Safe Until It Isn’t

Kathy Staples, director of the Santa Barbara County Energy Coalition, recently wrote that Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is safe, reliable, and cost-effective. The Santa Barbara County Energy Coalition is the main lobbying effort behind restarting offshore and onshore oil drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel.

San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, the legal intervenor in the cases related to Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant since 1973, takes no solace in the fact that the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors are 85 feet above sea level.

The intake structure for billions of gallons of sea water used for cooling the plant is at sea level. Diablo lies in the crosshairs of at least a dozen earthquake faults, mostly unstudied. The Shoreline Fault is a mere 1500 feet from the base of reactor #1. Other faults lie laterally behind the reactors, including the area where the 2.5 million gallon water reservoir lies. The coastline is active, fragile, and fault-ridden. To assume that anyone knows the magnitude or force of an earthquake that would set off multiple adjacent temblors in several earthquake faults is more than fatuous—it is downright dangerous.

The nation of Japan was the most earthquake-ready of all countries on Earth. However, they did not have any studies that dealt with earthquake, loss of cooling fluid, tsunami, cracks in reactor vessels, loss of off-site power lasting weeks, spillage of radioactive water into the sea, multiple hydrogen explosions releasing plutonium, cesium, iodine, strontium, and other radioactive elements into the atmosphere. No one could have predicted what happened at Fukushima.

Ms. Staples reassures us that Diablo Canyon is safe because it has a team of geoscientists who work with the U.S. Geological Survey. The reason Diablo Canyon needs a team of geoscientists is because it was built and licensed in a location riddled with active earthquake faults, in contradiction to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations.

Nuclear energy is clean—until it isn’t. And when it isn’t, the consequences to the biosphere can be overwhelming.

The emerging reality of the ongoing nuclear reactor crisis in Fukushima is that it is not under control at all. Three of the six reactors are in meltdown. The crippled reactors are acting like a huge dirty bomb, emitting significant quantities of radioactive isotopes that are, in fact, globally contaminating air, water, soil and food in a steady stream that may continue for a long time. Less than three months ago, Tokyo Electric Power was one of the five largest utility companies in the world. Today it is a shambles, facing tens—perhaps hundreds—of billions of dollars in liabilities.

Just this week, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ordered the NRC to stop all re-licensing activities relating to Diablo Canyon for 52 months—until after all the seismic studies are completed and analyzed, exactly what San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace has contended in its opposition to license renewal. The licensing board is listening to the growing voice of concerned Americans who understand the inherent dangers of nuclear power and nuclear waste.

There are new, clean energy sources that can and will replace nuclear and fossil fuels. Germany will phase out nuclear power altogether by 2022. Switzerland will begin its nuclear shutdown in 2019. Italy is putting nuclear on a national referendum. Japan has abandoned its plans for new nuclear reactors and will shut down thirty-five of its plants in favor of renewables. These countries can see the writing on the wall. Any technology that leaves toxic waste lasting for hundreds of thousands of years cannot be called “green” or “sustainable.” It’s time to shut down Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant before Santa Barbara County residents become the “downwinders” from a human or nature-made catastrophe the likes of Fukushima.


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