Chapter Home Page Environmental Update
Site Search

Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet

Join the campaign to halt Diablo relicensing prior to seismic studies

The Sierra Club is a co-intervenor in the ratepayer case at the California Public Utilities Commission on the funding of PG&E's application for renewal of its license to operate the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. A broad public campaign to prevail upon the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the PUC to halt the rush to relicensing prior to completion of advanced seismic studies was launched at an April 16, 2011, rally sponsored by the Mothers for Peace in Avila Beach.


Nov. 20, 2013


At least 230 people attended an important meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on the evening of November 20. They came to voice their opinions on the NRC's Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) and proposed Waste Confidence Rule.  The GEIS is an  assessment of the environmental impacts associated with the continued storage of spent nuclear fuel after the closure of nuclear plants. The Waste Confidence Rule states that the NRC has confidence that, even though it has failed to figure out what to do with radioactive waste for the 60 years of commercial reactors, it will solve the problem “in time,” thereby allowing the creation of more radioactive waste.

Judging from the vast majority of the approximately 100 verbal comments delivered, this absurd assumption was the motivating force for most of the downwind residents in attendance. Some came from as far as Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. They had to brave rain, a lack of sufficient parking, and a lack of sufficient chairs. The walls were lined with those left standing as the meeting began.

The NRC is traveling to twelve cities throughout the nation to hear public comment on its proposed regulations, which the Federal Court of Appeals ordered the agency to revise because the NRC had no technical basis for asserting that current on-site storage practices in fuel pools and dry casks would be safe for the indefinite future. The court ruling also forced the NRC to stop licensing or relicensing any nuclear facilities until its errors were corrected. The NRC has set a schedule to adopt its new Waste Confidence rule within two years so that it can resume the issuing of licenses, even though its own staff declared it would take at least seven years to do an adequate job.

The vast majority of speakers shared the opinion that Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is no place to store radioactive nuclear waste for the undetermined future, in large part because of the 13 earthquake faults that surround the two reactors.

Many, including San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill, urged the NRC to order PG&E to transfer the radioactive wastes into dry casks storage on an accelerated schedule, rather than leaving the rods in densely packed spent fuel pools. Some pointed out that the pools are vulnerable to accident or terrorist attack because they are not protected by thick concrete in the way the reactors are.  

Many speakers urged the NRC to shut down Diablo Canyon and all nuclear plants because there is nowhere to put the waste, creating an intolerable burden on future generations, all for the sake of boiling water for our needs today.

Fukushima was brought up many times as a warning and an illustration of the dangers posed by nuclear technology.  It was pointed out that the entire Pacific Ocean, and indeed the west coast of the United States, is seriously threatened by the radiation from the crippled plant. Several also pointed out that right up until the minute before the earthquake and tsunami hit Fukushima, the plant operators were fully confident that their plants were safe.

Jane Swanson, a spokesperson for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, pointed out that in determining the risks of a spent fuel pool accident, the NRC relied on an outdated 1994 study of plants  east  of the Rocky Mountains. And now, in an unsupported leap of faith, it claims that the risks and consequences of an accident are the same for west coast plants, despite their very different geology.

Among the other issues raised by the public were that California does not need the electricity from Diablo; that a combination of conservation and increased use of truly sustainable sources of energy can fill our needs. Several pointed out that nuclear power is not the answer to climate change because it produces carbon emissions in the mining and enrichment of uranium and in plant construction.

Several speakers pointed out that NRC rules are useless because they are not enforced, a prime example being allowing Diablo to operate despite the fact that new information about nearby earthquake faults show that the plant could not withstand the predicted ground motion from some of the nearest faults.

The bottom line of most of the speakers was that the NRC should be in the business of protecting public safety, not the profits of the industry it is supposed to regulate. The new proposed GEIS and Rule were strongly rejected.



Aging Nukes

Read the blockbuster AP investigation of the nuclear industry:

Radioactive Tritium Leaks Found at 48 US Nuke Sites

Safety Rules Loosened for Aging Nuclear Reactors

US Nuclear Evacuation Plans Haven't Kept Up with Population

How Long Can Nuclear Reactors Last? US Industry Extend Spans



Don't Relicense Diablo!

