Let's do some math. Please don't panic.
According to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant (DCNPP) supplies enough power for approximately 2,000,000 homes. Yesterday (June 28, 2016) the California State Lands Commission (CSLC) gave PG&E permission to continue operating DCNPP for another 10 years without an Environmental Impact Review (EIR). However, if the rules of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) were properly followed by the CSLC, an EIR would be required.
Allowing DCNPP to operate for ten more years (until their current Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license runs out) will allow DCNPP to create nearly 2,000,000 pounds of spent nuclear fuel waste -- about one pound for each home it services. They'll be allowed to do this despite there being nowhere to put the waste, except in flimsy (1/2 inch thick) casks -- about 50 more of them will be required -- on California's earthquake-prone coast.
One conflagration of one dry cask could cost California hundreds of billions of dollars in lost real estate values, lost lives, lost tourism, lost agriculture, lost manufacturing, and lost clean water (the famous California Aqueduct could be contaminated permanently).
And of course, if one of the earthquake faults near (or even not so near) DCNPP shakes the plant while it's running, an even more catastrophic meltdown could occur, costing California trillions of dollars and even forcing the permanent evacuation of Los Angeles!
But perhaps what's really sad is that the Lands Commission -- headed by a man who would like to be California's next governor, Gavin Newsom -- had a chance to add a conservatively estimated $30 Billion dollars in property values to California homes, and to get tens of thousands of Californians who are currently unemployed on the payroll, and to force PG&E to shut Diablo Canyon, while providing good jobs for all 1,500 current employees of the plant.
All of this could occur by going solar, which PG&E claims they are now committed to doing anyway -- eventually.
A team of just three rooftop solar installers can put up a solar unit on a house in one day. That unit would provide a net positive energy payback for the state of California -- it would feed more power to the grid than it takes off the grid on cloudy days or at night. So the 1,500 employees at Diablo Canyon could, instead, install 2,500 solar rooftops per week, or 125,000 per year. If a statewide initiative were designed to rapidly replace power for the 2,000,000 households served by DCNPP with solar power, they could all be converted to solar power within a year or two.
This would increase the value of each home by approximately $15,000, yielding an increase in home values of roughly $30 billion dollars for homeowners in California.
But no. Instead, Gavin Newsom and the two other commissioners unanimously voted yesterday to risk a meltdown at Diablo Canyon, and to create 2,000,000 pounds of additional spent nuclear fuel which will have to be carefully monitored for thousands of years, and which will always be at risk from terrorism, from the large unstoppable forces of mother nature, from manufacturing errors of the casks, as well as -- perhaps most importantly, from the equally unstoppable small forces of mother nature: Rust. The dry casks are susceptible to stress corrosion cracking as soon as their outer temperature drops to the point where salts can (and will) form within microscopic cracks that invariably cover the surfaces of the casks. Some of the casks that are currently at the site have already reached that temperature point.
Trusting in the Department of Energy (DOE) to move the casks to either an "interim storage site" (which doesn't exist) or to a permanent repository (which also doesn't exist) is foolhardy planning for a state commission tasked with protecting the public interest -- especially since the DOE has stated that they expect it to take "decades" before such a place can accept spent fuel nuclear waste -- and even that timeframe is probably wishful thinking. Additional decades may be required before DCNPP's waste could be moved, because fuel from older, closed nuclear power plants is expected to be moved first.
Making matters worse, the deal PG&E signed last week with Friends of the Earth (FoE), the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility (A4NR) and other groups (including their own workers, who are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)) is contingent on numerous what-ifs, such as approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). PG&E can cancel the agreement at any time and instead seek a license renewal from the NRC (a lap-dog regulatory agency which has NEVER denied a license extension to any reactor anywhere), and keep operating the plant for 20, 40 or even 60 more years or longer, which would create millions of pounds more nuclear waste, and risk a catastrophe which will knock California back into the stone age.
Thanks to Gavin Newsom and the other commissioners, California will remain at risk of becoming the next Fukushima or Chernobyl as long as Diablo Canyon stays open, and do so without the environmental review that should have been done before the plant opened.