Nuclear reactors

For 40 years, Friends of the Earth has been a leading voice in the U.S. in opposing nuclear reactors. In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, it is clear that there can and must be a thorough debate on our energy future and the need to move beyond this dangerous and dirty technology to the clean renewable energy and efficiency technologies of the 21st century.

Friends of the Earth's nuclear campaign works to reduce risks for people and the environment by supporting efforts to close existing nuclear reactors and fighting proposals to design and build new reactors that use federal funds to underwrite such initiatives. Years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, our campaign is engaging key battles against old and new reactors and on loan bailout guarantees and other federal policies that subsidize the nuclear industry.

Read our fact sheet on the dangers of nuclear reactors.

Shutting down Diablo Canyon

Concerns over the proposed construction of nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon were an impetus for David Brower to found Friends of Earth in 1969. Since then, more information about the seismic activity near the two aging reactors has made it increasingly clear that Diablo Canyon should never have been built on its current site. The tremendous and unnecessary risk these reactors pose to public health and the environment necessitates that they be shut down.

At the time of construction, our knowledge about earthquakes was relatively basic. Nonetheless, it was known that Diablo Canyon, the nuclear reactors operated by Pacific Gas & Electric, was at risk from two earthquake faults: the San Andreas, 45 miles inland and the Rinocanda, 20 miles inland. Since then, as our understanding of earthquakes and ground motion has grown, it has become increasingly clear that Diablo Canyon is surrounded by faults capable of creating ground motion beyond that for which the reactors and their components were tested and licensed.

Specifically, according to data confirmed by both PG&E and the NRC, three faults surrounding the reactors at Diablo Canyon -- Shoreline, San Luis Bay and Los Osos -- are all capable of ground motion beyond that which is used as the basis for Diablo Canyon’s so called “safe shut-down earthquake.” This means that the utility and the nuclear regulator are allowing the reactors to keep operating despite the fact that they know that neither the safety assessments nor the reactors’ licenses are valid.  The reactors should have been shut down on this basis of this new information and only allowed to restart if and when they had gone through a public licensing amendment process that would verify whether or not the reactors are safe.

A reactor accident at Diablo Canyon would immediately put tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of people in Central California at risk from radiation exposure. Should southerly winds prevail, a radioactive plume could threaten  millions of Southern Californian residents, from Santa Barbara south to Los Angeles and beyond. Radiation release into the Pacific Ocean could endanger precious marine and coastal resources and fragile habitats, as well.

Although an earthquake-fueled disaster poses the greatest risk to the plant, Diablo Canyon damages the environment of Central Coastal California each day. The plant draws in an estimated 2.5 billion gallons of water per day for cooling purposes and discharges that water back into the Pacific Ocean about 20 degrees hotter. Diablo Canyon annually draws into its antiquated cooling system more than a billion fish in early life stages; most die. In 2011, California initiated a new policy to end once-through cooling systems at coastal power plants. PG&E, however, is aggressively lobbying the state Water Resources Board to exempt Diablo Canyon in an attempt to avoid expensive cooling towers. But since Diablo Canyon accounts for about 80% of the total seawater sucked into California’s coastal plant cooling systems, exempting the reactors would effectively negate the state’s “Once Through Cooling” policy.

Friends of the Earth also urges the California Public Utilities Commission to investigate the high and uncompetitive cost of energy coming from Diablo Canyon. Ratepayers would be better served by power from cheaper, cleaner sources of renewable energy.

Diablo Canyon is a dangerous, destructive and expensive hangover from an outdated energy production process. It’s time to shut Diablo Canyon and replace it with clean, safe renewable energy and efficiency.

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