Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Nuclear Safety: A Note to California

California is surely earthquake territory. When I lived there, I lived through the Loma Prieta Earthquake at my home in Palo Alto. Later, our son had the bad luck to be visiting Los Angeles during the Northridge Earthquake. I take earthquakes seriously.

Nobody takes earthquakes more seriously than the people who build,  run and evaluate nuclear plants. Recently, PG&E did a careful study of the earthquake risk around Diablo Canyon, and concluded that the public safety would not be affected by major earthquakes on the local faults. The NRC also requires new evaluations of earthquake risk when new information becomes available. Again, the evaluations show that Diablo Canyon is built safely.

For some reason, one of the anti-nuclear groups has decided these evaluations are insufficient. They want an evaluation of an earthquake right under the plant! Apparently, they don't know that earthquakes don't just happen in random locations. There's a reason people map faults, evaluate faults, and so forth! Don't let unscientific fear-mongering get in the way of keeping the public safe. Diablo Canyon is safe.

Yes, keeping Diablo Canyon operating is indeed keeping the public safe. California does not need more gas line explosions like San Bruno.  California does not need more carbon dioxide to feed global warming and drought. In other words, California does not need anti-nuclear scare stories for setting policy. Closing nuclear plants diminishes public safety by requiring more use of natural gas and causing more global warming.


A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post urging people to write to the California Energy Commission. A volunteer group, Californians for Green Nuclear Power, was providing information to counter groups that wanted Diablo Canyon closed for "earthquake safety." I always wonder why anti-nuclear groups act as if nobody but themselves ever thinks about the seismic safety of a nuclear plant.

I wrote this comment to the Energy Commission, and I also placed it as a comment on my own blog post.  Recently, I decided that I wanted to give the comment a bit more visibility, so I am reposting it here.

By the way, old-timer Californians refer to the 1906 Earthquake as the "Earthquake and Fire. "  The fire did most of the damage.

San Bruno fire, caused by gas pipeline


Dr Gene Nelson said...

Your assessment of the robust construction and the strong nuclear safely culture at Diablo Canyon Power Plant is spot-on. However, as I have noted elsewhere, nuclear fear-mongering is very profitable. One need look no further than Mr. Joseph Mangano and his "nonprofit" Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP.) Mr. Mangano has collected almost $1 million in salary and benefits from RPHP since 2001.

Anonymous said...

I have recently worked on an instrumentation project with some people who work at Diablo Canyon, so I was able to get the straight story on the central California seismic studies and all the hype surrounding them and the plant.

It turns out that the people who did the studies for PGE initially wanted to do a high-energy seismic study to fully determine the subsurface structure and get a high resolution mapping of the fault traces. High-energy seismic studies involve generation of fairly energetic sonic pulses to achieve accurate images at depth. Now, some of the same groups who oppose Diablo Canyon intervened on the grounds that high-energy pulses would be detrimental to marine life, especially those species that use sound as guidance and hunting (whales, porpoise, dolphin, etc.). So they browbeat the firm into using lower-energy pulses. Naturally, low-energy studies do not yield as much information, nor is the quality the same as for high energy studies.

So now the studies are done and the usual suspects come forward to criticize the studies, saying they are inadequate and inaccurate, because, now, wait for it, they were not high energy studies that provide the detail those groups said is necessary to really see what is going on. But why weren't those high-energy studies done? Because those same groups opposed them on "environmental" grounds.

So it is the classic intervenors' game. Raise issues to prevent something, then say because those things were prevented the plant is unsafe. IOW, heads I win, tails you lose. It is a good illustration of why the current regulatory system is unworkable and needs to be vastly overhauled, or scrapped and started over.

Dr Gene Nelson said...

@Anonymous: Via in-person citizen testimony at the California Energy Commission (CEC) hearing in Sacramento, California on 27 April 2015, I noted the "moral peril" apparent in the present California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) Intervenor system. Instead of advocating for the ratepayer's interest, or advocating for sound scientific and engineering analyses, many of the CPUC intervenors actually advocate for narrow special interests.

I noted in written testimony to the CEC 15-IEPR-12 Docket involving Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) that one "nonprofit" based in San Francisco - The Utilities Reform Network (TURN) will collect over $7 million in intervenor fees for its advocacy supporting the premature shut down of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS.) The ratepayers, on the other hand will pay $3.3 billion MORE to substitute mostly fossil-fueled power for the power formerly supplied by SONGS during its design lifetime. The "deathprint" for that substitute power is significant.

These are some of the reasons why citizen groups such as Californians for Green Nuclear Power and Thorium Energy Alliance of Silicon Valley need to become CPUC intervenors to serve the public interest. The skilled and experienced professionals in both groups will provide sound scientific and engineering analyses.