Diablo Canyon Power Plant

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Diablo Canyon Power Plant

Anti-Nuke Power Initiative Taking Flack

Legislative Analyst Trashes Measure, Local Activists Dubious

Thursday, December 1, 2011
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A statewide initiative that would effectively shut down the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County and the San Onofre plant in San Diego was cleared last week for signature gathering by the secretary of state’s office. But in almost the same breath, the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office warned the measure could potentially cost the state economy billions of dollars, state and local governments billions of dollars, and California ratepayers billions of dollars. While the initiative’s author, Ben Davis of Santa Cruz, insists the analyst’s doom-and-gloom report relied upon unsubstantiated allegations made by unnamed members of a state agency dominated by retired utility industry executives, even some longtime anti-Diablo Canyon activists are having second thoughts. “We have our doubts,” said David Weisman of Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, a group fighting Diablo Canyon in Sacramento.

The initiative, known as “The Nuclear Waste Act of 2012,” was hatched by Davis, a longtime anti-nuclear activist who drafted the ballot language that shut down Sacramento’s municipally owned Rancho Seco nuclear power plant in 1988. Currently, Davis works as a delivery driver for a dog newspaper known as Bay Woof. Davis said he was moved to act by the devastation caused by the near meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plants after the country was hit by an earthquake and tsunami this March. If approved, Davis’s measure would stop any nuclear plants from operating in California until a permanent storage solution for spent fuel rods and other nuclear wastes was provided. Currently, no such national repository exists, and none are on the drawing boards. Now that he’s been given the green light from the secretary of state, Davis has until April 16 to collect 504,000 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for next November’s statewide ballot. That’s roughly 3,800 signatures a day.

Weisman expressed skepticism that number could be collected in so short a time frame. But even if Davis managed it, Weisman noted, PG&E — the owner of the Diablo Canyon plant

— spent $40 million on Proposition 16 two years ago to make it much harder for municipal governments to get in the energy utility business. (It lost.) Davis’s victory at Rancho Seco notwithstanding, Weisman argued, there’s a big difference between pushing a municipal ballot measure and waging a statewide ballot campaign. Should the initiative fail, Weisman warned, that could send the Legislature exactly the wrong message regarding public support for nuclear power. Davis said he agreed to disagree and predicted that Weisman and his group would come around. He said many statewide environmental groups were joining an umbrella group, Nuclear Free California, which he hopes to enlist in the cause this weekend. Based on Japan’s nuclear disaster, Davis predicted there would be a groundswell of popular support for his measure. Having studied advanced mathematics in his spare time, Davis said he’s devised formulas for collecting signatures that would rely on lots of people doing a little as opposed to some people doing a lot.

Should he get that far, Davis and his initiative will repeatedly confront the dire warnings laid down by the legislative analyst, who predicted rolling blackouts, power disruptions, and spiking energy prices should the state lose the two nuclear power plants that now generate 16 percent of the state’s energy needs. Not only that, said the analyst, but it’s such a reliable source that state energy planners build their supply calculations around it. The analyst was skimpy with details when it came to the cost savings the initiative might generate should it prevent a nuclear disaster akin to Japan’s. But the analysis was generous to a fault with the multiple “billions” that might be lost if the measure passed.

Weisman termed the report “the worst possible” for Davis. But Davis was not fazed. He said the state currently builds in a 15-20 percent supply cushion into state energy plans, so the loss of 16 percent would not be catastrophic. In the wake of Fukushima, he said, the Japanese have not experienced rolling blackouts or brownouts because the populace has cut back accordingly. And 35 percent of Japan’s electricity, he said, comes from nuclear power plants. Likewise, Davis suggested that the price spike for electricity predicted by the legislative analyst was greatly exaggerated. “It would cost the average home a dollar extra a month,” he said.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Thanks for recognizing our efforts to close these plants. Two corrections. A state report suggests closing the plants would cost the average household about $2 a month, not $1. Also, Japan did experience blackouts for a short time, but not for years as initially predicted.

The fiscal analysis noted in this article is a nuclear industry dream come true. It is also false. The analysis suggests that, if the nuclear power plants are closed by an initiative it will cause rolling blackouts. However, the same analysis suggests that if the power plants are closed because of a nuclear accident, it will not cause rolling blackouts. The nuclear industry itself would never think it could get away with such nonsense. To have the state's Legislative Analyst's Office sign such a statement... the analysis should have been gift wrapped and place under the nuclear industry's Christmas tree. The LAO has no documentation from any state agency that blackouts will occur, but basis this solely on a conversation with someone from the Independent System Operators- someone who refuses to state this on the record and refuses to be named. Luckily, the average voter in California is educated enough to see through such a smoke screen. It simply and graphically demonstrates that the energy industry and our state and federal governments are too closely allied.