"Existing plant designs are not what you want to build today; [they are]
similar to driving an automobile without airbags."

- Per Peterson, professor of nuclear engineering, University of California Berkeley, speaking at Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee Meeting, San Luis Obispo, January 31, 2007


The Geology of Diablo Canyon

Santa Maria, CA, February 5, 2010

Hello, Sierra Clubbers -

PG&E must conduct a "seismic accounting" of the chaotic network of faults that has created a shattered zone of bedrock on and around their Diablo facility. I have authored a photo-documented geological tour of the area around the Diablo facility. It is an easy tour that can be completed in a day. I invite you through this publication to join me and see for yourself. The photographs speak louder than PG &E's reluctance to open the door to reality. Also included are photos of cut and polished pieces of bedrock that illuminate the crushing effects of our local geology.

Common sense should guide this issue, not monetary expediency nor political manipulation. Please take the time to see for yourself.
Ralph Bishop


In 2010, we joined the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, CALPIRG, and the Environment California Research Center in protesting the application of PG&E to charge ratepayers for the costs of renewal of Diablo Canyon's operating license without making it conditional on completion of state-mandated seismic studies.

Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility

We are co-intervenors with the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace on PG&E's application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to indefinetly store highly radioactive nuclear fuel rods on the Central Coast. We appealed PG&E's permit to the California Coastal Commission in June 2004.

We are Parties in the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board's hearings on PG&E's permit to continue to use ocean water for once-through cooling.

In April 2004, the Santa Lucia Chapter and Mothers for Peace successfully petitioned the California Public Utilities Commission to reconstitute the Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee in order to add public outreach to its responsibilities.

We need people to read, analyze, attend meetings, and write letters.


PG&E has proposed to the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission the
construction of on site storage at
Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

By Pete Wagner

PG&E has proposed to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission the construction of a huge concrete pad called an Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) for outdoor storage of encapsulated "spent" nuclear fuel rods at the Diablo power plant. The radioactivity of these rods takes about 8000 years >to die down to the level of natural uranium ore. At present, the fuel rod >assemblies are stored in two water baths. These will be filled to capacity by 2006. The proposal is to continue to store assemblies in the baths for the first five years after being taken out of service, during which they lose much of their initial activity, and then encapsulate and transfer them, while still highly radioactive, to the outdoor pad. Eventually they are supposed to be moved to Yucca Mountain.

The period of storage could extend long beyond 2025 when the plant is slated for decommissioning. An operating extension for another 25 years is not unlikely to be requested, which presumably would require enlargement of the ISFSI. Further, if Yucca Mountain should lack space to accept the fuel rods or not be built, Diablo would become an essentially permanent storage site.

The Chapter determined that, beyond public health and safety considerations, protection of the environment from a potentially devastating episode at Diablo is a significant Sierra Club issue. We joined Mothers for Peace and several other citizen organizations as formal intervenors in the NRC hearings and have adopted the formal position stated in the following paragraphs:

1. What are the provisions for safeguarding the liquid storage pools from overhead attack? Any shortcomings must be rectified immediately.

At present the liquid storage pools appear to have virtually no protection from an overhead terrorist attack, nor has the FAA answered our inquiry about regulations or advisories covering overflights. The public should be told what measures, if any, are in place. Any shortcomings must be remedied independently of the decision on outdoor storage, because the liquid storage pools will remain in use whether or not the application is approved.

2. After bankruptcy, will PG&E finance the mitigation measures already adopted to compensate for the adverse effects of the cooling water discharge on marine life, as well as new mitigation and safety measures that might be required for the proposed project? No decisions on PG&E's applications to the NRC and to SLO County can reasonably be made until the financial terms of PG&E's bankruptcy application have been settled.

