For some Central Coast residents, watching the decommissioning process for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power-generating facility is like viewing the slow death of a monster that has menaced the region for years.
For others, the plant’s closing is more like watching the decline and death of a family member.
Those in the first group likely are the same folks who picketed against the radioactive aspect of the Diablo Canyon plant, in part because the facility is situated in a region known for earthquake activity.
People in that second group would include the 1,500 or so well-paid PG&E employees, their families, and the people with whom they do business in their communities.
We’re likely to hear from both sides during two workshops scheduled this month by the Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel. The meetings will focus on collecting information and public comment on how radioactive waste from the plant is to be stored.
If you are interested — and it’s abundantly clear a lot of Central Coast residents are — the first workshop is 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22. The panel will hear presentations from PG&E, regulatory agencies and various industry experts. Workshop No. 2 is 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, and its focus will be taking public comment on storing options for spent fuel. Both workshops will be held at the Embassy Suites on Madonna Road in San Luis Obispo.
If the workshops are anything like the sometimes-acrid public debate over the Diablo Canyon plant operations over the years, you can expect fireworks.
A lot is at stake in the plant’s shutdown. The environmental issues are important, because while nuclear power is efficient without leaving fossil fuel power-generation’s significant carbon footprint, the question of what to do with the radioactive waste has not been adequately answered.
At the same time, the Diablo Canyon facility has played an important role in electric-power generation for the past three decades, and the 1,500 plant employees and the role their paychecks have played in the regional economy is significant. Many of those workers live here in North County, so it’s not just a SLO issue, although the plant is that county’s biggest employer.
Here’s the gist — the average salary at the Diablo plant has been reported as $157,000 a year. Economists say the plant’s direct impact to the region is a net plus of about $1 billion a year.
While the subject of the two workshops is what to do with leftover radioactive waste, the economic impacts will be a not-so-silent partner to any discussions about the plant’s 10-year shutdown strategy.
The economic-impacts angle is so powerful, the California Legislature approved, and the governor signed into law an $85-million economic assistance bill that would help soften the hard landing many are expecting in the wake of the plant’s final closure.
All this comes amid PG&E’s problems with regard to wildfires in Northern California, an impending bankruptcy and its fallout. It seems reasonable to assume this confluence of issues facing PG&E will inevitably be reflected in higher power bills statewide.
This is no small matter, nor is the problem of how to store spent fuel from the plant in a safe manner. An example of what can happen occurred recently when officials in several states complained about the federal government authorizing the shipment of spent radioactive fuel through their jurisdictions without notifying the states.
Stayed tuned. This debate is far from over.