lodge. “What if this new, experimental design doesn’t work out, just as steam generator replacements in the last three reactors have proven to be failures? For First Energy it’s profits first safety last."
The NRC continues to operate like a used car salesman on behalf of the remaining 100 aging and decrepit lemons that threaten millions of Americans living near dangerous nuclear plants in the U.S. Instead of regulating this industry, NRC officials continue to try and paint a rosy picture of this dangerous technology. Just this week in Oak Harbor the NRC held an open house on Davis Besse’s annual performance review.
NRC representatives spoke glowingly of First Energy’s plans to operate 20 years past its life expectancy after its license expires in 2017. When asked by concerned citizens about the risks posed by replacing the steam generators, an NRC representative just tried to brush the question aside by saying “don’t worry, these are the Cadillacs of steam generators.” This begs the question, did the NRC settle for Kia’s at San Onofre and Crystal River?
“The Japanese parliament has concluded that the root cause of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe was not the earthquake and tsunami, but rather the government-regulator-industry collusion that allowed the atomic reactors to be so vulnerable to a natural disaster,” said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear. “Davis Besse has been the poster child for just such collusion from the very beginning, through the 2002 hole in the reactor head fiasco, and right up to the present.”
By Noah Long
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
The Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) research, development and demonstration (RD&D) program is needed because California is facing huge challenges—and opportunities—in its electric system: both from the state’s ambitious goals and mandates to reduce the environmental impacts of electricity generation, transmission and consumption and also from the effects of an aging infrastructure.
The commission approved RD&D investment proposals from Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric and the Energy Commission—which will administer the EPIC program. The program funds R&D for the benefit of the customers of the three largest investor-owned utilities in the state, together accounting for two-thirds of the electricity used in California. In addition, the CPUC adopted metrics and potential areas of measurement for evaluating the investment plans.
The decision follows the legislature’s guidance and decades of leadership from California utilities and the commission, itself, on research and development. The $162 million in annual investments in RD&D will be included in the utilities’ electric rates. Although subject to a misguided legal challenge from Southern California Edison, the commission's decision means the EPIC program will go forward while a court weighs the issue.
The state faces numerous challenges and opportunities for which R&D is needed, including reducing carbon emissions from power plants; adding and integrating 33 percent renewable energy and high penetrations of distributed generation; continuing to seek and deploy all cost effective energy efficiency; and replacing aging infrastructure including the San Onofre nuclear power plant and outdated coastal power plants that damage California’s ocean waters.
Meeting these challenges while maintaining affordable, reliable electricity for electric customers will only be possible if California maintains its commitment to innovation. The R&D investments approved represent a modest investment in research and development: lower than the average spending level in most industries. Still, they offer a critical opportunity for ongoing, strategic and leveraged investments in our energy future.
The R&D proposals approved this month have been through a long and rigorous stakeholder process and the commission’s decision is a big win for innovation in energy, which will benefit California’s residents, businesses and industries.
This piece originally appeared on NRDC Switchboard.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
The bitter battle over two stricken southern California reactors has taken a shocking seismic hit. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has ignored critical questions from two powerful members of Congress just as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has seriously questioned emergency planning at the San Onofre nuclear plant.
At a cost of some $770 million, Southern California Edison (SCE) and its partners installed faulty steam generators at San Onofre Units 2 and 3 that have failed and leaked.
Those reactors have been been shut since January, 2012 (similar defects doomed Unit 1 in 1992).
They've generated zero electricity, but SCE and its partners have billed ratepayers over a billion dollars for them.
SCE wants San Onofre reopened by June 1. The idea is to experiment with Unit 2 at 70 percent of full power for five months, despite widespread concerns that the defective generators will fail again.
That would require a license amendment, about which the NRC staff has asked Edison 32 key preliminary questions. But there’s been no official, adjudicated public hearing on Edison’s response.
On April 9, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) asked the NRC to keep Unit 2 shut until the safety issues can be fully vetted.
Boxer chairs the powerful Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, which oversees the NRC. Markey is ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and is the current front-runner to fill John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat.
Their letter to NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane says, San Onofre must not re-open without a "comprehensive investigation" and "full opportunity for public participation." Utility efforts to "shortcut the license amendment process,” they say, “would put public safety at risk."
