The operators of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station and the nuclear waste reservation at Hanford, Wash., could not be doing more if they actually wanted to promote a prospective ballot initiative aimed at keeping San Onofre offline and also shutting down Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s Diablo Canyon power plant.
Together, the two big generating stations produce about 16 percent of California’s electricity when they’re operating at full blast. And Hanford is the country’s largest and most contaminated nuclear site.
But San Onofre has been shuttered for about 15 months while its operator, the Southern California Edison Co., tries to replace steam generator tubes that degraded much more radically than expected and leaked small amounts of radioactive steam in January of last year.
Meanwhile, at Hanford, a radioactive tank leaked through much of February, causing Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to worry publicly about other tanks on the reservation beside the Columbia River.
Nothing could be better for the sponsors of the California Nuclear Power initiative that has been circulating since early February.
San Onofre, says Santa Cruz resident Ben Davis, the measure’s prime author, “has proved our biggest local asset as far as showing that nuclear energy is undesirable. It has helped to keep our drive alive.”
Davis’ proposal, aimed for the November 2014 general election ballot, would ban further electricity production at both San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, which features twin 1,100-megawatt reactors set along the coast in San Luis Obispo County.
Among other things, the initiative would demand a formal finding from the state Energy Commission that the federal government has approved technology for disposal of high-level nuclear waste “before further electricity production at these plants.”
No such technology exists, with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducting a decades-long search for secure waste disposal sites and some reactors — such as San Onofre and Diablo Canyon — storing waste on-site. For nuclear opponents, the Hanford leak demonstrates the unreliability of waste disposal and storage methods.
Even if it gets to the ballot, there is no guarantee this measure will pass. A similar effort in 1975 lost by a large margin, even though it came less than two years after exposure of vast cost overruns at Diablo Canyon, caused in part by a “mirror image” problem. Some key reactor components were essentially installed backward, causing delays until 1985 for the first power from the plant.
Even though the 1975 proposition lost, state legislators the next year slapped a moratorium on new nuclear plants, one that still stands.