A closer look at those California nuclear reactors

We’ll start with a video from Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds that looks at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, the two reactor complexes that generate 15 percent of the state’s electric power.

Next, a worrisome report from Ken Bensinger and David Sarno of the Los Angeles Times tracks the safety records at the two California plants, which, they note, “are near powerful fault lines and have been cited repeatedly in recent years for safety lapses.”

Two excerpts leap out at a reader in light of the events in Japan:

Federal regulators have cited Southern California Edison’s 2,350-megawatt San Onofre nuclear power plant near San Clemente dozens of times in recent years for safety violations that include failed emergency generators, improperly wired batteries and falsified fire safety data, records show.

At Pacific Gas & Electric’s 2,240-megawatt Diablo Canyon facility on the Central Coast, inspectors in late 2009 found that safety valves designed to allow cooling water into the reactor core in emergencies had been stuck shut for 18 months.

Then there are the grave underestimates of earthquake dangers at both sites prior to construction:

In Diablo Canyon’s 1967 application to the PUC, PG&E said the site had only “insignificant faults that have shown no movement for at least 100,000 and possibly millions of years.” Four years later, researchers discovered the Hosgri fault about three miles offshore, which led to expensive retrofitting of the plant.

In 2008, PG&E argued to the state Assembly that it had thoroughly reviewed its local geography and that no further seismic risks existed.

Yet weeks later, the U.S. Geological Survey revealed that it had found a second fault less than a mile from Diablo Canyon. That fault, called Shoreline, is thought by geologists to be capable of producing a magnitude 6.5 quake, while the Hosgri fault is rated up to 7.3.

Geophysicist Jeanne Hardebeck of the USGS helped discover the Shoreline fault. She said that the network of faults in the area appeared to be connected and that she feared a rupture at one could compound into a larger quake.

“There is a real issue of uncertainty when we put a magnitude on a fault,” Hardebeck said, noting that the Japan quake occurred on a fault with a predicted maximum potential quake of magnitude 7.9, but in fact reached 9.

In its 2008 report, the California Energy Commission warned that San Onofre “could experience larger and more frequent earthquakes than had been anticipated when the plant was designed.”

Read the rest.

Feel safer now, California readers? The Times report reminds us of this account from Bloomberg’s Jason Clenfield about Japanese reactors. It begins this way:

The unfolding disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant follows decades of falsified safety reports, fatal accidents and underestimated earthquake risk in Japan’s atomic power industry.

The destruction caused by last week’s 9.0 earthquake and tsunami comes less than four years after a 6.8 quake shut the world’s biggest atomic plant, also run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. In 2002 and 2007, revelations the utility had faked repair records forced the resignation of the company’s chairman and president, and a three-week shutdown of all 17 of its reactors.

Read the rest.

Finally, from MSNBC’s The Ed Show, a conversation between hoist Ed Shultz and Nation writer Christian Parenti about the state of U.S. reactors:


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