By Michael Steinberg /Black Rain Press
Diablo Canyon. The last of California’s nuclear power plants is on its way out.
The year began with a bang in Cali. Pretty much all the state’s major media outlets, as well as others across the nation, carried it as their lead story.
My personal favorite was this headline from the January 11, San Diego Union-Tribune: “Nuclear Power receives its death sentence in California: regulators vote to shut down Diablo Canyon.” This from a publication that once promoted itself as “the eyes and ears of the CIA!”
The January 12 San Francisco Chronicle reported on its front page. “Diablo Canyon, whose contentious birth helped shape the modern environmental movement–will close in 2025.” The Diablo Canyon nuke plant is located near San Luis Obispo on the coast of Central California.
San Francisco is the headquarters of both Pacific Gas & Electric, Diablo Canyon’s owner, and the California Public Utilities Commission, which voted unanimously to close the nuke plant in seven years. Of its decision, CPUC president Michael Picker said:
“With this decision, we chart a new future by phasing out nuclear power here in California. We’ve looked hard at all the arguments, and we agree the time has come.”
The Chronicle article carried a file photo of a crowd of people brandishing a banner proclaiming “LOCAL PARENTS AGAINST DIABLO.” The caption under picture read, “Waves of protests, including this one in 1981, failed to block the opening of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in 1985,”
No nukes sentiment that sprung up following Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown in Pennsylvania in 1979 has persisted around the world. The Abalone Alliance arose on the West Coast, the Clamshell Alliance on the East Coast, and the Oyster Alliance in New Orleans, to name just a few of those anti-nuke organizations.
While living in San Francisco in ’79 I remember vividly seeing the movie China Syndrome (inspired by the Diablo Canyon struggle), starring Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, and Jack Lemmon, which had just been released. In one riveting scene, a scientist explains that the China Syndrome is when a nuclear reactor melts down, potentially destroying an area “the size of Pennsylvania.” At that point, an angry buzz swept through the sold-out crowd of moviegoers.
But that didn’t stop PG&E. One reactor at Diablo Canyon wasn’t enough, it had to have two. Nevertheless, when I lived in San Diego in the mid-’80s, community activists, including Obceans, rallied to stop a nuke plant that was to be called Sun Desert from being built in the Southland.
A number of developments brought us to this point.
The Fukushima triple meltdown in March 2011 reawakened consciousness of the madness of nuclear power. Within days of the disaster, airborne radiation from Fukushima reached the West Coast, and spring rains brought it down to earth from Berkeley to Boston. Fukushima radwaste emptied into the Pacific Ocean later showed up in seaweed and other marine life on the West Coast as well.
Diablo Canyon, like Fukushima located in an area riddled with earthquake faults, and susceptible to tsunamis, once again became a target for shut down. The unexpected closure of the San Onofre nuclear plant to its south in 2013 created more public pressure to add Diablo Canyon to the nation’s growing list of shutdown nuclear power plants.
Meanwhile, Pacific Gas & Electric, long an untouchable near monopoly in the state, itself began to unravel. An explosion and deadly fire on its gas pipeline near San Bruno south of San Francisco in September 2010 killed eight, injured dozens and sent flames 1000 feet high while causing 38 homes to be leveled, and a $3 million fine to be levied against the utility.
In and around Diablo Canyon community and environmental groups mounted more pressure against PG&E, still staggered from the San Bruno debacle, now faced with the prospect of having to spend many millions more on Diablo Canyon.
And so in 2016 PG&E reached an agreement with environmental organizations like Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and other groups, to permanently close down Diablo Canyon’s two reactors when their operating licenses expire in 2024 and 2025. Part of the agreement was to replace the electricity the nukes had generated with renewable sources. But the CPUC’s decision did not include that provision, so the struggle is far from over. Also still in question: can the nuke plant operate safely for seven more years, and what will become of all the nuclear waste it will leave behind?
One more factor bears consideration. The final nail in the Diablo Canyon’s coffin may have been how the Northern California fires last summer could have affected the CPUC’s decision and PG&E’s possible acceptance of it. The jury is still out on the cause of the fires. But the utility’s role in its cause is another huge liability looming. To this day PG&E is running full page adds in the SF Chronicle portraying itself as just another good neighbor that had its wings singed.
Its nuclear legacy is, it hopes, already well behind it.
–Reposted from the OB Rag