Tag Archives: Diablo Canyon

Diablo Canyon Shutdown Scuttled for Now

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station has been given a new lease on its half-life. Biden and Newsom likely looked at the 2024 election and said they wanted nothing to do with higher energy prices, keep Diablo Canyon open, kick the can down the road, we’ll shut the hazardous site after the next election, even if each and every electron out of this facility will be the high-cost leader in the diverse energy market.

Water Grabbing is Over

Renewable energy is the low-cost leader, end of story, stop pretending. Decommissioning Diablo Canyon will require decades of time and a tsunami of funding— $10’s of billions. We don’t need to worry about mad Russian’s invading from our southern border, our domestic saboteurs have proven plenty willing to exploit our vulnerabilities, blowing up the filibuster is known as the nuclear option, it gets its name from a facility like Diablo Canyon.

Things I wish we could control are the amount of energy crypto currencies have been using in their coin minting process. I’d have shut them down forced them back to the drawing boards and demanded they come up with a less energy intensive method creating coins. Color me skeptical, but the digitally minted out of thin air coins don’t impress. A properly trained fiduciary would never sign off on such a reckless investment.  

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station

California’s Central Coast is one of our state’s most livable. Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach have no real corollary, not Los Angeles or San Francisco have on offer such ideal weather. Nothing is perfection, but traffic here is tempered by its distance from both the major metropolitan regions. 

What’s on the drawing boards along this stretch of coast is the deployment of offshore wind turbines. Turbines will be over the horizon; the whole idea is that you won’t see anything. Wind turbine service technicians will live here, they will by boat be sent out off the coast to regularly service the turbines. Other workers on shore will provide continual maintenance to the batteries that will store the energy. You want really good news, we don’t have to invent anything to secure this renewable future. 

Morro Bay, California

Controllers will manage power distribution from computers, a lot of time and research has been spent developing the necessary storage capacity so that our energy system will operate across a wide range of circumstances. CalPoly San Luis Obispo’s graduating engineers will find an abundance of work here. 

In Delta, Utah excess renewable energy will be used to produce carbon free hydrogen. Below ground here are some of the world’s largest salt caverns where the hydrogen fuel will be stored. The hydrogen powered electric power station will spool up and send electricity across the west to help the grid meet the demand. Think of the hydrogen in Delta, Utah as the result of the stored energy produced by wind offshore near Morro Bay.

Delta Utah’s Intermountain Power Station

If you are wondering about how reliable offshore wind is here on this section of coast, you can stop wondering, the resource is off the charts. If you took all of the sailors in California, you will find only a small fraction of these sailors willing to risk messing with this section of coast. Why might you wonder? Because the wind blows hard. 

Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratories is here in California. Nuclear weapon design happens here. You can go to UC Berkeley and become a nuclear scientist. What I’m saying is there is a powerful constituency still convinced in the efficacy of nuclear power. My argument isn’t technological, their engineering prowess isn’t my objection. The problem I have is with the variability of human beings. Most of the time most people remain dedicated to doing their best, but too frequently a more feral political animal arises and some of humankinds most irresponsible may find a path to seizing political power. Nuclear technology demands a constancy of good conduct, and this behavioral consistency is beyond the reach of our species.

Renewables are the future. Scientists at MIT have developed a drill bit that punches through materials using a technology that harnesses energy from microwaves. Shallow wells into the ground are well suited to be punched using conventional drilling technology. Once down where things start getting hotter and harder, that’s when this new technology does its best work. An experimental well is being punched right now. Steam will be brought to the surface to spin turbines. Geothermal power is common in Nevada where geothermal sources come closer to the earths surface. If we can reliably punch wells anywhere the world we will have found an off ramp to the dependency on fossil and nuclear fuels.  A decentralized energy system will put an end to the economic problems created by spikes in the cost of fossil fuels.

One of the factors that raise the costs of producing laboratory grown meat is electricity. It may seem quixotic, but it is just over the horizon. In 2023 you will be able to go to restaurants in San Francisco Bay Area where chefs will treat you to chicken grown in the lab.  This may not seem central to our survival, but my prediction is that it will be a key technology.

Bridging the Gap

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast for the 2022-2023 rainy season promise much more of the same. In other words, our drought here in the American West continues. Water scarcity is stressing communities that are agriculture dependent. Over the last century California has developed the most expansive water distribution system in the world. There is no other place in the world with as many reservoirs, aqueducts, and irrigation canals. The key to our future is using less water to make more food. Like everything economic these changes will produce a new set of winners and losers. 

I like democracy and I like leadership to face the citizens in free and fair elections. Our transition to a renewable energy economy, to an modernized more water efficient food production system, rolling out these new systems, reinventing how our economy is powered, how we distribute our water, these are fundamental building blocks. We do this right and we’re going to walk back the world from the edge, and if we don’t get this right, we’ll suffer the consequences. Time is of the essence, there is not a second to lose. 

It’s just a guess on my part but keeping Diablo Canyon open a little longer looks like a bet to buy more time, to keep things going in the right direction, to not sending the economy into a self-inflicted energy price spike. All of the technologies I’ve written about will prevail in time, as they are deployed over time, and it is this timeline, this managing the energy transition that is civilizations great challenge. 

Going to the dump

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is scheduled to close. The first reactor will shut down by 2024, the second reactor goes offline by 2025. Since events in Fukushima on March 11, 2011 concerns a tsunami could deliver a knockout blow and scatter radioactive contamination across the coast of Central California is all too real. Earthquake faults and nuclear power are a match made in probability hell. There is no win, lose or draw. Consequences of a catastrophic event are unimaginable.

