The operator of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, PG&E, announced in June that it would close the plant by August 2025. Longtime activist Harvey Sherback wrote this letter, published in two parts and edited for length by The Santa Barbara Independent, to the state Public Utilities Commission prior to its vote regarding the decision. Part II follows. (Part I can be read here.)
Diablo’s Danger to the Environment
High temperatures inside the malfunctioning reactors at the Fukushima plant melted and broke down the concrete and metal in the buildings. Silica, zinc, iron, oxygen, and cesium-137 fused into millimeter-wide glass micro-particles, each about the size of a pin’s head. Lifted into the atmosphere by the fires raging at the plant, they then blew about 150 miles southeast to Tokyo. Radioactive cesium, specifically cesium-137, is one of the waste products of nuclear power. It’s also one of the most dangerous substances in a nuclear disaster like Chernobyl or Fukushima. As much as 89 percent of the cesium in Tokyo was in fact in these particles.
To the east of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural breadbasket. A large percentage of the food that passes across America’s dinner tables comes from the Central Valley. If, somehow, whether caused by nature or accident, Diablo were to lose containment, we would be rendered helpless as immense radioactive clouds rose into the sky where sea breezes would carry these toxic plumes inland. Nobody is going to buy vegetables and fruit that have been contaminated with radioactive cesium, strontium, and iodine. Can we really afford to lose California’s agricultural jewel to a nuclear accident?
Additionally, the drinking water for millions of men, women, and children flows from the Sierra Mountains through the Central Valley and into cities that stretch from the Bay Area to Southern California. No one is going to knowingly drink water that’s been laced with poisonous radioactive isotopes.
North-South Coastal Traffic Disruption
A major release of radioactive materials from the Diablo Canyon Power Plant could disrupt all north-south traffic along California’s Central Coast due to prevailing winds that tend to blow inland. There’s a strong possibility that people using emergency evacuation routes to escape a nuclear meltdown at Diablo would suffer excessive radioactive exposure.
Killing California’s Marine Life
Every day, Diablo’s cooling system sucks in 2.5 billion gallons of seawater. An estimated 1.5 billion fish eggs and marine larvae a year get swept along for the ride, churned, cooked, and killed. Over Diablo’s 30-year operational lifetime, approximately 45 billion fish eggs and marine larvae have died. Another nine years will increase the number to over 58 billion deaths. Simply put, over time the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant has seriously diminished California’s marine populations as well as reduced our oceanic food supply.
The Danger of Radioactive Saltwater Intrusion into California’s Coastal Fresh-Water Aquifers
A meltdown at the DCNPP could lead to radioactive saltwater intrusion into California’s fresh-water aquifers. Saltwater intrusion, the movement of saline water into fresh-water aquifers, can lead to the radioactive contamination of California’s agricultural and drinking-water supplies. Human activities, especially groundwater pumping for both crop irrigation and freshwater wells, has increased saltwater intrusion in many of our state’s coastal areas. Tsunamis, large storm surges, and rising sea levels can push saltwater even further inland. Brackish water has crept more than 12 miles inland close to Salinas. Watsonville’s Pajaro Basin and Orange County are also confronting seawater intrusion. Other coastal regions at risk include Los Osos near San Luis Obispo.
The March 11, 2011, magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that erupted off of Japan’s Tōhoku Pacific coastline led to a meltdown of four nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Because melt-through reactor cores cannot be allowed to spew radioactive materials into the atmosphere, they must be covered with water. This highly radioactive water has been leaking from the molten cores and mixing with groundwater. It has been estimated that about 300-400 tons of this extremely radioactive water has entered the Pacific Ocean every day since 2011.
“All radiation is unsafe,” said Arnie Gundersen, former nuclear industry executive. “There is no non-harmful level. The faucet is still on. This is not a one time wave that washes the shore and goes away. Fukushima is continuing to pollute the ocean.”
If the Diablo Canyon power plant were to experience a Fukushima-like mega-thrust magnitude 9 earthquake and/or tsunami, one or both of Diablo’s embrittled reactors could go critical and suffer a Fukushima-like catastrophic nuclear meltdown. At that point we too would be forced to cover the melt-through radioactive cores with copious amounts of water. Because the DCNPP sits right on the coastline, this highly contaminated radioactive water would enter the Pacific Ocean and pollute our coastal fresh water aquifers.
Charged with the awesome responsibility of protecting the State of California and it’s people from a devastating nuclear disaster it’s important that you take the time to review this crucial information before making a decision to approve Diablo’s nine-year operational extension, our very lives depend on it. Why bet the whole farm (California) on an over-the-hill nuclear plant? The fact that PG&E made a deal to close the DCNPP in 2025 contingent upon the fact that there would be no Environmental Impact Report (EIR) required for the new tidelands lease should raise a red flag as to the plant’s fragility. Please keep us out of harm’s way by closing Diablo down as soon as possible so as to insure that our economy and way of life will continue to prosper.