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Malibu Once Escaped A Diablo Canyon Style Nuclear Power Plant

PCH & Malibu Road Where Nuclear Power Plant Would Have Been Located Photo By Kriss Perras
PCH & Malibu Road Where Nuclear Power Plant Would Have Been Located | Photo By Kriss Perras

Malibu once had it’s own hard fought battle against such a nuclear reactor power plant as Diablo Canyon. It was during the 60’s. It was against Southern California Edison (SCE) and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) plans to put such a plant here. Former Malibu Mayor and City Councilman Ken Kearsley lives in the neighborhood near where they were planning on putting the plant and was living in Malibu during that fight. 

“During the 60’s the Public Utility Agency bought an atomic reactor to supplement their electricity. It was in vogue like bell bottom trousers. Without thinking of the consequences,” said Kearsley.

The public debate that ensued lead to the building of a coalition against the nuclear power plant being placed here.

“It was just the thing to have with SCE and the LADWP that they decided they too needed a nuclear reactor. These were second generation reactors. The first generation reactors were above the San Fernando Valley under the Ike Administration and were basically small reactors about the size of a house that didn’t work. They went bonkers. They went nuts and had an accident, these Eisenhower era reactors. The press suppressed this fact. They came up with new designs that included water for cooling. The San Fernando Valley reactor did not use water coolant, so everybody that had money wanted a reactor that did and it had to be near water i.e. the Pacific Ocean. They chose an area next to Corral Canyon right near the fish market, right across the ravine up the hill where there is a Serra One hiking trail on the Santa Monica side of the hiking trail. This is where Cher’s house is located now. There’s a bridge up there, and the creek empties into the ocean. You can still see a path that went up to it today. They planned to use water from the ocean to cool it and return the water to the ocean. Diablo is a second generation reactor. San Onofre was a second generation reactor. They just closed San Onofre. Three mile island is a water cooled reactor, and they had problems.”

“The Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor near Middletown, Pennsylvania partially melted down March 28, 1979. This was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history,” according to the Nuclear Regulator Commission (NRC).

During the time of this battle in the 60’s, Kearsley states Malibu had quite a few engineers who lived here and a physicist who played integral parts in this coalition against the nuclear reactor being placed here. The group formed a coalition and a very heated public debate ensued.

“This engineer that spoke on behalf of the reactor got up and said you guys don’t have to work where the one that went nuts in the Valley that wasn’t water cooled,” Kearsley said of the public debate. “That engineer said we’re going to recondense the water, and the steam would be slightly radioactive. It just so happened in those days Malibu was filled with engineers. We had a man named Paul Wendlyn who was a physicists, state physicist. He developed the first laser at Hughes labs. Paul said ‘Slightly reactive? Have you done any studies with people around slightly reactive radiation?’,” said Kearsley of the public debate at that time.

Kearsley went on to say the engineer for the reactor continued stating, “Well the slightly radioactive steam is no more than an X-ray” Wendlyn the physicist said ‘No more than an X-Ray while its ongoing 24/7?’ So we decided to get a coalition of people to fight it. In those days the world was our oyster. The idea of a cheap source of electricity was just dandy for most people. We were standing in the way of progress. So they had their plans. They had the approval of the atomic energy commission. It was a second generation design that they would use all over the western and eastern coasts. We were fighting it. We weren’t having much luck until a disaster hit LADWP. There was a thing called the Baldwin Hills dam. A dam designed by the very same engineers who designed the nuclear reactor. The dam broke and killed several people and destroyed a good part of Baldwin Hills. We said you guys are designing a nuclear reactor, and you can’t even design a dam that holds water. And we killed it. We were the County of Los Angeles then. This was the LADWP. We were big NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard). We told them why don’t you take your goddam reactor and put it in the City of Los Angeles and expose them to your slightly radioactive steam and see how they like it. They didn’t like that. We didn’t have a lot of people out here then. They thought there wouldn’t be a lot of resistance. So we fought it. We had a public relations campaign, and they finally withdrew their application for building it.”

