Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Common Dreams’ News Wire had an article on Nov. 24, 1998, reporting the firing of a shift foreman at Diablo Canyon after he began questioning plant safety. Senior reactor operator Neil Aiken maintained that the safety culture degenerated, so he brought this to management’s attention.

Aiken had two decades of experience at the plant. PG&E responded by ordering him to undergo psychiatric evaluation. PG&E doctors diagnosed him with a mental disorder.

Aiken’s case was taken up by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the SLO Mothers For Peace (MFP). They filed a petition to have an independent evaluator look at the safety culture at Diablo Canyon.

The MFP website posted a letter from William Travers of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Nov. 24, 1999. It states in the text, “Based on the findings dated Nov. 19, 1999, by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that the PG&E illegally discriminated against Neil J. Aiken for voicing concerns about safety at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant ...”

MFP website also has the DOL letter about the suspension of Diablo’s operating license until nine DOL conditions were met by PG&E. PG&E was ordered to compensate Aiken with continued employment, pending the outcome of an independent medical evaluation.

With the Fukushima plant in Japan an ongoing nuclear nightmare, one must be very wary of information that PG&E claims about safety. On June 14, 2011, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) ran an article titled, “Japanese Nuclear Cleanup Workers Detail Lax Safety practices at Plant.” The same problems that exist in that Japanese power company exist with PG&E.

PG&E was recently slammed for lack of safety practices. On Aug. 31, the WSJ wrote the article “Probe Slams Utility Over Blast.” National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found the PG&E pipeline to have clearly visible defects in San Bruno, Calif., after the Sept. 9, 2010, explosion killed eight citizens and injured 58 others.

PG&E had no emergency plan. It took employees 95 minutes to turn off the gas. NTSB made 29 recommendations. Investigators said that “regulators and Congress had yielded to industry pressure to lightly regulate pipelines, especially older ones that pose the greatest risk to safety.”

NTSB stated that the 30-inch pipeline was built with poor-quality material and had many welding defects. Investigators wrote that “Instead of being built of a single piece, properly welded, the section that failed was made of six short segments.” Investigators do not know how the plans for the pipe came into being at PG&E, or if it was done by onsite workers. The plans were lost by PG&E.

NTSB also criticized regulators’ inspections concerning “flawed pipe, flawed operations, and flawed oversight.” The investigation learned the accident occurred while PG&E was carrying out electrical work at the pipeline control center.

Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox

PG&E never used any inspection of the interior of pipelines. Most companies use a robot camera through a pipeline. That type of inspection would require shutting the pipeline down, causing a contraction in short-term profit.

PG&E’s safety culture is obviously in need of serious change. Based on recent performance and knowing they do not check old lines or new ones, citizens must become more proactive. PG&E pipelines built many decades ago may also have serious problems.

This is the culture that forced Aiken out of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant should not have its licenses renewed. Otherwise, those living within the nuclear shadow of the plant are perpetually at risk with a nuclear Russian roulette.


James Murr of Santa Maria can be contacted at Looking Forward runs every Friday providing a progressive viewpoint on local issues.