There’s a misguided effort being pushed forward by some well-intentioned people who have joined the Nuclear Power Fan Club. These people truly believe that nuclear power will save the planet from climate disaster, and there’s a lot of money to be made.
The newly released Stanford/MIT study recommends exploring the extension of Diablo Canyon’s license to operate in order to combat climate change, but it completely ignores important conditions at Diablo Canyon:
1. Diablo Canyon is situated at the nexus of at least 13 earthquake faults. Two of these, the Hosgri Fault and the Shoreline Fault, are classified by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as “major” and “active.” Keeping Diablo Canyon operating beyond its planned closure is playing Russian roulette.
2. The Unit 1 reactor vessel was manufactured in 1967. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) reported it as “embrittled” several years ago. This reactor vessel has not had a mandated ultrasonic examination in more than twenty years. If Unit 1’s reactor had to be shut down in an emergency, there’s a chance that it could shatter like a glass of boiling water suddenly plunged into ice, resulting in unimaginable consequences.
3. Seasoned, highly skilled workers are retiring and moving on, resulting in loss of institutional knowledge about the unique idiosyncrasies of Diablo Canyon. The effect is already being felt, according to information provided to Mothers for Peace by an unnamed employee.
4. Underground pipes were installed at Diablo Canyon in the 1970s. These pipes are subject to high pressure and cannot be inspected. A severe earthquake is all it would take to interrupt the vital cooling water to the plant. Much maintenance at Diablo Canyon has been deferred because closure is imminent. This facility is OLD. These and other components are ready to retire.
5. The spent fuel pools are overcrowded to at least three times their original capacity. A “beyond design” earthquake (think Fukushima) could crack the pools, cause water to leak out, and the spent fuel could spontaneously ignite – the most unimaginable catastrophe possible. This is a “low probability, high risk” scenario, and it’s not considered by the NRC in spent fuel pool safety analysis because “it won’t happen.” We hope not.
6. There is exactly enough space on the dry cask storage pad to accommodate 138 spent fuel casks containing highly radioactive fuel rods that will be stored after closure in 2025. If the lifetime of the nuclear plant were extended, a whole new dry cask facility would have to be permitted and constructed to accommodate the additional toxic waste. With no federal repository for high level nuclear waste, it’s going to be stored on our fragile coastline into the foreseeable future.
7. There is no guarantee of “steady baseload power” from a 40-year-old nuclear power plant. Unit 2’s failed main generator was replaced for nearly $100 million in 2019, but failed again in 2020, working only 30% of that year and narrowly squeaking by during the peak load energy crunches. The complex and costly repairs of aging systems are likely to multiply in the ensuing years.
One must also consider Climate Impacts and Habitat Loss from Diablo Canyon’s Operation:
1. Diablo Canyon circulates 2.5 BILLION gallons of seawater through its piping every 24 hours in a once-through-cooling (OTC) system. Diablo Canyon’s cooling system is responsible for 80% of the loss of marine life on the California Coast. OTC is no longer allowed in California, but the State Lands Commission extended the land leases to 2024 and 2025 to coincide with Diablo Canyon’s operating licenses. With rapid worldwide depletion of fisheries and aquatic biodiversity, it is unacceptable to allow decimation of marine life in order to produce approximately 8% of California’s energy. Would the Lands Commission allow another exemption and sacrifice ocean life for Diablo Canyon’s operation?
2. The seawater intake structure is vulnerable to rising levels of ocean water brought on by global climate change. This is the water that cools the plant. During seawater’s circulation through the facility, it warms by 19°F before being discharged back into the ocean, contributing to ocean warming. Think about it: 2.5 billion gallons every single day for 40 or more years. The math and the impacts are almost incalculable.
3. Nuclear plants emit huge amounts of heat from nuclear reactions into the atmosphere 24/7. Where does the heat go? Global warming.
4. When uranium is mined, milled, enriched, and transported to nuclear plants, there is a spike in CO2 emissions.
5. Uranium mining has decimated some 27,000 square miles of Navajo (Diné) land spread across Utah, New Mexico and Arizona which is home to more than 250,000 people. Many Navajo people have died from kidney failure and cancer, conditions linked to uranium contamination. And new research from the CDC shows uranium in the bodies of babies born now.
6. When a nuclear plant is built, hundreds of millions of tons of concrete are also manufactured. And when the plant is dismantled, this same concrete, plus steel, electrical wiring, plumbing, and radiologically contaminated material must be hauled away. All of it contributes to climate change.
We can do better. People of the Central Coast have put up with living in a nuclear evacuation zone for the past 40 years. Nuclear power is dirty. It’s dangerous. Don’t buy the hype.