Don’t relicense the Diablo nuke

Pub date June 6, 2006
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. made one of the dumbest moves in modern environmental history some 40 years ago when company executives decided to build a nuclear power plant on an active earthquake fault. The seismic issues and serious construction and safety problems along with a powerful antinuclear movement kept the Diablo Canyon plant from opening until 1984. It’s licensed to keep generating power (and generating highly toxic nuclear waste) until 2021.

But as we reported back in 2005, the company is already talking about renewing its license, which could mean the nuke would keep operating until 2051 far longer than the plant was designed to last. Not only does that increase the risk of a catastrophic accident (the Hosgri fault is going to slip some day), but it increases the amount of radioactive waste PG&E is going to have to store on the site.

The California Public Utilities Commission will be holding hearings this month on PG&E’s application to spend $19 million of ratepayer money on an in-house relicensing feasibility study. The relicensing study is a terrible idea.

For starters, there’s absolutely no rush here: Diablo has another 15 years to go on its current license, and there’s absolutely no way to predict what the state’s energy situation will be in 2021. Then there’s the waste problem: Since there’s no place to safely dispose of radioactive waste, PG&E has to keep it on-site, and the existing storage space is rapidly running out of room. There’s very little progress on any federal program to create a long-term disposal center, so the deadly stuff will have to sit there, right on the San Luis Obispo coast, for the indefinite future.

The California Energy Commission has called for an independent analysis of the costs, benefits, and risks of continuing to rely on nuclear power in California, which make sense: Solar technology is improving rapidly, energy needs are changing, and by the time Diablo’s license winds down, it may be relatively cheap and easy to replace the power it now pours into the grid.

The CPUC should reject PG&E’s request, with prejudice and the state legislature should ban any further action on nuclear plants until there’s a detailed analysis of the state’s energy future. SFBG

For information on the Diablo Canyon relicensing, the CPUC hearings, and the need for a full energy study, go to