16 July 2011


Ever since the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant (image above) went online in 1985, it has been a lightning rod for controversy and protest. The plant is located at Avila Beach on the Pacific Ocean, 12 miles from San Luis Obispo, considered by some to be the "happiest city in America". It is also located with in a network of geographic faults, including the Hosgri Fault 3 miles offshore (west), and the San Andreas Fault inland (east), both of which roughly parallel the coast. Additionally, a series of faults form a segmented line less than a mile offshore from the plant.

Until recently the Nuclear Regulatory Commission incorporated seismic, construction, and safety data from the plant's owner, Pacific Gas and Electric (PGE) in ascertaining whether the plant should be authorized to operate. Following the earthquake/tsunami-generated Fukushima nculear disaster earlier this year in Japan, renewed attention has been directed at nuclear power plants worldwide. Germany has announced plans to phase out its nuclear plants entirely, and several other European nations are poised to follow suit.

In the wake of Fukushima, the NRC is (belatedly) developing its own independent criteria for measuring plant safety. On Wednesday a special NRC task force released its findings on the preparedness of American nuclear plants, as well as twelve recommendations which include a call to strengthen oversight of plant safety. As reported on the PBS program Need To Know, in a segment titled Double Fault, California State Senator Sam Blakeslee (R-15th District) is spearheading a serious critique of the NRC, PGE, and specifically the Diablo Canyon plant. Blakeslee is not your usual legislator -- he is a research scientist and a geophysicist with expertise in seismology, and his concerns clearly have a sound scientific foundation. For six years he has been pressing PGE for substantive data to back the company's contention that Diablo Canyon is safe to operate. The response has ranged from stonewalling to specious manipulation of information on the fault system. The video clearly illustrates with commentary and maps that in fact (contrary to PGE's claims), the segmented offshore faults (see map below, click to enlarge) and the Hosgri Fault form a single integrated network extending for hundreds of miles. A major earthquake anywhere in the system would be transmitted through th entire network ~ catastrophic news for Diablo Canyon, which is only constructed to withstand a 7.5 magnitude earthquake.

Given the ongoing repercussions of the Fukushima disaster, given the egregiously unstable location of the Diablo Canyon plant, and given that prevailing winds would carry any released radiation inland in a plume which would endanger cities in California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico at the very least, it is long past time that we reconsider our reliance on nuclear power. Or rather, our reliance on power produced by nuclear fission. As I proposed in a post four days ago, power generated by nuclear fusion is an entirely different story, and an idea whose time has come.

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