SCE's backdoor dodge "was made despite evidence showing that there could be a significant hazard from the operation of the deficient steam generators." That, in turn, "would fall far short of the kind of consideration the 8 million people who live within 50 miles of San Onofre deserve."
Boxer and Markey asked the NRC to respond by 4 p.m. April 10. Instead, the Commission staff publicly issued a “no significant hazard” ruling that would speed the re-licensing process—a precise renunciation of the Boxer/Markey concerns.
Markey, in turn, said, the NRC "showed blatant disregard” for public safety.
Boxer said, the ruling was “dangerous and premature," especially since “the damaged plant is located in an area at risk of earthquake and tsunami.”
She added, "It makes absolutely no sense to even consider taking any steps to reopen San Onofre until these investigations look into every aspect of reopening the plant given the failure of tubes that carry radioactive water.”
The Commission has made some preliminary recommendations in response to Fukushima, including a call for new filters, which the industry has resisted. But it’s at least two years away from issuing new regulations based on lessons learned. Former NRC Chair Greg Jaszco has criticized the industry for failing to respond to Fukushima’s warnings. The Commission, he says, is “just rolling the dice” on public safety.
Jaszco’s concerns were mirrored in a report issued April 9 by the GAO warning that there were deep flaws in plans for evacuating southern California should San Onofre actually blow.
Mirroring widespread anger over soaring electric rates, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik warned that ratepayers were tired of getting “the shaft” at San Onofre by being forced to pay Edison millions “for services not rendered.”
The escalated San Onofre uproar comes with the double-shorting of a critical Fukushima cooling system prompted by a hungry (now fried) rodent that ate through some cable insulation. The power outage threatened a Unit Four spent fuel pool laden with hundreds of tons of immeasurably dangerous rods.
The system crashed again when the owners botched the installation of a rodent protection system. They've further confirmed major radioactive leakage from at least three of five tanks holding Fukushima's millions of gallons of contaminated wastes.
Parallel leaks at the Hanford nuclear facility in Washington state now threaten the Columbia River.
A major equipment crash at Missouri's Calloway was preceded this week by an accident at Arkansas Nuclear One that killed at least one worker and injured at least seven others.
Once the atomic poster child, France is now exploring joining Germany in phasing out its expensive, decaying nuclear fleet for a massive new commitment to renewables.
Germany is turning coordinated large-scale natural systems into base load providers.
And the city of Los Angeles now offers green feed-in tariffs meant to power a Solartopian conversion.
Edison is fighting off installing wind or solar generators, hoping to keep the public paying for its failures at San Onofre.
But for SCE and the NRC to flat-out ignore Congressionals as powerful as Boxer and Markey may indicate how desperately they want San Onofre paid for by the public.
SCE warns of power shortages this summer, but San Onofre was off-line last summer without major impact. SCE wants the public to continue to pay for these nukes, faulty generators and all. But if they're down another summer, the odds against them ever reopening will jump.
Two other U.S. reactors—Kewaunee in Wisconsin and Florida's Crystal River—will soon shut forever. Public pressure on New York's Indian Point, Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Vermont Yankee could drive the number of U.S. reactors under 100 this year for the first time in decades.
Boxer (202-224-3553) and Markey (202-225-2836) are now being asked to hold those adjudicated public hearings in southern California, and to investigate the GAO'S findings on evacuation, before any new license is granted at San Onofre.
Rising anger over a dangerous restart and more billions flowing into utility pockets guarantees that this fight will continue to escalate. Edison and the NRC seem willing to ignore the public's demands and those of Sen. Boxer and Rep. Markey. But they now face an ever-angrier public upheaval.
The potential restart of San Onofre still hangs in the balance. But the magnitude of the confrontation has taken a significant leap.
Stay tuned! … or, better yet ... get involved!
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The Wall Street Journal trumpeted the news late last week that the “nuclear renaissance” is alive and well, explaining how the Florida legislature has been instrumental in bringing this point home to its citizens. The problem is, the citizens of the Sunshine State didn’t really have much of a say in the matter.
Actually, it is doubtful that most even knew about the nuclear cost recovery legislation that has been hidden in the energy bills of customers of Florida Power & Light (FPL) and Progress Energy (now a Duke subsidiary) since 2006. The legislation is a way to get new nuclear power plants up and running on the backs of taxpayers. No one denies this. What has been denied is the rights of the people to know the costs that have been hoisted on their backs and what this means in terms of actual benefits. This is what the nuclear renaissance looks like.