The Baldwin Hills dam collapse happened December 14, 1963. According to an archived Los Angeles Times article, the collapse sent a 50 foot wall of water down Cloverfield Avenue that slammed into homes and cars.

“Five people were killed. Sixty-five hillside houses were ripped apart, and 210 homes and apartments were damaged. The flood swept northward in a V-shaped path roughly bounded by La Brea Avenue and Jefferson and La Cienega boulevards,” states the old Los Angeles Times article. “The earthen dam that created a 19-acre reservoir to supply drinking water for West Los Angeles residents ruptured at 3:38 p.m. As a pencil-thin crack widened to a 75-foot gash, 292 million gallons surged out. It took 77 minutes for the lake to empty. But it took a generation for the neighborhood below to recover. And two decades passed before the Baldwin Hills ridge top was reborn.” http://framework.latimes.com/2013/12/13/the-1963-baldwin-hills-dam-collapse/

A similar fight is going on today with Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power plant, a second generation reactor.

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant has long been a thorn in the side of anti-nuclear activists, some politicians and environmentalists. After a long fought battle between these groups and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), finally an agreement was reached to close the plant in favor of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) free renewable energy sources. The only problem is, certain sticking points are not settling well among some local activists and environmentalists.

“We need to shut Diablo Canyon immediately,” long time anti-nuclear activist and local resident Harvey Wasserman said in an interview at a recent meeting in Topanga of the Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains (PDSMM) where nearly 150 high profile Democrats mingled. “There is a deal that has been cut, which is a good deal, except for the timeline. They are compensating the town for the lost revenue, which is fine. There’s a retain and retrain program for the workers, which is extremely important. There’s a commitment from PG&E to replace all the power from Diablo with renewables, which is also great. The problem is, they’re leaving the plant open for another seven to eight years.”

Indeed PG&E is licensed by the NRC to stay in operation until November 2, 2024 for the Unit 1 reactor and August 26, 2025 for the Unit 2 reactor.

Wasserman states the agreement is written for PG&E’s private profit via the unnecessary prolonged operation of the plant and at the expense of the California taxpayer and consumer.

“It has to do with PG&E’s ability to recoup more money than they deserve. And that’s the problem,” Wasserman said. “If we could take the deal they cut and enforce it tomorrow, and shut the nuke, that would be wonderful. I’m all for it. But they want to prolong the operation for the private profit of PG&E, and that’s wrong.”

As per the terms of the agreement, Californians will pay the energy giant’s for private profit transition from nuclear to GHG free renewable energy sources. There’s a section in the agreement where the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will fund a portion of PG&E’s transition from Diablo Canyon’s nuclear power source to GHG free renewable energy sources. The CPUC of course utilizes California- taxpayer payer funded monies. There’s also an additional section in the agreement that cites certain charges that will be passed on to the consumer. PG&E will charge consumers what they term as electric Public Purpose Program (PPP) non-bypassable charges to achieve the agreement’s goals.

Within the agreement, PG&E also cites what it sees as certain hurdles in California’s Clean Energy & Pollution Reduction Act (SB350) as the cause for delay in closure of Diablo Canyon to 2024 and 2025. SB350 established California’s 2030 GHG reduction target of 40 percent below 1990 levels. This bill set ambitious targets for energy efficiency and renewable electricity, among other actions aimed at reducing GHG emissions. The energy giant cites the need to acquire enough renewable energy to replace Diablo Canyon’s electricity output, which totals nine-percent of California’s annual electricity production. PG&E also cites the eight to nine year year timeframe for closure is necessary to acquire and plan out GHG free resources to replace

To prolong even further the power plant’s conversion of nuclear to GHG free renewable sources, the energy giant plainly states in the agreement it does not expect to have a full solution to Diablo Canyon until the period 2024 extended out to the year 2045.

So one might ask, with this long haul fight to close this power plant, why haven’t activists gone to the NRC to get the license pulled altogether, or perhaps to their representation to get the license pulled?