When we closed the Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant, they said there would be rolling blackouts. They said there would be rolling blackouts for years to come in Japan. There were supposed to be rolling blackouts in California during the energy crises in 2000. These blackouts didn't occur and there is documented evidence they won't occur when we close California’s nuclear power plants. The facts of the matter show that the fiscal analysis' claims we will have blackouts if the initiative passes, but not if we have a nuclear accident, is exactly and obviously the opposite of the truth.

The state has an entire year to prepare for this initiative. A nuclear accident doesn't announce itself so one can prepare a year ahead. Happy Holidays nuclear industry!

Ben Davis Jr. Initiative Proponent.

bendavis54 (anonymous profile)
December 1, 2011 at 9:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I thought that such initiatives have to be based on economics (or some other factor) and not on safety, which is the sole purview of NRC. And in this case, it is clear that no economic case can be made. If these two plants are closed, most if not all of their generation will be replaced by fossil fuel (gas) plants. Running an existing nuke (at ~2 cents/kW-hr) is much cheaper than firing up and running old fossil plants or building new fossil or renewable plants.

Yes, CA could close these plants (w/o blackouts, etc..), but why would we want to? Not only will the costs of generating electricity in CA go up, but both air pollution and CO2 emissions will increase as well; a lose-lose-lose.

Also, since nuclear plants employ a far larger number of people than fossil plants (of equivalent capacity), such a move will result in the loss of a large amount of high paying jobs in the state. This is in addition to any jobs lost due to industries leaving the state due to the higher electricity costs. Just what CA needs!

As for public health, safety, and environmental impact, there is almost complete scientific concensus that nuclear is better than gas in all three areas. The record over the last 50 years is very clear on this.

Nuclear plants emit no CO2, and even the entire production cycle has negligible emissions that are similar to renewable sources. Gas plants have significant CO2 emissions (half of coal's).

Nuclear plants do not emit air pollution. Western (non-Soviet) nuclear plants have never caused a public death and have never had any measurable health impact. Even Fukushima has not changed this, with no deaths so far, few if any projected to ever occur, and no measurable public health impact expected. Meanwhile, worldwide fossil fuel use causes ~1000 deaths every single day (from air pollution), as well as global warming.

Yes, the state does have reserve capacity. The newest, most efficient, cleanest (fossil) plants are operated, while the oldest, dirtiest and least efficient plants are held in reserve. These (old, dirty) plants will be placed back into operation if the two nuclear plants are closed. These old plants will emit significant amounts of air pollution (and CO2).

Lest one say that the economic comparison does not consider the possiblity of a severe plant accident, note that there has only been one significant accident in Western (non-Soviet) nuclear power's ~50 year history (Fukushima), which will have a cost on the order of $100 billion. Assuming a severe event frequency of once every ~30 years, and dividing a $100 billion cost by the ~100 trillion kW-hrs worldwide nuclear power generates in 30 years, you get an (insignificant) cost of ~0.1 cents/kW-hr.

Given that the nuclear plants' output will be replaced with old fossil plants, shutting down the nukes would be downright immoral, not to mention utterly irrational.

JimHopf (anonymous profile)
December 1, 2011 at 6:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Given that the nuclear plants' output will be replaced with old fossil plants, shutting down the nukes would be downright immoral, not to mention utterly irrational."
- is that a given?
What would be immoral is allowing these plants to operate and then some earthquake cracks one open, that would be immoral. Guess we will c if god is feeling immoral soon and cause some public deaths in the western (non-soviet, cuz you know they didn't know what they were doing) world since we base things here solely on economics and not on safety.
Most disturbing in this article:
" Currently, no such national repository exists, and none are on the drawing boards." I hope they don't store them on site like in Japan.
oops, guess they do. Economics wins again, darn it. The US really needs an investment in education right about now.

spacey (anonymous profile)
December 2, 2011 at 11:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

OK, I'm confused. Are the anti-Nukes the same ones that are against offshore drilling? The same ones that complain about high gasoline prices? And air pollution caused by coal mining? And endangering some lizard or other by building a large solar facility? And do they have any alternatives other than consume less (which is good, but inadequate)? Or any ability to see outside their tiny little narrow focus?

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
December 2, 2011 at 1:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Domestic natural gas is the alternative. Nuclear waste management is expensive and never-ending.

Georgy (anonymous profile)
December 2, 2011 at 4:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Great suggestion. Really. Do you by any chance know T Boone?

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
December 2, 2011 at 6:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I've got an oped pending on this issue, so here's the meat, which is directly relevant to the issued discussed here. The bottomline: California's nuclear plants could be shut down tomorrow and we woudn't need any new power plants to replace them. Here's why:

We have three nuclear plants that serve California, two in California (Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County and San Onofre in San Diego Conty) and one in Arizona (Palo Verde). These three plants provide about 5,000 megawatts of steady electricity to California and have never suffered any major accidents.