Alex Flint of the Nuclear Energy Institute, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal article, was quick with his praise for this encouraging example from the ethically-challenged Florida politicians, for his preferred brand of “democracy”:
Florida's legislators did the right thing in allowing utilities to preserve the most effective option to finance new nuclear energy facilities if warranted by the state's utility regulators. Doing so gives the state the means to supply reliable, affordable, clean energy for future generations of Floridians.
Reliable? Affordable? Clean energy for future Floridians? Perhaps, the people over at the Nuclear Energy Institute don’t read the frightening reports coming daily from Fukushima, or perhaps they do and don’t give a damn. They can afford excellent health coverage and certainly don’t need to be concerned about their state legislators telling the federal government there is no need to extend Medicaid to its impoverished and uninsured citizens (another low-light from the Florida legislature’s most recent session).
If the average Floridian wanted to tune into the mildly-heated debates in the Florida House, they might have learned that one of the amendments added by opponents would have required a clear reference to the "recovery costs" on the utility customer’s bills. The majority of representatives in the House and Senate would not hear of it. They instead opted for the "idea" of functional representative democracy, as opposed to the practice. By claiming that the legislation was all about saving ratepayers money, many in Tallahassee were patting themselves on their backs for their achievements when the session ended last Friday.
Instead, the truth about their leadership and the notion of a nuclear renaissance is rather obvious. Genuine democratic institutions and the marketplace would never go ahead and accede to a nuclear renaissance in the age of Fukushima and the recent news reports about the Hanford site in Washington, San Onofre, and a host of other problematic plants around that should be shut down immediately. The cleanup costs for nuclear plants are astronomically excessive, especially in a time of austerity budgets. There is still no remotely responsible method of dealing with nuclear waste; the recent Federal court decision against the Department of Energy (DOE) that ultimately punishes the U.S. taxpayers for a political deadlock surrounding the dangerous issue of extremely toxic materials. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the DOE is primarily responsible for figuring out a solution to this mess. The environmental and economic legacies (inextricably linked) that we are leaving for future generations should be regarded as criminal, in a just world.
Returning to Tallahassee, since no insurers are willing to back these projects and the costs always spiral out of control, Florida had to go about it another way. The lawmakers there were told by their real constituents in the energy industry that the public simply had to pay for plants that shouldn’t and probably won’t ever get built. The bill SB 1472 was sent to Gov. Rick Scott for signing and the utility companies had to pretend that they were on the “losing side” of this “struggle.” After all, now they will have to march all the way over to the Public Service Commission every year to prove that they actually intend to finish the tax-payer funded utility projects. Poor fellows. However, because of loopholes in the law, these utility companies are able to make huge profits if the projects fail and permanently cease. In other words, they win no matter what.
How much are Florida utility customers paying exactly? It is estimated that around $1.5 billion has been raised since the law first came into play over six years ago. Yet, costs are projected to be around $50 a month per household by 2020 and, if you talk to the average Floridian, they probably couldn’t tell you what this money is for and certainly couldn’t tell you where is it going. Yet, these figures obscure some more obscene realities about nuclear power in this state.
For example, the plant at Crystal River, some 80 miles north of Tampa, closed earlier this year after a long and dangerous history. The plant was plagued by a host of problems making the “watch list” and considered one of the worst-run reactors in 1996. The original operators, Florida Progress Corporation, were cutting corners way back in the early days and this led to a history of problems with reinforcement in the containment building. Eventually, the plant would close multiple times and for long stretches. Duke Energy, a major U.S. nuclear company, had no choice but to close it down for good after it reviewed some very questionable repair estimates upon completing its merger with Progress, thereby forming the largest U.S. utility, in 2012.
On a recent trip to the Crystal River area of western Florida, replete with several national and state parks and a lot more beauty to discover aside from the famous manatees, a few locals told me all these expenses were unnecessary. The Crystal River nuclear plant’s closure was actually due to an absurd plan to replace steam generators, a routine upgrade that was done in dozens of other U.S. reactors by either one of two contractors. Progress wanted to cut costs and in an attempt to save $15 million dollars decided it would do the replacements itself. The ill-fated upgrades in 2009, and maintenance since then, now add up to devastating $1.3 billion, according to Tampa Bay Times. This reckless decision-making surely factored in the taxpayers unwitting support in case a bailout was required.
