Diablo Canyon license assumes highways would be passable.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a license in 1984 to operate the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, the NRC said the risk that a nuclear accident and road-disrupting earthquake could occur simultaneously was so small it did not need to be taken into account.
That determination “ignores fundamental principles of emergency planning [and] offends common sense,” according to a dissenting statement by NRC Commissioner James Asselstine.
As Japan’s radiological disaster continues to worsen more than two weeks after a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated the coastal Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, California officials say there are effective evacuation plans in place should disaster strike a central coast nuclear power plant.
Those plans involve the currently impassable Highway 1, closed for a 30-mile stretch due to recent rains and mudslides. Should a radiological accident occur at the Pacific Gas & Electric Co.-operated Diablo Canyon, 12 miles from San Luis Obispo and located within three miles of at least two earthquake faults, Highway 101 and Highway 1 would serve as the primary evacuation routes.
“You cannot devise a plan that takes into account every single overpass that’s down or every single road that would be blocked,” says David Krauss, interim emergency services manager for Monterey County.
The NRC announced last week its inspectors will review seismic risk at 17 of the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants over the next year. The list does not include Diablo Canyon.
PG&E says Diablo Canyon is designed to handle worst-case scenarios – but so was Fukushima Daiichi, says Jane Swanson, spokesperson for the nuclear watchdog group San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace. And if plant safety measures fail, “There is no such thing as an emergency plan that can deal with all of the effects of a large radiation release,” Swanson says.
County offices of emergency services develop plans to respond to emergencies like fire, floods or terrorist attacks. The plans are, by their very nature, open ended with “variables like how the wind is blowing, what the condition of the roads are, if debris removal were required, if major highways were blocked,” Krauss says.
San Luis Obispo’s Office of Emergency Services still rehearses for the possibility. “Regardless of what the NRC or anybody else says, we test ourselves on ‘What if?’” says Ron Alsop, emergency services manager for San Luis Obispo County. “What we do exceeds the requirements.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency approves and audits the county’s plans, which consist of hundreds of pages of operating procedures for 60 different agencies. With prevailing winds that blow south, Camp Roberts, the National Guard training facility on the San Luis Obispo-Monterey county line north of Diablo Canyon, is a designated shelter location. (Krauss won’t release specific shelter sites in Monterey County partly because they would make for a prime secondary terrorist target, but says schools top the list.)
Despite assurances from Alsop, the emergency plan simply “won’t work,” Swanson fears. “It’s just unrealistic to think of masses of people all going north on one highway.”
Alsop, who has 20 years of experience in emergency planning for San Luis Obispo County, worries more about a wildfire or busted dam than a nuclear meltdown. Though confident the plans would stand up well to a devastating event, he says, “I don’t lose sleep, but I’m not soundly snoozing away either.”