Until PG&E's financial obligations under bankruptcy have been established by the courts, there is no way of knowing whether the utility will pay either for mitigation measures stipulated in previous negotiations or for added mitigation and safety measures that the new project may require. Though it has been widely believed that PG&E has agreed to measures intended to compensate for adverse cooling water impact at Diablo, these measures have never been enacted and are still under negotiation with the Regional Water Quality Control Board. Could this sad story be repeated when mitigation and safety measures associated with the new project are negotiated?

3. What are the regulatory and jurisdictional implications of the bankruptcy settlement? These should be specified clearly before any action is taken on the two PG&E applications.

PG&E has asked for the abolition of state (and presumably lower governmental level) jurisdiction over Diablo. Authority would be vested at the federal level. The major impact would probably fall on utility rates, but also, state and county-level jurisdiction over environmental matters might be removed. This could conceivably include bypassing the CEC, the CPUC, CalEPA, the ISO, the Coastal Commission, and SLO County. The amount of authority over environmental matters that remains with the State and County must be delineated in the bankruptcy settlement and must be satisfactory.

4. How can the mandate and composition of the Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee be restructured to include greater public involvement and more effective dissemination of information to the public? Improvements are needed.

DCISC is a unique instrument created by the State to independently oversee the plant. Its three members are appointed by the Governor, the Attorney General, and the CEC. The DCISC purview appears to be limited to an ongoing critical evaluation of plant operations, which it does very well as indicated by a long published list of recommendations successfully implemented over the years. Its responsibilities do not explicitly include outreach. Its efforts at public contact consist of placing of its reports in the Cal Poly library, holding three open meetings yearly (which it announces widely in the press ahead of time), and responding to inquiries from individuals on a case by case basis. These methods for reaching the public are passive rather than active; we could find no other mechanism for public involvement.

The need for public contact has been exacerbated by the events of September 11, 2001. Many people are worried. Several steps to reach the public could easily be taken by the DCISC. These include moving its small office to SLO County (it is now 100 miles away in Monterey), providing speakers for meetings held by community organizations, holding more frequent meetings on its own initiative at which public comment would be encouraged, distributing copies of its annual report to regional public libraries, and perhaps publishing a newsletter or mailer.

Above all, due to a clear conflict of interest, PG&E should be removed from the process of nominating DCISC candidates. At least one DCISC member should specialize in community health and the environment. Candidates for this position would also have to be technically competent in nuclear science and engineering. They could go through the existing nomination procedure (after removal of PG&E from the process) and could be selected by CalEPA or another appropriate state agency instead of one of the three offices that now appoint members.

DCISC members have told us informally that any restructuring actions go beyond their authority; however they strongly opposed the addition of afourth member representing environmental and public health interests when it was proposed to the proper authority some time ago. If no steps are taken by DCISC internally to increase public access and communication, we should consider advocating desired changes at appropriate offices in Sacramento or even proposing legislation.

If the original proposal for a fourth member should be resurrected, it could lead to the possibility of tied votes. We would prefer to see an odd number of members, three or even five, as long as the interests of the public are represented.

5. Has a risk analysis been performed that treats terrorist attacks,
earthquakes, accidents, and other incidents that could breach plant security and have catastrophic consequences? If so, the results should be made available to the public. If not, such an analysis should be undertaken by a highly qualified panel whose members have no connection with the nuclear industry or the governmental regulatory apparatus.

Any existing analyses that are applicable to Diablo should be provided by the applicant. If none exists, a new analysis should be performed by an independent panel at the level of expertise and credibility of the National Academy of Sciences. It would cover all plausible scenarios that could adversely affect public health, safety, and the environment. We recognize that the probability of occurrence of an episodic disaster can be estimated only qualitatively, but the repercussions of various disaster scenarios can be quantified and phrased in a manner understandable to the lay public.

The public should be represented both on the panel itself and in the selection of panel members. Costs of operation should be borne by PG as part of its application.

