Sunday, January 31, 2016

Diablo Canyon: Poor design, poor location

by Steven Weissman:

The role that nuclear power could or should play in helping to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is worthy of serious debate, but the latest nuclear-related front-page story in the San Francisco Chronicle is a head-scratcher. Above the fold, the headline reads “Nuclear plant’s surprise backers,” followed by the following subheading: “Environmentalists push for Diablo Canyon to stay open.” The accompanying article reports on a letter sent by a new coalition identifying itself as “Save Diablo Canyon,” calling on regulators to relicense the plant. 

The stated concern is that a closed nuclear plant would make it harder to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. Constructed on a cliff along the central California coast, Diablo is the last remaining commercial reactor in the state and it soon must either receive a new license or cease operation.

The mystery about the article is that it only mentions three of those who signed the letter, and each of those three has been on the public record for years as favoring nuclear power. So where is the surprise? Where is the news item?...

If we were to build a nuclear plant in California today, it wouldn’t be at Diablo Canyon. And if we were going to select the best nuclear plant to continue operating for an additional thirty years, it wouldn’t be this one. 

Diablo is perched on a relatively shallow cliff amidst a series of seismic fault lines. It is near a popular small city. It has no doubt led to the destruction of millions of sea creatures due to its massive cold water intake system and hot water reinjection. It was designed incorrectly at first, then retrofitted with beams and shock absorbers that make it a challenge to walk from one end of the facility to another, then discovered to have been erroneously redesigned so it had to be retrofit again. 

There have been reported incidents of faulty operation, such as the failure to notice that a pipe feeding a critical backup cooling system had been stuck in the closed position for over a year. 

In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami-induced Fukushima disaster, important questions were raised about the wisdom of continuing to operate a facility of this type in a coastal, earthquake-prone area. But there it stands, and if the state were to pursue a replacement nuclear plant, it would likely take a decade to get there.

See also this.

Later: The case for keeping Diablo open from Mother Jones: Closing This Nuclear Plant Could Cause an Environmental Disaster

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