The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

California Nuclear Plant Near Earthquake Faults

Aug 29, 2022

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently proposed a bill to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, built within 20 miles of four active earthquake faults, open until 2035. This plant, which provides about 9% of California’s total electrical supply, is located at Avila Beach, a Pacific Ocean shoreline. The plant’s federal certification expires in 2025, and renewal of the certificate requires upgrades to the plant.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which operates the plant, agreed in 2016 to shut it down by 2025, pretending that these upgrades would be too expensive for the company.

To resolve this supposed financial difficulty of a multi-billion-dollar company, Governor Newsom very generously offered a 1.4 billion dollar “forgivable” loan to PG&E to pay for the plant’s maintenance costs and federal licensing. “Forgivable loan” is a creative name for handing over taxpayers’ money for free with no future payback.

As if this free money is not enough, Newsom further sweetened the deal by requiring all California utility customers to pay for the plant’s 460-million-dollar annual operating costs and 300 million in replacement power costs during Diablo Canyon outages. So, we would not only pay for the utilities but also for the operation of this plant. It’s highway robbery!

But there is more. Newsom’s draft bill would also exempt PG&E from the California Environmental Quality Act and several other environmental rules, including the impact of the plant’s enormous ocean water usage on marine life.

In fact, earthquake safety is a serious concern. One of the four earthquake fault lines in question is only 2,000 feet from Diablo Canyon’s two reactors and could cause more ground motion during an earthquake than the reactors were designed to withstand, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Newsom’s bill is mute about earthquake safety. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), responsible for regulating nuclear reactors, has also been mute since this plant went online in 1986. So, if an earthquake causes nuclear leakage, we would probably get a lot of radiation and pick up the cleaning bill too, but PG&E would remain very profitable.

When it comes to safety, PG&E has an atrocious record. This company’s electric power infrastructure ignited many wildfires over several decades in northern California, which burned thousands of acres, destroyed hundreds of structures, and caused dozens of deaths and injuries. In a court case in 2020, PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter in the devastating Camp Fire, which was set off by PG&E equipment in November 2018. How could we trust this company to operate a nuclear reactor?