“This is a complicated question. Activists can’t go to the NRC to ask that the license be pulled,” said Linda Seeley, the spokesperson for Mothers for Peace (MFP), an anti-nuclear activist organization based out of San Louis Obispo that has been around since the 60’s and has long fought against the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. “So long as Diablo is operating within the ‘safe’ guidelines that have been established by the NRC for its operation, the NRC will allow it to continue to the end of the license. Think of a driver’s license. The State can’t just pull your license unless you have done something to warrant it. Same with nuclear power plants. The Mothers for Peace have gone to the NRC multiple times when we felt that circumstances at the plant warranted it. When PG&E was applying for the relicensing for another 20 years, we went to the NRC with both a seismic expert who testified that the aging components of the plant couldn’t tolerate the kind of ground motion that could be caused by a 6.5 earthquake on the Shoreline Fault and a renown renewable energy expert who testified that we didn’t need the power from Diablo Canyon to meet our State’s energy needs. Both of these were struck down by the NRC. It’s what they call a ‘captive’ regulatory agency. We decided not to pursue in the Federal Court because we didn’t have the funds to follow through. In 2006, we won a case in the 9th Circuit Court regarding terrorism and the spent fuel storage facility.”

In that court case, “the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NRC was irrational to categorically refuse to consider the possibility of a terrorist attack in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the dry cask storage project that PG&E is planning on installing at the Diablo Canyon,” Mothers For Peace cites. “This ruling is a total victory for the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, who challenged the NRC’s 2003 decision refusing to hold a hearing on the question of whether a terrorist attack on the new facility is ‘reasonably foreseeable’ and therefore requires preparation of an EIS.

As was stated in oral arguments, Mother for Peace states, “the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have removed any shred of credibility from the NRC’s stance that terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities are ‘speculative’ events that cannot be predicted. Unfortunately, the NRC allowed PG&E to write an eight-page ‘environmental impact study’ that in no way met the standard for a real EIS.”

“Again, we could have gone to the Supreme Court, but we did not have the funds to pursue it there,” said Seeley.

Activists state California currently has access to enough wind, solar and other renewable energy at hand to replace Diablo Canyon’s electricity production.

“PG&E is closing Diablo because it doesn’t make economic sense to keep it open,” said Seeley. “There are many maintenance issues that would have to be addressed were they to try to relicense after 2024-25. That is why they decided to shut it down at the end of the license. We already have enough renewable energy, and more, to meet nine-percent of the market needs. The CPUC is the agency that will determine the shutdown date of Diablo. MFP is arguing precisely this, that we already can meet the energy needs of California without Diablo, and that shut down in 2019 would be more economical and safer for the state. We are also arguing that the old, rickety components in the plant would cost an extraordinary amount to replace, and if there were a shutdown due to mechanical failure, with or without a release of radiation, the ratepayer costs would be extraordinary. Our third argument at the CPUC is the seismic one, that the cost of a seismic event at an operational nuclear power plant is above and beyond the ability of the ratepayers to pay for.”

There is another court case filed against PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant filed January 8, 2016, Friends Of The Earth v. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This PG&E Diablo Canyon Agreement with these anti-nuclear activists does not replace this D.C. Circuit Court case.

“The case is in abeyance until the CPUC makes its final decision on the Joint Proposal (Agreement),” said Seeley.

Malibu Arts Journal reached out to Friends Of The Earth but did not hear back from them in time for publication of this article.

“Whether the closure date for Diablo Canyon can be moved up will be heavily influenced by whether or not that can be achieved without jeopardizing system reliability or the Northern California economy,” said Jonathan Underland, Press Secretary for Senator Kevin de Leon, California Senate President Pro Tem.

Myla Reson, long time nuclear activist, points out the aging plants has earthquakes vulnerabilities.

“In August of 2014 the alarming and very real risk of an earthquake triggering a nuclear meltdown on the California coast was made crystal clear when the NRC’s Senior Resident Inspector for Diablo, Dr. Michael Peck warned that PG&E’s decrepit nuclear plant is simply not engineered to withstand the kind of ground motion that could trigger our very own radioactive Fukushima nightmare,” said Reson in an interview. “Back then, Dr. Peck insisted that Diablo should be shut immediately and simply not be allowed to operate its atomic reactors unless they could prove the aging facility could withstand a serious quake. Sadly, sold out bureaucrats and special interests were in the position to override Dr. Peck’s prudent advice.”