5,000 megawatts is a lot of baseload power and would require enormous amounts of new wind, solar and/or natural gas to replace these nuclear power plants.

But would we need to replace these plants? That is, if a decision were made to phase out the plants, would they need to be replaced?

No one has yet, to my knowledge, looked at this issue in detail. But the state’s grid operator, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), has recently completed a detailed analysis for integration requirements to get to 33% renewables by 2020, as is now required by law since Gov. Brown signed SB 2. “Integration” refers generally to new natural gas power plants to provide power when variable renewables like wind power or solar power aren’t available because the wind doesn’t always blow and nor does the sun always shine.

CAISO examined four scenarios in its recent 33% renewables by 2020 analysis, some focusing on in-state renewables only, others including some out-of-state power, more wind, etc. The good news is that CAISO concluded, under its current set of assumptions, that California will need no new capacity to integrate the 33% renewables by 2020. The analysis found that only a small “load following down” capacity would be required, which could be met through curtailment of existing facilities, rather than building any new facilities. Why such a surprising finding? A number of factors are relevant, but the primary ones are: an excess of existing natural gas generation; robust state-wide energy efficiency and demand response programs, and a significant number of new cogeneration facilities coming online.

Not only did CAISO find no new power plants would be required to integrate the 33% renewables mandate by 2020, CAISO also found that by 2020 the state would have about 14,000 megawatts of excess power available, even after meeting the 33% renewables mandate. This is over and above the “planning reserve margin” required by state law. The planning reserve margin is 15-17% above expected normal demand for each utility and it provides a buffer in cases where demand peaks are far higher than expected – during summer heat waves, for example. The full presentation is available here:

and was affirmed on July 1, 2011, with CAISO’s finalized analysis submitted to the CPUC.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
December 3, 2011 at 5:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks Tam. I remember some papers from the Rocky Mtn. Institute dating back to the 1970s, demonstrating that increasing efficiency in major sources of electric consumption (refrigeration, other motors, lighting, et al.) would greatly reduce or eliminate the need to build more power plants, regardless of their energy source (coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, et al.). We've made impressive, though less than optimal, gains in efficiencies since then. Disregarding all else, increased efficiencies of use = decreased consumption = no need for the nukes. Combined with distributed sources of generation such as rooftop solar (photovoltaic and thermal) and small-scale wind generation, we could shut down many more large plants--coal first.

GregMohr (anonymous profile)
December 5, 2011 at 2:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

And here's the full article on the question of phasing out nuclear power in CA:

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
December 7, 2011 at 9:09 a.m. (Suggest removal)

First, there were two votes in Sacramento County on Rancho Seco. One was in 1988. The public supported continued operation of Rancho Seco by a very narrow margin. The antis were able to get another ballot initiative scheduled for 1989. At the time of the 1989 vote, Rancho Seco was off-line repairing a auxiliary feedwater valve problem. The antis had manipulated the NRC into ordering a stop-work so their inspectors and consultants could investigate the root cause of the valve problem. In that environment, the 1989 ballot initiative was approved and Rancho Seco subsequently shutdown.

Second, the biggest supporter of the antis was Pacific Gas & Electric. PG&E had been unable to get DC-2 into the rate base because of an over-capacity on the grid in California in that era. The PG&E CEO made a public endorsement for closure of Rancho Seco in front of a SMUD Board of Director's meeting I attended in early 1988. This was the most despicable betrayal in the whole history of commercial nuclear power. The antis simply managed to transfer the benefits of owning and operating a nuclear plant from SMUD to the unseemly PG&E. Good job. The rolling brownouts of the early 2000s and the ENRON manipulation were possible because 800+ MWe of Rancho Seco in-state power at a key point in the power grid had been taken out-of-service.

Third, empirical evidence from years of U.S. commercial nuclear power operation shows the chief risk is borne by the operating companies and that the risk is purely financial. The hoopla foretold in comments above has never occurred and has been demonstrated to be of negligible likelihood at an American nuclear power plant.

sefarkas (anonymous profile)
April 30, 2012 at 8:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Put me on the record for being against both offshore drilling and nuclear plants atop earthquake faults.
In addition Sefarkas, it is very likely there will be an earthquake, maybe even as you read this. To say the company would bear the brunt as you suggest makes me think that you've probably been paid to write your comment:
User profile: sefarkas

Joined: April 30, 2012

Comments posted: 1 (view all)

The American people may not be as informed as one would like, but we are certainly well aware of the dangers of radiation and have a good idea how spreads.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 30, 2012 at 9:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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