Meanwhile, the company has plans to build another nuclear power plant nearby in Levy County but costs keep skyrocketing. From original estimates of $5 billion in 2006, current estimates are roughly five times that amount. Worse yet, the date for going online was pushed back from 2016 to 2024. Citizens are outraged and the many seniors in the area are backed by the American Association of Retired Persons, which is opposed to the nuclear costs recovery scheme. Does that affect the overall outcome of the debate around this bilking of taxpayers? Predictably, no.
Florida Power & Light is also planning two new reactors in the Everglades as an addition to their Turkey Point nuclear plant. They are fresh off a public relations victory based on an expansion and upgrades to their existing reactors at Turkey Point and up further north near Port St. Lucie, FL. These plants are in some of the least seismically active places in the country so don’t fret about earthquakes. What is worrisome though are the hurricanes that come sweeping through, with increasing intensity predicted. Hurricane Andrew gave the Turkey Point nuclear plant a thrashing in 1992 when the main water tank and smokestack that were destroyed, in addition to a loss of off-site power. As Alan Farago has pointed out on Counterpunch, there is also the issue of rising seas to contend with and he offers us a glimpse of the nightmarish future in the beautiful and unique swamplands of southern Florida:
Long after seas rise to flood everything around Turkey Point but the 300 acre fill pad to be elevated 20 feet above sea level, [it will look] to future generations like a gargantuan, radioactive flat-topped Mayan temple.
This is what the nuclear industry in a dramatically changing climate looks like.
To circumvent the criticism about this that may come from the camps of Monbiot-bots out there, clearly if nuclear power plants continue to get shut down (Kewaunee in Wisconsin has just been officially closed and California’s San Onofre’s inevitable closure seems likely to follow) the power source must get replaced. It will more than likely get replaced with natural gas and that means more fracking. Of course, this is a terrible choice and I am not about to argue the lesser of two evils. It appears that U.S. citizens need to seriously evaluate the power of their utility companies and challenge them every step of the way forward. They are uniquely influential when it comes to mapping out our energy futures. If left unchallenged, they will make terrible choices that are in their very narrow interests, to hell with their own and everyone else’s grandchildren.
Florida’s energy sector is a classic example of this ridiculous dance the legislators and power company executives do around the citizenry, proclaiming all that hard work of legislating and developing, operating and maintaining power plants is for us. Meanwhile, they grow ever richer and less accountable and average people pay costs that are well beyond the financial realms of existence. Fossil fuels and nuclear are both incredibly dangerous to the health of our planet and species, especially when exploited at the magnitude they are in the 21st century. They threaten our children and our children’s children’s children, unborn and unnamed. They need to be stopped. There is a need for a renaissance but it is of a popular grassroots nature that will roar with intensity and be shaped by the strength and beauty of the affected, who bare their scars and redefine the nature of power.
In response to the announcement that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is sending an “Augmented Inspection Team” to California to investigate safety problems at reactor 3 at the San Onofre nuclear plant, Friends of the Earth’s Climate and Energy Project director, Damon Moglen, issued the following statement:
“The NRC has recognized the gravity of the steam generator failures and radioactive leak at the San Onofre nuclear reactors. The NRC has essentially taken control of the ongoing investigation by flying in a team to the site. We applaud the NRC's initiative, but this investigation must include both of the closed reactors, not just unit 3. The well being of millions of local residents of San Onofre depends on a thorough investigation. They deserve answers.
“We are deeply concerned about the ongoing safety problems at these two old, dangerous reactors and with the track record of their operator, Southern California Edison. Edison is talking about preparing to restart a reactor, yet it is exploring problems at the other and has yet to explain what caused the damage to the reactors’ steam generators.
“Gambling with the safety of the public in this way is unacceptable. Public alarm has been confirmed by the dispatch of a special NRC inspection team—there can be no further talk of restart of either reactor without a thorough, independent investigation and full public disclosure of the nature of the problems and any proposed solutions. If these reactors are unsafe to operate, they must be permanently closed, especially as they sit in this earthquake prone area.”
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