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Michigan's Dead Old Nuke Is Diablo's Early Warning



-by Harvey Wasserman


Michigan’s Palisades nuke has just shut early for the same reason California’s two reactors at Diablo Canyon must now go down-- immediate safety concerns at a badly deteriorated reactor. Safe energy activists fought for decades to close Palisades. Opened in 1971, it was costly, wasteful and grew increasingly dangerous as it inevitably decayed. Finally scheduled to close on May 31, Entergy-- one of America’s biggest nuke operators-- stunned the world by taking it down on May 20, reducing the US reactor fleet from 93 to 92. Cause for shut-down was a defect in the plant’s vital control rod mechanism. The alarm bells were global. Simply put: with 11 days left on the clock, the deeply entrenched Entergy Corporation was worried enough about its most bitterly contended reactor’s rotted internals to pull the plug early. With a 51-year-old reactor now in the graveyard, what else are they not telling us? And what have they admitted about the rest of the nation’s reactor fleet, which averages 39 years of age? Such safety concerns are equally vital at Diablo Canyon, whose two reactors opened in the mid 1980s. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s own senior resident inspector, Dr. Michael Peck, has warned that Diablo’s twin nukes might not survive seismic shocks from the dozen-plus fault lines surrounding the site. The San Andreas is just 45 miles away; the shock that destroyed the four reactors at Fukushima was twice that distance. That quake may itself have set Fukushima I melting even before it was ever hit by a tsunami.


The energy industry and its shoot-from-the-hip supporters have long assured the world its uninsured reactors at Diablo must be safe because it's regulated by the NRC. But Dr. Peck worked in his official capacity on a daily basis at the Diablo site for five years, and knew its dangers as well as anyone. Yet when he warned that the two reactors should be shut due to earthquake-related safety concerns, the Commission trashed his report, ignored his findings and purged him from the site. The NRC’s inspectors have also warned that Diablo Unit One is seriously embrittled. Embrittlement is caused by intense pressure, heat and radiation bombarding metal over the years, destroying its resilience. A long-standing safety concern, embrittlement threatens a reactor’s core steel pressure vessel with shattering if operators attempt to stop a melt-down with cooling water. Ensuing hydrogen, fission and other explosions (as at Fukushima) could spew out apocalyptic radiation releases. Downwind from uninsured Diablo, more than ten million Californians could lose their lives, families, health, everything. Like all the 92 atomic reactors that continue to operate in the US, no private insurer will touch Diablo’s full liability. If those nukes blow and take your life, your family, your health, your property…except for a small federal pittance…you are out of luck.

While ranking Diablo One as one of America’s most seriously embrittled nukes, the NRC-- and the state-- have refused to fully inform the public on Diablo’s embrittlement. The Commission did ban certain amalgams used in key welds at Unit One, admitting to serious safety flaws it did not want repeated in other reactors. But it still lets Diablo operate. Palisade’s hasty shut-down is a clear and present warning that all's not right with our aging reactors. Diablo’s two nukes are scheduled to shut in 2024 and 2025. Some seem to see them as flawless black boxes that are perfectly run and can never explode. But in addition to its seismic and structural challenges, Diablo’s operator, Pacific Gas & Electric, has twice gone bankrupt. It’s also been twice convicted of mass manslaughter. In 2010 its faulty gas lines killed eight people in San Bruno. More than eighty died in northern California fires PG&E ignited with faulty transmission lines. Do we really trust PG&E to safely operate two deteriorated nukes surrounded by earthquake faults? Neither PG&E nor the NRC can be trusted. These nukes demand a thorough, immediate independent public inspection (sign the petition at https://solartopia.org/?page_id=1570). More than 70,000 people now work in California’s wind and solar industries, versus just 1500 at Diablo. More than 40 million are threatened by its continued operations. Like Chernobyl and Fukushima, what we don’t know at Diablo can definitely hurt us. Like Michigan’s Palisades, better safe than sorry.

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