This disagreement too is still the same today. What types of fuel should Californians use to cool and heat their homes.

“As to what fuel types the utilities buy, that decision is made by the utilities and the Public Utilities Commission,” said Steven Greenlee at the California Independent System Operator (ISO) in a recent interview.

Generators of energy also wholesale their product to other states during oversupply conditions. “In instances when wholesale prices fall below zero dollars, generators can pay utilities to take their power,” said Greenlee.

It is the wholesale market, generator owners via their bids, that curtails solar power generation, states Greenlee.

“Unless there is an need to protect grid reliability, the ISO does not manually intervene in the markets. If the market cannot balance supply with demand, the ISO can manually intervene and dispatch units down or off, depending on need,” Greenlee said. “As solar is often the dominant cause of oversupply as it is ramping up in the morning hours, those units often bear most of the curtailments. Baseload nuclear and natural gas units cannot easily be curtailed. Most of the time, the market sorts out curtailments without manual intervention from the ISO.”

“The wholesale energy market is a competitive auction market in which generators compete to sell their power,” continued Greenlee. “ Like any commodity market, if there is more supply than demand, then the commodity price goes down, such as with oil. If there’s a lot of oil on the market, the oil price goes down. The same thing occurs with the wholesale energy markets. Unlike storable commodities, electricity can’t be stored in large amounts at the moment, so generators have a choice during oversupply conditions when there is more supply on the grid and not enough demand to use it, and the wholesale prices are low or go negative; to accept the low price, to stop producing, or they, the generators, not the ISO and not retail consumers, not the state of California, can voluntarily elect to pay utilities to take their power if the price is negative. If the price is above zero dollars, the generators have a revenue stream, even if minimal. Generators may elect to pay utilities to take their energy because it may be cheaper than to turn off their units only to start back up a short while later and incur startup costs as well as subject their turbines to wear and tear. Also, as long as the generator is producing, the unit(s) are eligible for production tax credits, even if the energy price is negative.”

This sale of excess solar generated power has happened before,

“With the ambitious Renewables Portfolio Standard mandated by state law and implemented by the Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission, jurisdictional utilities have been procuring renewables at a steady pace,” said Greenlee. “Over the past three years, about 2,000 megawatts of solar generation has been added to the grid each year by the investor-owned utilities. We now have just over 10,000 megawatts interconnected. As the energy market is three distinct markets, day ahead, 15 minute and 5 minute, any of these can experience oversupply conditions. Most of the negative prices happen in the 5-minute market. The bottom line is that in 2016 negative prices occurred about 2.6% of the intervals in the 15-minute real-time market and 5.5% of the intervals in the 5-minute real-time market. So some math, there are 12 five minute intervals in an hour, 288 five minute intervals in a day and 105,120 intervals in a year and 8,760 hours in a year. Often the oversupply conditions only last one or two 5-minute intervals, but extended back to back intervals do happen.”

“There are four utilities besides the California ISO that participate the 15 and 5 minute markets that serves consumers in eight western states known as the western real-time Energy Imbalance Market (EIM),” Greenlee said. “Each participant has an opportunity to accept negative pricing bids from generators, but to know how the 29,000 transactions processed yearly by the ISO came about requires special data pulls and analysis, which we have not performed.”

The ISO simplified the analysis of negative priced sales to show that these oversupplies happen in very small percentages when looked at in the big picture.

“The 2016 total wholesale cost to serve load as reported by the ISO’s Department of Market Monitoring was $7.4 billion. The estimated cost of negative priced sales for transfers out of the ISO to the western EIM was $3.6 million for 2016 and $3.84 million for the first half of 2017. This is approximately 0.04% of the total wholesale cost for 2016 and approximately 0.1% of the estimated wholesale cost for first half of 2017 if we assume that the first half of 2017 wholesale costs were half the 2016 total wholesale costs.”

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