California is home to four operating commercial nuclear power reactors – two at San Onofre in San Diego County and two more at Diablo Canyon, just outside the central coast city of San Luis Obispo.
In the wake of radiation releases from reactors in Japan, operators of California's nuclear power plants have rushed to assure local residents their plants are safe and are designed to withstand earthquakes many times larger than what is likely to occur at their locations.
But these are the same assurances that Japanese utilities issued before last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami. The nuclear crisis still unfolding in the wake of that disaster demands that California take a fresh look at both the benefits and the risks of nuclear power.
PG&E, owner and operator of the Diablo Canyon plants, is in the midst of a years-long application to renew licenses for its two units, set to expire in 2024 and 2025, respectively, for another 20 years. In 2008, a year before the application for renewal was submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, seismologists discovered a new fault offshore less than a mile from Diablo Canyon. The Shoreline Fault is one of four that surround the 25-year-old power plant.
According to PG&E, the faults are not capable of generating an earthquake larger than 6.5 magnitude. The Diablo Canyon plant is designed to withstand a 7.5-magnitude earthquake.
In addition, the reactors sit on a cliff, 85 feet above sea level. The intake cove where the plant pumps in sea water to cool its reactors is designed to withstand tsunamis of 45 feet, higher than anything predicted for that area.
To read the complete editorial, visit www.sacbee.com.