FOE continues promoting fossil fuel by trying to force Diablo Canyon closure

As a literature major during my undergraduate years, I was fascinated by the variety of stories that can be told about the same topic depending on the author’s selected point of view.

Here is a brief example. Friends of the Earth (FOE) has a page on its web site titled Shutting down Diablo Canyon. The first couple of paragraphs tell a brief story about the organization, its founding, and its position on Diablo Canyon that has been widely promoted and is probably accepted by many of its dedicated members.

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 Rinconada, 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.

I would tell the same story in a different way because I have a different set of experiences, research and personal opinion lenses through which I view the world. Here is my version.

Concerns over the construction and operation of nuclear reactors that do not consume any hydrocarbon products were a call to action on the part of those whose business was to sell hydrocarbons. Though their products would continue to be useful in a world with a rapidly increasing quantity of power supplied by atomic fission, the unit sale prices would be negatively impacted by the resulting change in the balance between energy supply and demand. The industry’s profitability and long-standing ability to dominate international politics would be dramatically reduced.

Robert Anderson, the CEO of Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) and a recognized leader in the petroleum industry, went looking for a credible spokesperson with an established following who could criticize nuclear energy and initiate action to mitigate some of its obvious competitive advantages. Anderson learned that David Brower, a prominent environmentalist and influencer at the Sierra Club, was involved in a leadership struggle at his organization, partly because he wanted to take a more aggressive stance against the use of nuclear energy.

Anderson made contact with Brower. He soon provided the initial donation of $200,000 that enabled Brower to found a new, more focused antinuclear environmental group, Friends of the Earth. Other people involved in the hydrocarbon business provided additional ammunition in the battle to increase the cost of nuclear energy construction by performing additional seismic surveys of the area near the Diablo Canyon construction site. They timed the release of information raising questions about the site stability so that the revelations resulted in substantial plant redesign work and years/billions worth of project delays.

Not surprisingly, Anderson did not publicly oppose nuclear energy himself. That would have been easily identified as special interest pleading by a competitor. It was much more effective to publicly proclaim support of nuclear energy while quietly providing the funds to enable “environmental” activists to attack and spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about the technology and the industry that was developing it.

It’s worth mentioning that there has never been a case anywhere in the world in which a nuclear power plant sustained enough damage from an earthquake to cause it to endanger the public. They are exceedingly resilient facilities.

Despite the efforts by its well-heeled and motivated opponents, the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant was completed and licensed to operate. It now produces between 17 and 18 terawatt-hours of electricity every year. It has done so for decades and has the capability to continue doing so for numerous additional decades.

Replacing that amount of electricity with the best available natural gas power plant technology would result in the release of at least 6.2 million tons of CO2 every year. It is not possible to replace that steadily produced, grid stabilizing, adjustable power factor, smooth frequency AC power with a combination of wind turbines and solar panels.

Shockingly (not really), one of the prominent allies in the still active antinuclear movement effort to close Diablo Canyon and replace it with power mostly produced by burning products of the petroleum industry — in this case, natural gas — was a petroleum industry geologist, former California state senator Sam Blakeslee.

Additional evidence

This is supplemental information aimed at supporting the assertions made in my version of the history of opposition to Diablo Canyon.

Hosgri Fault Zone USGS

Exploration of the offshore Santa Maria Basin began in the 1960s with regional seismic surveys, marine gravity surveys, and aeromagnetic surveys designed to identify the limits of the basin and the major structural features. In 1971, geologists from the Shell Oil Company published a paper in which they were the first authors to identify a major fault zone offshore south-central California (Hoskins and Griffiths, 1971). Their interpretation of the fault was based on analyses of widely spaced CDP seismic reflection data. Figure 2 in their report is a small-scale map that shows a continuous offshore fault trace extending from south of Point Sal approximately 140 km to the north end of the Piedras Blancas Structure. They do not characterize the nature of the fault nor provide any indication of the recency of activity.
Source: US Geologic Survey (USGS) Characterization of the Hosgri Fault Zone and Adjacent Structures in the Offshore Santa Maria Basin page 4

This screenshot (click to enlarge) shows a damning page from a book titled Environmentalism: Ideology and Power by Donald Gibson, published by Nova Science Publishers in 2002.

Environmentalism Ideology and Power

Duke TIP Nukes at GA Tech

As mentioned a few days ago, I spent the first three weeks of July teaching Nuclear Science to a group of interested, bright, open-minded teenagers who have the inherently questioning attitude that makes working with them so rewarding. We got to know each other pretty well during the nearly 100 hours of class time that we spent together. We were able to cover — to a varying level of detail — a wide range of topics, from the history of the discovery of radiation, to the development of beneficial uses of radioactive materials in industry and medicine, to the development of fission power reactors, the testing of atomic weapons, the health effects of radiation doses from high to low, the siren song promise of energy from nuclear fusion, careers available in nuclear science and technology, and advanced medical imaging and treatments using radiation and radioactive materials.

The students had the opportunity to watch Trinity and Beyond, Pandora’s Promise, Einstein’s Big Idea, Our Friend the Atom, A is for Atom, and a BBC documentary on the life of Marie Curie. We used visuals from posted videos on various nuclear reactor designs, looked for radioactive sources using Geiger counters, saw a sub-critical experimental pile, and talked to a grad student who was using a high bay shielded room to test a quad copter programmed to perform radiation surveys. Lisa Styles, a senior evaluator from INPO in Atlanta, visited the class to talk about careers in nuclear technology and Leslie Corrice, the well known Fukushima event expert, visited via Skype to share some little known information about the event and its aftermath.

One regret caused by the tight daily schedule of the program was that we were within a three hour drive of the Vogtle 3 & 4 construction site, but unable to visit and tour. We had to substitute photos and videos instead. We were also limited by the lack of a research reactor at GA Tech; there was one there until it was defueled in preparation for the 1996 Olympic Games. Apparently there were people who were worried about the nuclear reactor safety implications of international terrorism even then.

Even though the Neely Reactor facility was relicensed in 1997, it was never started again after the Olympics. There was a declining interest and enrollment in Nuclear Engineering, the reactor was underutilized, and the fuel had already been removed and transported to the Savannah River Site.

Here is a photo of most of my class (15 out of 17) taken during a break from the final dance. (They gave me permission to share this. They were pleased to find out that I had written a little about our time together already.)

Duke TIP Nuclear Science Term 2 GA Tech 2015

Duke TIP Nuclear Science Term 2 GA Tech 2015

One of the features of a Duke TIP experience is creating a class tee shirt. I was impressed by the design that the Nukes created; I will proudly add this shirt to the collection of shirts I wear at public meetings.


I hope I’m invited back. It was a blast and a stimulating intellectual challenge to spend so much time sharing knowledge with such interesting young people. I freely admitted my strong biases about atomic fission and radiation, but told the students that I enjoyed students who asked hard questions and stubbornly probed the bases of my assertions.

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