Opinion » Shredder

Rube job

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Diablo Canyon Power Plant towers like two massive breast implants above the shoreline, where it sits nestled along an inaccessible yet scenic coastal area between Avila Beach and Montaña de Oro.

Operated by PG&E, the facility produces lots and lots of sexy nuclear power, employs nearly 1,500 people making an average annual salary of $157,000 each, and through taxes generates lots of cash for local governments—K-12 public schools receive about $12.9 million annually and SLO County itself pockets a cool $8 million a year. 

In nine years, we can kiss that money goodbye because the plant will be decommissioned, leading to an overall estimated annual loss of $1 billion to the local economy.

Ouch! 

On the one hand, a lot of residents will no doubt feel safer not having to worry about keeping their supply of Potassium Iodide Anti-Radiation Pills up to date, but won’t we miss those sweet, sweet free calendars with Emergency Evacuation Plans on them? I know I will! Not to mention those soothing periodic tests of the Emergency Siren System to warn us when Diablo melts down, not that it should—it’s got a pretty flawless safety record.

I mean, yes, it turns out it was built near the Hosgri Seismic Fault, but PG&E added in extra structural supports “just in case.” OK, yes, it’s also true that the single set of blueprints used for these supports were supposed to be reversed for the mirror-image second reactor and weren’t, meaning some sections of the second reactor were needlessly strengthened while other parts that needed strengthening were left unsupported, but that didn’t stop the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from approving the plant for operation. A few design flaws in such a massive project are expected, so what’s the big deal? It’s not like they’re splitting highly radioactive uranium atoms in there … oh wait.

Anyway, I’ve always felt it was very exciting living so close to a nuclear power plant. Remember that time in 2008 when Unit 2 was taken offline for a couple of days because its water intake got clogged with jellyfish? Good times. And Japan’s whole Fukushima Daiichi disaster just added to the excitement! Could it happen here? Could it?

Of course, if Michael Shellemberger of Environmental Progress, not to mention Women for Nuclear, get their way, Diablo won’t shut down. These “green” organizations believe the deal to shutter the plant was “negotiated by corrupt institutions behaving unethically and perhaps illegally,” and that shutting it will cause “human suffering and environmental harm” because “closing nuclear plants will increase fossil fuels and carbon emissions. We will win because the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice,” they said in a statement. I could totally picture American flags waving in the wind and patriotic music in the background when I read that last line.

I guess since it’s true that producing nuclear power doesn’t directly generate greenhouse gasses, that makes it “green” energy, but I’m pretty sure building the massive plant produced greenhouse gasses, and mining the uranium that runs the plant produces greenhouse gasses, and then there’s all that hot water being pumped back into the ocean that does environmental damage, and there’s also all that pesky Spent Nuclear Fuel being stored onsite at Diablo. So far I’ve heard exactly zero about what’s happening with that.

Mmm, highly radioactive and deadly nuclear waste! It’s ours to keep, eh? Thanks, PG&E! Sure, eventually it will no longer be dangerous in—what—about 10,000 years? That’s not so long, right? I mean, it’s only as long as human civilization as we know it has existed! PG&E did say it would give us $50 million on its way out the door and increase its environmentally friendly “renewables” portfolio to 55 percent by 2031.

Look, as wonderful as PG&E and Diablo Canyon have been to the local economy, I can’t help feeling we were used like country rubes. We had to live near a dangerous nuclear power plant but it didn’t seem to make our electricity less expensive. PG&E basically used us like a cheap hooker.

“Thanks, baby. That was great! I left $50 million on the dresser for you to sort everything out. Sorry about dropping a 10,000-year radioactive turd on your coastline.”

Meanwhile, Californians for Green Nuclear Power issued a press release about how closing Diablo will lead to big problems for all Californians: “PG&E’s proposal to replace DCPP’s emission-free power with more ‘renewables’ will lead to substantially higher power bills for all Californians, more rolling blackouts—and likely to increased emissions.”

CGNP goes on to pooh-pooh solar saying, “123.5 square miles of valuable California land would be required for 13 solar plants equal in output to DCPP.”

The real question is why doesn’t PG&E partner with the state government and create a program to put solar panels on every building in California. Wouldn’t the investment be worth it? Isn’t that a simple solution?

Economically, California is going to miss Diablo Canyon. We’re going to miss those hot cash injections into public education and local governmental coffers. I know boat and motorcycle retailers are going to miss 1,500 people with a whole lot of disposable income. One thing I think we can all agree on is we won’t miss our radioactive coastline turd getting any bigger. 

The Shredder misses “sunshine units.” Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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