A new development occurred at a very recent hearing, at which an NRC lawyer actually objected to the inclusion of terrorist actions at Diablo as a topic in the review of PG&E's license application! His basis was that a comprehensive NRC analysis of plant security is already planned for every nuclear power plant in the country; however no indication of the contents or scheduling of the NRC study was given. It is not clear, for example, that it would be completed before the license decision was made. Until the scope and timing of the putative study are revealed it is impossible to tell whether it will satisfy the criteria of independence and completeness as well as timeliness. The Nuclear Security Act of 2001 does not call explicitly for such an analysis but does require a security plan for every nuclear site. This legislation, SB 1746, is now in committee.

6. Has the applicant made a comparative evaluation of the disadvantages and advantages of other means for handling the high level waste? Such an analysis is essential.

All credible waste handling alternatives must be evaluated for comparison to the proposed method. This is a national need of which Diablo is just one example. For example, reprocessing which could greatly reduce the amount of residual nuclear waste is no longer banned. How much of a reduction could be realized by reprocessing, and at what risk level? What are the tradeoffs associated with further reracking, which would significantly reduce the need for outdoor storage but might be too dangerous? These and other plausible waste treatment alternatives should be analyzed if they have not been. The results should be clearly spelled out in lay language and publicized.

7. Will all feasible alternative methods for electricity production and demand reduction be fully evaluated and compared point by point to the applicant's proposal?

Expanding the waste fuel storage capacity at Diablo, irrespective of how it is done, is not the only possible option; the Alternatives analysis should include a detailed comparison of nuclear electricity production at Diablo versus other, more benign ways of either providing its 2000 MW baseload capacity or reducing baseload demand by the same amount. A tradeoff analysis should be made with the most likely alternative, a natural gas fired turbine plant that generates the same baseload power but carries its own environmental penalties of waste heat, atmospheric pollutants, and greenhouse gas. Wind generation appears plausible in California -- even at the same site -- and should be fully evaluated. There are more exotic but plausible schemes, such as a combination of solar powered hydrogen generation with small, distributed hydrogen burning generators. These merit comparison to continued nuclear generation.

Another important area is demand reduction. Rate payers were remarkably effective at lowering electricity use during the recent California power shortage. Electricity savings through further conservation should be fully evaluated and the potential savings in generation be quantitatively estimated. Price elasticity at consumer and industrial levels should be examined, as well as demand reduction through efficiency improvements in industry, home appliances, and insulation, and incentives designed to reward efficiency and penalize excessive consumption. Since nuclear plants are not used for peaking, the emphasis should be in lowering baseline generation as opposed to peaking capacity. A useful starting point is the recent CEC 2002-2012 Electricity Outlook Report.

8. If no method of high level waste handling is determined to involve socially acceptable risks, should a moratorium not be called on electricity production at Diablo until a satisfactory solution is found? Operations at Diablo should not continue after the existing liquid storage space is used up in 2006 unless a safe storage option is found by that time.

Diablo produced about 6.7% of California's total electricity generation in 2000. At the present level of operation, the amount of radioactive waste created will continue to grow in direct proportion to the length of time the plant operates, and the radioactivity of its used fuel will persist at a level above that of natural uranium ore for about 10,000 years. Safely handling this waste is an open-ended engineering problem. Until the analysis called for above is complete, it will not be clear whether any existing method is capable of storing spent fuel for such a long time with a level of risk that society finds acceptable. If this turns out to be the case, the only options are to accept the "unacceptable" risk, to call a moratorium until a satisfactory solution can be found, to do without the electricity, to generate it in some other way, or to ship the waste to Yucca Mountain; however Yucca Mountain may not ever be completed, the transportation risk may be unacceptable, or it may never have space for Diablo's waste fuel.

Site design & maintenance donated by Gary Felsman
  • Take Action
  • Chapter Campaigns
  • Get Outdoors
  • Join or Give
  • Volunteering
  • Santa Lucian
  • Calendar
  • Our Chapter
  • Contact Us
  • Other Groups
  • Bill Deneen Awards
Explore, Enjoy and Protect - Santa Lucia Chapter hike in Machesna Wilderness
Machesna Wilderness hike
April 2002
Photo by Gary Felsman