Fully decommissioning Diablo Canyon will demand eye watering sums of money and a span of time even Chaplin’s Great Dictator failed to grasp. Moving the spent fuel rods to a safer storage site will be litigious, expensive and one of the most hazardous engineering feats ever attempted. Containers with spent fuel rods will be hoisted onto trucks, reloaded onto trains then unloaded into an underground storage vault where the radioactive waste will slowly decay for the next one quarter of a million years.

The twin reactor buildings at Diablo Canyon will be sealed and guarded by security officers and monitored by technicians for decades. Radiation levels will drop over time and then the removal of the reactors will come at the end of this century.

Closing Diablo Canyon is pegged at $3.9 billion, a phantom number, a sprawling untethered guess. How and if PG&E, California, or humanity completes this job remains unanswered. Ratepayers should have been warned.  

In 1981 in Nevada the Department of Energy began studying a remote and isolated Yucca Mountain, then scientists described underground aquifers and seismic activities that after 27 years rendered the proposed storage site unworkable. Seventy miles south 2.3 million mortal Nevadans and one pugnacious former senate majority leader Harry Reid all breathed a sigh of relief. Las Vegas residents wouldn’t be subjected to being an experimental randomized statistical study on the incidence of cancers caused by a leaky radioactive storage facility.

A second repository has been proposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at a facility between Carlsbad and Hobbs, New Mexico. Locating a suitable underground storage vault where all North America’s nuclear waste can be safely stored for the next 250,000 years exceeds the limits of any previous human endeavor.  

Nuclear waste disposal is a complex yet to be solved problem. Keeping track of the materials, making sure storage containers remain sealed, monitoring the site for earthquakes, guarding against a fluke fiery meteorite plunging into the atmosphere and like a tsunami striking the disposal site, a cosmic bullseye of all bullseyes, worries of this kind are on the short list of what might go wrong and could go wrong.

Plate tectonics, continental drift, or an earth in a bad mood might trigger unforeseen radioactive extinction events. Unimagined flooding such as happened when Hurricane Harvey stalled over Houston is followed by drought, what was thought to be a stable underground vault might become plagued by swarms of earthquakes, a vent opens and there is a volcanic eruption where none had been anticipated. Scenarios such as these sound as if they were found on the pages of comic books. Setting aside all the ways a storage containment site could be breached there is the technological challenge of building a warning sign that could hold up to howling wind, sun, rain, snow, and ice over the course of tens of thousands of years. Experts have created a short list of languages and universal symbols to be placed on the mother of all sign’s that must hold up to the father of all tests of time.

The National Energy Laboratory in Idaho has cooked up a plan to build what are called miniature nuclear reactors. Utah, Montana, and Wyoming with coal going the way of the dodo bird are all considering deploying the 5-megawatt reactors across their states. Nuclear power interests who believe in this technology know that even small miniature nuclear reactors are by the billions and billions of dollars too expensive, their costs make the technology uncompetitive, even still the industry can’t seem to stop trying.     

Failure is not an option and so it has become a feature. Plutonium contamination at Rocky Flats near Denver haunts the former bomb making facility. Radiation at Nevada’s Atomic Test Site isn’t going away anytime soon. Atomic waste at the Hanford site where our nuclear arsenal was built is a mess wrapped in a riddle inside of an unsolvable conundrum. Politics, science, and journalism have no words to describe the severity of this situation. There is every reason to be concerned that a radioactive spill could work its way into the Columbia River, spread downstream to Portland, beyond to Anacortes, out into Pacific and then by ocean currents the remains of our atomic bomb making materials could be swept around the world.

The debate over whether the climate is changing is over. Dismantling last century’s fossil fuel energy system and replacing it with this new century’s decarbonized energy system is under enormous time pressure. The world must move faster than has ever been done before. It is as fantastical as sending a man to the moon, but this time, we are all going, and if it doesn’t work out, none of us will be coming back.     

In Las Vegas, the honorable Peter Guzman of the Latin Chamber of Commerce makes the case we must continue heating our homes with natural gas, that to do otherwise would damage the economy and the pocketbooks of the people he represents. Guzman took on the work of being a leader for this organization, for the people he’s been elected to speak for. The responsibility of how to respond to the climate emergency hasn’t made it into his job description, but that is going to change. All of us will be asked to participate in the solution. Deploying the new energy system is the responsibility of leaders higher up the chain of command. Powerful storms, floods and wildfire have changed minds. A sizable majority, not all but most support efforts to fight climate change.

Trust what this change means to our survival, embrace the challenges, volunteer to be part of a citizens brigade willing to try new things. Raise your hand, sign up to go work elsewhere, be a willing participant, hold up your end of the bargain, there is no free lunch, no easy way out.

Building Confidence thru Play

A path to a better world, a more whole and healthier American West, walking this trail doesn’t happen by accident. A moral compass is made of hearts and minds, understanding there is an opportunity in making a measure of sacrifice, acknowledging the journey is difficult, that our prevailing against the odds is- good trouble, that this inner guidance system, the climate challenge we face, the path we walk, asks of us that we give the best of who we are. To plant a tree, start a family, mend the roof, cook a tasty wholesome meal, remind the children by deed and word, how you believe that in their hearts, between what they trust and know and doubt and fear, that you have confidence in their power to steer their fate, that this power to imagine animates the path they will choose, it is their story that our children are creating, with their magic pen, it is the story of their life. If only we have the willingness to nurture in this new generation the most renewable of renewable energies, the power to have faith in who we truly are.